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Part 7


National Partnership for Reinventing Government


Imagine this: A nervous father reports a missing child to a local 911 telephone dispatch station. A broadcast is sent over the public safety wireless communications network describing the child. The broadcast is immediately received by all local, state, and federal public safety workers in the area. A local policeman sends out a radio message to all the public safety workers warning of dangerous flooding from heavy rains in the area the child was last seen. A park ranger responds to the flood area and locates the little girl trapped on an embankment between two washed out ravines. The ranger immediately notifies the fire and rescue services, which respond in minutes. The child is returned home safely. The little girl was rescued because all relevant public safety officials were able to communicate over a common, secure, communications network.

The September 1993 National Performance Review report recognized the need for improving public safety communications capabilities. The report highlighted the need to address key challenges, such as competition for limited radio spectrum, limited public safety budgets, and keeping pace with advances in technology. The National Performance Review recognized that if public safety agencies coordinated their efforts in developing future systems, they could conquer those challenges, greatly enhance their abilities to fight the war on crime, and save money in the process.

The National Performance Review tasked the Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group (FLEWUG) to develop a plan for a future, intergovernmental, shared use, public safety wireless communications network.

In September 1996, the joint Federal Communications Commission/National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee validated the underlying need for establishing the intergovernmental public safety wireless network. The report concluded that “unless immediate measures are taken to alleviate spectrum shortfalls and promote interoperability, public safety agencies will not be able to adequately discharge their obligations to protect life and property in a safe, efficient, and cost effective manner.”1

The FLEWUG has taken positive steps to develop an intergovernmental public safety wireless network. It developed a management plan that defined the goals, objectives, and actions required to develop the network.2

The management plan was used to obtain Congressional support and funding for testing the concept in several locations across the country. For example, the Public Safety Wireless Network Program Management Office is working with Iowa to establish a public safety wireless communications test bed. The FLEWUG has also implemented several consolidation projects. For example, in Hawaii, all the federal, state, and local law enforcement networks throughout the islands have been consolidated into a single microwave system under Project Rainbow. The U.S. Customs Service is sharing infrastructure to improve frequency utilization and conserve resources. In New York and New Jersey, Customs is sharing the infrastructure with the Department of Housing and Urban Development; in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and New Orleans, Louisiana, with the Immigration and Naturalization Service; and nationally, with the U.S. Border Patrol. The Customs Service and the National Guard Bureau are sharing frequencies and Over-the-Air Rekeying systems to improve drug interdiction efforts. Other agencies are also finding that they can improve efficiency and save resources by sharing.

In Homestead, Florida, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is sharing its antenna site and microwave relay with the U.S. Postal Service. These cooperative efforts have also included equipment sharing. In New York, the Drug Enforcement Agency provided the U.S. Secret Service with UHF radios to use during the United Nations 50th Anniversary celebration.


Every day, local news stations report missing children, gang activities, drug wars, natural disasters, and other tragic events. People in the United States are concerned about public safety. Law enforcement and public safety workers must be provided with the best tools technology has to offer to make citizens secure in their homes and safe on their streets.

Today, critical federal, state, and local public safety communications are transmitted over tactical land mobile radio systems. Communicating across different agencies is difficult because systems have been purchased that operate in different frequencies. Most systems lack security and are open to interception and monitoring. Amateur radio enthusiasts and criminals are able to purchase scanning devices to monitor law enforcement and public safety frequencies.

In every metropolitan area of the country, federal, state, and local public safety officials operate separate tactical communications networks. In larger cities, dozens of radio antennas and network control centers located in the same building are unable to “talk” to one another. This inefficient and expensive use of resources demands both technical and policy solutions. The FLEWUG will demonstrate a prototype narrow band (12.5 kHz channel bandwidth) conventional, digital radio system in early 1997 with many law enforcement activities in the metropolitan Washington, DC, area. The prototype equipment was developed by several vendors, with federal agencies and the State of Virginia funding the demonstration.


1. Improve the coordination of public safety wireless communications

By July 1997, the President should issue an Executive Order which directs all federal agencies with a public safety mandate and federal activities supporting the public safety community to participate in the activities of the FLEWUG in developing the future Public Safety Wireless Network.

2. Provide adequate radio frequency spectrum for public safety agencies.

The Government Information Technology Services (GITS) Board and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration should work with the Federal Communications Commission to outline options to balance the spectrum needs of public safety agencies with the other spectrum users. A filing should be developed and submitted to the Commission by September 1997.

By December 1997, the FLEWUG, through the GITS Board, should submit a plan to implement the recommendations in the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee report.

3. Support the development of technical standards for public safety wireless communications systems.

Properly defined, technical standards can provide a migration path as new technology comes to the market. The government should coordinate with industry to define and develop these standards. By June 1997, the Public Safety Wireless Network Program Management Office should provide a report which defines a consolidated federal position on standards for public safety radio systems. The report should include a Common Operating Environment for current and emerging public safety land mobile radio equipment.

4. Include security in all public safety land mobile radio systems.

Future public safety land mobile radio systems must be secure. Lack of appropriate security controls creates the potential for overt or inadvertent damage, manipulation, exploitation, or denial of service. By April 1997, the GITS Board should assure that government systems security experts work with the public safety community and industry to define security guidelines, standards, and conformance test procedures for public safety land mobile radio systems and equipment.

5. Establish an alternative funding mechanism for federal, state, and local public safety officials to improve their wireless communications systems.

Congress has approved the use of “asset forfeiture funds” for test systems in fiscal year 1997. Asset forfeiture funds are sums of money generated by the auction of property seized by law enforcement as a result of a criminal conviction. This funding mechanism is but one innovative way to finance equipment purchases without increasing budgets.

By May 1997, the FLEWUG, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Commerce should establish an interagency working group to develop recommendations for other innovative ways to fund wireless public safety systems. These recommendations should be presented to the Office of Management and Budget by September 1997.


1 Final Report of the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC), September 11, 1996, page 2.

2The Public Safety Wireless Network of the Future, Management Plan, Working Draft, 2nd Edition, October 1995.

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