The only interoperability processes that will be effective in an emergency are those that are well known to your users. Expensive patching devices, ISSI (Inter-Sub-System Interfaces) and extra groups or channels in the radios will not help unless your users understand how to take advantage of them.
Keep your processes simple and make sure all your users are well trained. Do not spend large sums of money on high tech devices when the best solutions may be operational.
Interoperating with other agencies
Interoperability and roaming are often confused: ensure that everyone understands the difference.
Planning for critical event interoperability with partner agencies is a daily task, so that you are prepared for rapid deployment with your interoperability partners.
At the outset, you will need to establish agreement on process and technology with those you will need to work with in a disaster.
- Define the complexity of your interoperability needs with a matrix of who will need to talk to whom.
- Identify critical user groups in advance and build these priorities into your talkgroup structure.
- Keep procedures as simple as possible as you may not have access to your full system in an emergency.
- Protect capacity by prioritizing and limiting who will talk. Allow only critical groups to operate.
- Identify the need for unencrypted interoperability channels for external agencies.
- Use transportable networks and portable repeaters.
- Consider storing the configuration files for radio models used by your interoperability partners so you can interoperate at every level.
A recent addition to the P25 standard is ISSI which allows you to connect your network to other radio networks. This might be invaluable for interoperability, but it requires significant effort and ongoing cooperation between participating network owners.
SOPs and Training
It is very difficult to predict all emergency scenarios and prepare for every eventuality. However, being well prepared for the most obvious or most critical ones may be sufficient. Involving a large, cross-functional team in designing your emergency SOPs and then practicing scenarios regularly are important to your overall preparedness.
Everyone needs to know how to interoperate before they need it so you should train with your interoperability partners. While this clearly includes your mutual aid partners and neighboring agencies, you may need to include transit, schools, municipal teams, Red Cross, National Guard, and hospitals.
Training with the equipment should include training the users to stay off their radios unless they urgently need to communicate.
A major benefit of regular training and drills is to identify weaknesses in your equipment, procedures, or people. You then have the opportunity to improve. Reviews and debriefs after training and real events are invaluable and can save lives in the future.
While it can be difficult to justify the time and cost of extensive training programs, multi-agency, multi-discipline training has the advantage of shared funding, with each participating agency bringing their own training budget to the event.
- Factor in the roles of other technologies during events.
- Train everyone with the equipment they will use in an emergency. New or upgraded equipment requires fresh training.
- Train your radio users to stay off their radios unless they need to communicate.
- Empower dispatchers to turn off non-priority talk groups during events.
- Uncontrolled interoperability consumes valuable bandwidth – establish process and train users in it.
- Train for different scenarios, including reduced communication capacity.
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