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$1 Billion Available for Public Safety Interoperability in 2007

EMS may lose out if leaders don't get involved

Hours before adjourning Dec. 11, Congress passed a bill that will allow public safety agencies to apply for $1 billion in federal interoperability funds in 2007.

However, EMS could lose out unless EMS leaders and administrators at every level get more involved in this issue, according to the person who has taken the lead in representing EMS at various organizations, committees and panels addressing communications.

"I'm at the national tables where there are multiple guys for fire and law enforcement, but only one guy for EMS," said Kevin McGinnis, program advisor to the National Association of State EMS Officials and communications technology advisor to the Joint National EMS Leadership Conference. He worries that a lack of involvement will mean EMS and its unique communications needs will be neglected in both policy making and funding.

"Where I'm most concerned is at the state and local levels," he said. "There are state interoperability executive committees in every state, but EMS is not at the table in many states, and that is replicated at the local level."

According to McGinnis, EMS administrators would be wise to take three steps:

  • Recognize what EMS communications will look like in the future (For a quick briefing, see his column on "Communication Concerns," December 2005 EMS Insider.);
  • Realize that future EMS voice and data communications are "bandwidth intensive," so get to the table where bandwidth is handed out ƒ especially in the 700Ï800 MHz range "as wireless mesh systems start coming in" ƒ and "fight for the bandwidth"; and
  • Become involved in forums where the money is being handed out for interoperable communications. "Interoperability is moving quickly," he said.„

McGinnis has created a LISTSERV for EMS leaders to keep them abreast of developments in EMS communications, and he now sends information to 200Ï300 people.

He notes that many people are daunted by such things as bandwidths, spectrum, frequencies and MHz, but said it's not as hard as it seems to learn the terminology and understand enough about communications to participate. "If I can learn it, anyone can," he said.

To address this issue, McGinnis is developing a guide on communications for state EMS officials that should be released this spring and prove useful for anyone in EMS. "It's on how to optimize an EMS communications system within a statewide interoperable system, a primer on the lingo, and information on radio versus IT and where data fits in," he said. NHTSA and "its federal partners" are funding the project.

Another problem, McGinnis said, is that many EMS people don't know how to plug into the communications efforts in their states and regions. He suggests they call their state EMS office for guidance. "If their state's EMS office is not involved in statewide planning, [they can] call me, and I can tell them who is involved in communications in that state," he said.

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