SEARCH Supports Department of Homeland Security Tactical Interoperable Communications Plans and Exercises

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During 2006, SEARCH served in several roles as one of the key policy and operational services providers to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Grants and Training, Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program (ICTAP).

DHS required that Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) regions nationwide produce a Tactical Interoperable Communications Plan (TICP), followed by a 12-month period during which the TICP had to be "validated" through a full-scale exercise during 2006. In addition, states without a UASI region were required to designate a city to complete a TICP and validate it. Ultimately, 75 metropolitan regions across the country submitted plans and carried out exercises. Each was eligible for DHS-funded assistance in completing the plans.

Accelerated TICP Validation Exercise Schedule Challenges Local Agencies and SEARCH
"In March 2006, DHS Secretary Chertoff surprised state and local homeland security officials with an accelerated schedule for completion of the TICP validation exercises," according to Dan Hawkins, SEARCH Director of Public Safety Programs. "Originally UASI regions and other cities completing Tactical Interoperable Communications Plans were given until May 1, 2007 to complete full-scale exercises validating their plans. Last March, that was cut back to September 30, 2006.

"Not only did the accelerated schedule challenge local agencies that had to conduct the exercises, but it required a great deal of concentrated effort on the part of contractors like SEARCH. Our staff performed marvelously, receiving special accolades from ICTAP management."
SEARCH served in a lead capacity at 12 sites, including Vermont, Louisiana, and Alaska; provided implementation workshops to prepare hundreds of participants for validation exercises in six locations from Seattle to St. Thomas; and led exercise evaluation teams at 14 sites from Delaware to Guam. SEARCH staff members led the first exercise evaluation team in Louisville, Kentucky (see SEARCH Web site article, "Thunder Over Louisville" for details about this tactical exercise), and one of the last in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After the exercises were completed, DHS issued a "scorecard" for each of the metropolitan regions, quantifying their levels of communications interoperability. Eight dimensions of governance, policies and procedures, and usage were scored for each of the sites by peer evaluators and other subject-matter experts to best improve that region's communications capabilities. On January 3, 2007, DHS released the scorecard assessments of interoperable communications capabilities, Tactical Interoperable Communications Scorecards: Summary Report and Findings (PDF, 179 pages, 4.1mb). The document is available online at http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/grants-scorecard-report-010207.pdf. DHS is using the scorecards to focus technical assistance programs and target specific areas of improvement in communications interoperability.

More information on communications interoperability is available in the premier Fall 2006 issue of Public Safety IT, a new magazine that features an article by SEARCH Director of Public Safety Dan Hawkins titled "Tactical Interoperable Communications Planning." Mr. Hawkins has an ongoing column in the publication that looks at key challenges facing public safety in improving interagency communications. His next column offers an in-depth look at the DHS scorecard process. See the magazine Web site at http://www.hendonpub.com/publications/publicsafetyit/.