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Why are
interoperable
communications
systems important
for first responders?

Author: Mark Stone

When it comes to public safety, communication is essential. For first responders and frontline workers, the ability to reliably connect with team members, other departments, members of the public and many others in the moment can mean the difference between life and death.

Effective, real-time communication requires an interoperable communications system. Municipal decision-makers need to understand real interoperability and how it relates to their first responders to help ensure the best possible responses in times of crisis. They also need to understand what it isn't and how to recognize incomplete or false interoperability.

So what is interoperability, why is interoperability in law enforcement and for all first responders important, and how can real interoperability be distinguished from that which falls short?

What is interoperability?

Interoperability is the quick, safe and reliable communication and sharing of data across a wide range of devices and media. With real interoperability in the communications system, you should be able to share data with whomever you need at any time—regardless of the network, device, platform or solution you're using.

However, many solutions break down and fall short when real interoperability does not exist. The mark of real interoperability is achieving priority, preemption and enhanced quality of service—all without losing quality when you cross networks. This capability is especially important for people working in high-stakes situations.

Why is an interoperable communications system important for municipal decision-makers and first responders?

In crisis situations, an interoperable communications system can save lives. First responders must be able to connect with all necessary parties to coordinate action, maximize safety and ensure their objectives are reached as quickly as possible.

The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call for greater interoperability in law enforcement and first responders. In many cases, communication broke down completely as firefighters, police and other teams couldn't connect and coordinate effectively. Since then, a much greater focus has emerged to build up and optimize communication capabilities.

Real interoperability also allows applications to work across all devices and media. Teams can quickly and seamlessly contact others working in the same situation, regardless of the type of equipment they're using.

Today, voice and data are inherently interoperable. Real interoperability between carriers should exist, and interoperability in law enforcement teams and municipal departments should always be top of mind in this regard to enable seamless collaboration.

What are the features of real interoperability?

Although interoperability is achievable with the technology available today, many systems still aren't interoperable. While they may appear interoperable on the surface, many lack the hallmarks of real interoperability.

Here are the main system characteristics of real interoperability:

  • Telephony-voice priority and preemption. Responders should be able to communicate quickly, reliably and effectively through voice. In high-stakes situations where every second counts, it's critical.
  • Data prioritization and preemption. Today, first responders have access to a wealth of data that can be used to save time and perform better in crisis situations. However, they must be able to access and use this data from wherever they are—wherever it's stored.
  • Mutual-aid roaming between carriers. Often, in a disaster situation, you lose access to networks. The ability to quickly transition to another functional network to minimize downtime is essential.
  • Application interoperability. At the core of real interoperability is the ability to communicate across networks and applications. If your system walls off other networks, it may be difficult or impossible to communicate with the first responders using those networks, leading to breakdowns in communication at the most crucial times.
  • LTE-to-LMR interoperability. You should be able to connect LMR (Land Mobile Radio) equipment (such as handheld portable radios) to devices that use LTE cell towers (like mobile phones). This helps ensure constant connectivity and avoids dead zones.
  • Interoperability between 3GPP-standard mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT), mission-critical data (MCData) and mission-critical video (MCVideo) offered by carriers. This allows your teams to connect their various capabilities to seamlessly share diverse types of data across different media.

Verizon Frontline is the advanced network and technology built right to enable real interoperability among eligible first responders and frontline workers. We understand the importance of enabling priority and preemption to be passed across carriers, to help optimize communication in critical situations—and, ultimately to help save lives. Learn more about Verizon Frontline.

FAQs

What is interoperability? +
  • Real interoperability refers to seamlessly sharing information across a range of different devices and media in a way that's safe, reliable and quick, no matter what network, devices, apps or solutions an agency chooses.

Why is interoperability important for first responders? +
  • To help save lives, first responders must communicate crucial information as quickly and clearly as possible, between multiple teams using different devices and applications, in high-stakes situations.

What is LTE? +
  • LTE stands for “Long-Term Evolution,” and describes a version of 4G that delivers a faster mobile internet experience. LTE will continue to work alongside 5G as this current generation network continues to roll out.

How does LTE affect interoperability? +
  • LTE allows you to share information across distances rapidly, using existing networks. LTE is part of the infrastructure necessary to enable true interoperability.