Iowa develops statewide plan to improve interoperability
Iowa has taken strides to improve public safety communications across the state. The state Interoperable Communications System Board recently had its current 911 systems, both wireline and wireless, reviewed by a consultant to determine current challenges and what can be done to improve efficiency and interoperability between its public safety answering points (PSAPs). The consultant is also charged with helping develop a future 911 program.
In addition to improving interoperability between PSAPs, the state is also taking enormous steps to modernize and update its radio systems in order to intercommunicate with other agencies. Many agencies across the state currently use wireless land mobile radio (LMR) systems through frequencies ranging from VHF band through 800 MHz bands for mobile communications. Iowa recently announced it is looking to employ a system-of-systems approach to statewide communications by connecting existing infrastructure rather than duplicating systems. The approach will occur in two phases: the first including connecting existing systems across the state, followed by a second phase of working with local agencies and a consultant to develop a solution for connectivity for the rest of the state. The state partnered with CTA communications to study its current radio infrastructure and determine next steps for a statewide solution.
Interoperability remains an important issue for Iowa. Given its location and rural populations, a lot of challenges occur with respect to connectivity and intercommunication between jurisdictions and agencies. These issues could jeopardize any additional assistance needed for a large-scale emergency or natural disaster. Iowa has found that a lot of disparate systems are working side by side and are resulting in inconsistencies for interoperability. As far as radio operations, the state has multiple radio systems with limited ability to operate outside the local system and, therefore, cannot extend their operation beyond a local dispatch center. The state is looking to leverage current assets and money already spent by state and local agencies to develop connectivity among these systems. Contracts held by localities within the state include TAIT Radio Communications for the city of Des Moines and Harris Corporation’s radio system for Linn County. It is important for vendors to develop solutions for improving interconnectivity among rural areas and additional technology methods to help ease cross-communication between jurisdictions. Solutions may incorporate the use of common applications such as computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and forms of voice and radio communications, as well as the sharing of facilities and operations centers.
Another issue at the forefront for Iowa is the ability to fund these types of initiatives. Iowa is a prime example of a state experiencing a decline in surcharge funding for operating its 911 service across the state. The need to share technology and infrastructure as well as combine PSAP operations is highly likely in the future. Some states have taken this effort more seriously. For example, the state of Indiana issued a mandate for PSAP consolidation within certain counties to occur by December 2014. Efforts taken to reduce costs will help make the transition to NG911 and state interoperability more feasible for states, and Iowa currently has a contract with Telecommunications Systems Inc. to assist in this migration over the next five years.