Breakdowns in communications are hurting first responders. And one of the reasons for the communications breakdown is that their radio's aren't on the same bandwidth. That means that during an emergency firefighters can't talk to EMS or law enforcement on their radios. It slows down reaction time and operability.
The solution seems simple, give everyone the same radios. But it's not. Each branch has unique requirements.
Tom Chirhart is the program manager for the First Responders Group at the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security. Chirhart has just finished hismulti-band radio report and a procurement guide.
He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that this is a public safety issue.
"It's not the case where you can grab one radio and communicate with fire, EMS and police. And on top of it the federal agencies and the DoD also operate on a different frequency. So the goal was to find a way to encourage manufacturers to build a single radio capable of operating across frequencies," said Chirhart.
"The pilot was an effort to test and evaluate the multi-band radio with multiple agencies across the US at the community, local, state, tribal and federal levels. After each pilot we conducted a review of the findings from the user community to see where we could improve it or what additions were needed to meet the mission needs of the group," said Chirhart.
"Mission needs are different for each entity because of working environments. One of the biggest complaints we heard from first responders was that engineers told them what tools they needed instead of asking them what they need. For example a firefighter wearing his protective gear needs a radio that he can hear above the noise and large nobs because when they wear heavy fire proof gloves they have to be able to control the volume," said Chirhart.
Besides size another big challenge was the time. The radios needed to be able to last for 12 + hours.
"Our guide is basically a consumer report for buying radios. What happen when you go into the smaller agencies very few if any people have any understanding of the equipment that is available nor do they know the equipment they need. The guide goes into detail saying this what a basic radio consists of. It also gives you a description of the features of multi-band. It compiles a list of manufacturers and can evaluate them and rate them to see if they meet your requirements," said Chirhart.