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Can you hear me now?

For the first time, California agencies in charge of public safety have a good idea of what their most pressing collective communication needs are–namely, that half of their radio equipment is obsolete and should be replaced within two years, at a projected cost of $85 million.

This revelation comes from a government committee report–a collaborative effort of 14 state agencies–that was made available to the public last week by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the agency that chaired the committee.
The report also lays out the beginnings of a 10-year road map to achieve statewide “interoperability.” Interoperability is the ability for public safety first responders to communicate seamlessly with each other despite differences in product or systems.

The need for interoperable communication first became widely known to the public after the attacks of 9/11, when first responders using different radio communications systems found themselves unable to talk to each other.

In California, the diversity of the state’s terrain means that certain radio frequencies work better for different agencies. Glen Craig, a former commissioner of the Highway Patrol, said that low-band frequencies are most compatible for officers on patrol. In contrast, high-band frequencies work better for communication among those fighting wild land fires, said Glen Savage, telecommunications manager with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The trick is bridging disparate systems so that all responders can use the best technology for their purposes and still be able to communicate across departments.

Frank McCarton, chief deputy director for the Office of Emergency Services, said that in order to become interoperable, the state needs to first make sure it is operable. “The report included needs analysis from all 58 counties, including 240 agencies

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