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3 common myths about interoperable communications you need to know
Learn about the results from a recent FireRescue1 survey, which debunked industry misconceptions about interoperability usage among firefighters
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By FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff
FireRescue1 recently surveyed readers and asked how they viewed and used interoperable communications. This included questions about how often they needed to interoperate with partnering public safety organizations, the tools they use today and the tools they need in the future to succeed.
A variety of our readers responded to the survey across industry titles; the majority had the title of firefighter, with 61.7 percent working out of volunteer departments, 18.6 percent combination, 17 percent career and 2.6 percent in a part-time role. Almost 85 percent of respondents said interoperable communications were “very important” to them.
Here is what we learned:
MYTH 1: INTEROPERABLE COMMUNICATIONS ARE ONLY FOR LARGE-SCALE DISASTERS
False. Nearly all of our survey respondents said they use interoperable communications on a local level either “sometimes” or “all the time.”
This is especially true when it comes to working with other public safety agencies in neighboring jurisdictions, such as police and EMS departments. When asked how often during an emergency incident they needed to communicate directly with neighboring police and fire agencies, 41 percent said “All the time.” This was followed by nearly 58 percent saying “Sometimes” and only 1 percent choosing “Never.”
The response was similar when asking about county agencies: more than 41 percent said “All the time,” nearly 54 percent said “Sometimes,” and less than 5 percent said “Never.”
The perception that interoperability is only required for large-scale disasters discounts the frequency with which fire departments respond to statewide incidents.
While when asked about communicating with state agencies only 3.2 percent said “All the time,” more than 68 percent said “Sometimes”—showing communicating with state agencies is still is a regular occurrence for most departments.
MYTH 2: USING MULTI-BAND RADIOS IS THE ONLY STRATEGY FOR INTEROPERABILITY
False. Multi-band radios are the go-to for interoperability, but departments also use countywide networks or a second radio provided by another agency.
In the survey, we asked what technologies respondents currently use for interoperable communications and to check all technologies that applied. Multi-band radios were the top-rated technologies in current use among respondents, selected by 72 percent. This isn’t surprising, as using shared channels for interoperability is a federal DHS initiative and this result reflects that effort.
But countywide networks also were important to our respondents, with more than 45 percent saying they use countywide municipal networks to communicate. This is a public safety voice and data radio network that enables communication across disparate agencies, and these networks continue to be crucial for supporting interoperability for fire departments and other public-safety agencies.
About 25 percent said they carry a second radio provided by a neighboring agency to have interoperable communications — what editors considered a somewhat cumbersome work around. This is a potential area of improvement for agencies that must choose this option due to budgetary or other reasons.
Indeed there is no doubt radios will continue to be a key component for interoperability. In another survey question, we learned that nearly 70 percent of respondents said all-band radios continue to be a technology they would like to use in the future for interoperable communications.
MYTH 3: FIRE DEPARTMENTS HAVE LITTLE USE FOR DATA DURING AN EMERGENCY RESPONSE
False. Firefighters need as much information as they can get for maximum situational awareness and resource allocation when working across agencies. There is a need to share and receive information (voice and data) across disparate networks and devices and to have a seamless exchange of data accessible on the fly, whether that is from a handheld radio or a CAD system.
When asked to check all that applied, wireless systems that carry voice and data components dominated responses. Not surprising, nearly 70 percent said all-band radios continue to be a technology they would like to use in the future for interoperable communications — showing how radios will always be a key component for interoperability.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents wanted to see more interoperable communications in life-saving systems, specifically their wireless SCBA tank telemetry. This included sending tank levels to incident command per the current NFPA standard (i.e. full, 3/4, 1/2 and 1/3).
This was followed by other protective systems, specifically wireless monitoring PASS alarms at about 57 percent and remote viewing of helmet cameras at about 57 percent.
Fifty-six percent chose broadband data and applications including CAD. Putting an emphasis on CAD shows respondents want to be equipped with as much information available to improve situational awareness as well as appropriately dispatch and allocate resources to a scene. This is especially important to the fire service because of the wide range of emergencies they have to respond to (fires, car crashes, health emergencies, natural disasters and more.)
In short, our FireRescue1 survey showed that while the need for interoperable communication is well demonstrated, firefighters still want access to more technologies to achieve it.