Reengineering Through Information Technology

Recommendations and Actions

IT04:Establish a National Law Enforcement/ Public Safety Network

Integrated Communications Simplify Emergency Response

Imagine this: A fire following an earthquake is devastating a large urban area in northern California. Several local, state, and federal agencies--including fire and police units, state highway units, and national guard and defense units--are rushing to the scene. Even though they come from different jurisdictions, the units coordinate easily because they share a common communications system. The fire is contained quickly, emergency services are dispatched where needed, lives are saved, and property loss is reduced as a result.

Whether they are responding to a natural or technological disaster or performing search-and-rescue or interdiction activities, federal, state, and local law enforcement and public safety workers must be able to communicate with each other effectively, efficiently, and securely. Most of this communication occurs over tactical land mobile radio systems.

However, interoperability across these different radio systems is difficult to achieve. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies operate in different parts of the radio spectrum. Complicating this problem is the lack of security on most systems, leaving them open to interception and monitoring. When security is applied to the radio systems--as isdone with many federal radio systems--interoperability depends on having the correct encryption key to communicate.

Moreover, every federal, state, and local law enforcement agency operates separate tactical networks in every metropolitan area in the country. Often, there are several independent network control centers operating within the same federal building with no interoperation. This expensive duplication of effort prevents the use of spectrally efficient equipment and results in less-than-optimum coverage for many agencies. In addition, technical and administrative support is duplicated throughout the federal government.

Need for Change

Recently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a part of the Department of Commerce, mandated that federal radio users begin the transition to more spectrally efficient (digital narrowband) radio systems beginning in 1995. The Federal Communications Commission is currently addressing this same issue applicable to state and local law enforcement and public safety. The Associated Public Safety Communications Officers, Inc., is sponsoring a federal, state, local, and industry effort to develop technical standards for the next generation narrowband digital radio systems.

Over the next 10 to 15 years, all federal government radio systems will be replaced with digital technology. If this is done on an agency- by-agency basis--as was done in the past--the cost will be enormous and the same problems with interoperability will occur, resulting in costly redundancies of equipment and staffing. Current budget conditions make it critical that the federal law enforcement, public safety, and disaster response agencies coordinate the transition to digital narrowband systems. Only through a coordinated approach will cost savings be realized and the serious interoperability problems of the past be overcome.

An excellent mechanism for addressing these complex issues--and saving considerable dollars--is a shared infrastructure: a National Law Enforcement/Public Safety Wireless Network. Development of this network can be based on the efforts of two ongoing interagency initiatives.

---The Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group, a joint Treasury- Justice Department initiative, was formed to plan and coordinate future shared-use wireless telecommunications systems and resources.

---The Communications Interoperability Working Group, which consists of representatives from the Department of Defense, Coast Guard, and federal law enforcement agencies, under the auspices of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has been defining minimum baseline requirements for current, secure, interoperable federal radio systems.

These new technological advances will permit the deployment of intelligent radio systems that are feature enhanced, spectrally efficient, and secure. Interoperability will be accomplished, and the radio system can be connected to other fixed networks to improve the flow of information--e.g., fingerprints, mug shots, or criminal records to the uniformed officer or special agent on the street. A consolidated approach will result in numerous advantages in cost and quality of service.


1. Formalize the Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group. (1)

The Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General will co-sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to formalize the Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group byApril 1994. The MOU should define the charter and membership of the group, which should include--at a minimum- -representation from all Justice and Treasury law enforcement agencies and bureaus, with participation from other federal, state, and local law enforcement and public safety stakeholders.

2. Establish a National Law Enforcement/ Public Safety Wireless Network for use by federal, state, and local governments. (2)

The Government Information Technology Services Working Group should issue a memorandum by July 1994 directing the Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group to coordinate establishment of an intergovernmental wireless network.

The users group should work with the Office of Management and Budget, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Communications Interoperability Working Group, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and state and local entities to:

---further define costs and benefits, and develop budget strategies; and

---develop an implementation plan for the National Law Enforcement/Public Safety Network to cover the next 10 years.

Responsibilities must be clearly defined, since the issue of which agency or activity funds and controls the network will be a point of contention. Establishment and use of the network must be handled at the highest level to avoid turf conflicts and to focus on goals, roles, methods, and relationships.

Cross References to Other NPR Accompanying Reports:

Transforming Organizational Structures, ORG05: Sponsor Three or More Cross-Departmental Initiatives Addressing Common Issues or Customers.

Department of the Treasury, TRE01: Improve the Coordination and Structure of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies.

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