EMCOMM / Technical Articles

EMCOMM: Why Interoperability Among Agencies is Critical During an Emergency

The ability to work together doesn’t always work well inside of an agency or an organization. So, when asking organizations or agencies to work and communicate together, chaos can ensue.

If an emergency or disaster occurs, we need all agencies and volunteers to work together seamlessly to provide assistance to the community. The first step to achieving this goal is to get the leaders from each agency on the same page about what is required. Once that is established, committees can be formed to start brainstorming, with involvement from various disciplines. Together, they can write a plan, build a budget, note procedures, and organize collaborations.

Of course, none of this will work without training and exercises. How many times have hams said they were too busy or uninterested in training but would be there in the event of a real emergency? Well, what will that accomplish? Training, nets, and exercises are used to simulate emergencies so people will know what to do, providing general orientation on places and equipment. Training leads to experience and familiarity with procedures and plans. Training is needed among all interested agencies to understand not only their role in an emergency or disaster, but how the collaboration works as a whole.

What kind of training can entire emergency structures in a community participate in? Here’s what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has to say about the importance of interoperability training to ensure information gets shared across disciplines and jurisdictons during emergencies:

Implementing effective training and exercise programs to practice communications interoperability is essential for ensuring that the technology works and responders are able to effectively communicate during emergencies.

General Orientation on Equipment and Applications

Agencies provide initial orientation to their users with regard to their particular equipment and applications. Multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional operations are often an afterthought to this training, if provided at all.

Single Agency Tabletop Exercises for Key Field and Support Staff

Structured tabletop exercises promote planning and identify response gaps. However, single agency activities do not promote interoperability across disciplines and jurisdictions. Additionally, management and supervisory training is critical to promoting routine use of interoperability mechanisms.

Multi-Agency Tabletop Exercises for Key Field and Support Staff

As agencies and disciplines begin working together to develop exercises and provide field training, workable interoperability solutions emerge. Tabletops should address data and/or voice communications interoperability and focus on effective information flow.

Multi-Agency Full Functional Exercises Involving All Staff

Once multi-agency/multi-discipline plans are developed and practiced at the management and supervisory level, it is critical that all staff who would be involved in actual implementation receive training and participate in exercises.

Regular Comprehensive Regionwide Training and Exercises

Optimal interoperability involves equipment familiarization and an introduction to regional/state interoperability at time of hire (or in an academy setting). Success will be assured by regular, comprehensive, and realistic exercises that address potential problems in the region and involve the participation of all personnel.

Questions? Share them in the comments below or email me at KE8FMJ@arrl.net.

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