APCO Projects

Since 1935, APCO International has served public safety communications through a series of projects aimed at solving the unique problems telecommunications professionals encounter. Below are brief descriptions of the projects we have records for in our historical files. Many thanks to David Swann and the Historical Committee for their help in putting this list together.

Project 1

APCO's first project was the production and distribution of a color film titled "The Little We Have." The film was accompanied by handouts, use-reporting cards and instructions and was distributed to individual chapters to spread the word that public safety frequencies for land mobile radio use were severely limited. The project was an education campaign aimed at the public and the media, designed to put pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to address frequency reallocation as a solution to the frequency shortage problem that resulted from the rapid growth of mobile communications.

Project 2

In 1966, the U.S. Attorney General awarded a grant to APCO for the research and development of a public safety communications standard operating procedure manual. The manual addressed radio, teletypewriter and radiotelegraph use and was a big seller for APCO. More than 23,000 copies were sold by April 1971. The manual was so popular it was translated into French, Spanish and Japanese. Public and private libraries, attorneys, corporations, private law enforcement agencies, federal agencies, armed services agencies, research and consulting groups stocked and used the manual, which represented the first attempt to standardize two-way radio use. A welcome side effect was publicity for APCO, resulting in an unprecedented surge in membership.

Perhaps equally interesting is the debate that began after the manual was disseminated and put into use, a debate centered around putting civilian operators - particularly females - in communications centers. The question was raised by members who wanted to free their (male) sworn officers from comm center operations and put them back on the road and in the field where they were severely needed. The use of standardized procedures meant it was no longer necessary to have a sworn officer at every position in the comm center and eventually led to the creation of the entity we now call a telecommunicator.

Project 3

APCO's Project 3 was a study of police communications in the metropolitan Chicago area, with the objective of developing and implementing a communications plan for more effective law enforcement in the area, which had a severe shortage of frequencies available for public safety use. The frequency-shortage problem was not, of course, limited to Chicago; law enforcement agencies in many metropolitan areas found themselves unable to provide for their radio basic needs, much less use the newest and most sophisticated equipment and communications techniques currently available. The result was danger to the officers in the field and to the citizens of those areas. The project directly addressed the problem as stemming from the FCC's inability to foresee - and unwillingness to reorganize the spectrum to accommodate - the rapid growth of land mobile radio services.

Project 4

In keeping with the trend toward standardization, APCO developed "Ten Signal Cards." The project was also a huge success for APCO, with tens of thousands of copies sold. Agencies, including the Division of Park Operations of the National Park Service, were quick to adopt the "ten signals" for official use. Although the actual signals and ten-codes have evolved over time, this project was the first attempt to address the need for standards in radio-use language, a basic tenet of interoperability.

Project 5

To assist agencies dealing with the problems inherent in locating and securing frequencies for land mobile radio use, Project 5 involved the development and publication of a public safety frequency coordination manual. APCO gave a copy of the manual to each of its frequency coordinators and sold them to others at barely above cost. The cost was set low because APCO was more interested in strengthening and accelerating the entire coordination process than in making a profit.

Project 6

The first unsuccessful project APCO undertook was Project 6, the CCTV filming of the 1970 Clearwater Conference. It was designed to give members a look at how a national conference operates and at important issues being discussed by experts and leaders in the field of public safety communications. It was also a way to familiarize the membership with its leaders and to see them in action, and APCO hoped to increase attendance and participation in national conferences by lending the film to the chapters. However, in the six months following the film's production, not one copy was requested by chapters or members.

Project 11

To meet the demand for basic radio operator and dispatcher training, Project 11 developed a course based on APCO's Public Safety Standard Operating Procedures Manual and on national survey results. The course used audio-visual aids and simulators to supplement standard training tools. It was designed to be used by those involved in all aspects of public safety, including police, fire, highway safety, conservation and civil defense. It included sections for training at both the supervisory and non-supervisory level and presented material applicable by both large and small departments. The course was designed as basic training and did not seek to write policies or procedures for universal use, in recognition of the unique operational considerations of various agencies and public safety entities.

Project 13

To help members gain LEAA grants through more complete and effective applications, APCO's Project 13 was a planning project. It dealt with ideas, procedures, systems and management, rather than equipment or technical issues. After surveying agencies that had received LEAA funding in the three years preceding the project, APCO was able to identify how they got it and to provide a "cookbook" style resource to assist other agencies seeking that same type of funding. Specifically, APCO asked how each agency made decisions and identified statewide telecommunications plans, as well as the telecommunications portions of comprehensive law enforcement plans. APCO found out who developed and contributed to these types of plans, what professional skills were employed, what the plans contained, how they were updated and how they were enforced or implemented. The result was a checklist for applicants to ensure their plans reflected real requirements, were technically feasible, had been properly coordinated and had the vital elements to guarantee success.

Project 14

Project 14 studied the efficacy of the use and standardization of aural brevity codes, such as "10-4." Through surveys, the committee determined six benefits of using such codes, including improved accuracy within and between systems, a reduction in system response times, enhanced system discipline, increased privacy, more efficient use of training time and the applicability of such codes to the then-newly developing system keyboard indexing. They also discovered of the three possible code formats (alpha-only, alpha numeric and numeric-only), the numeric-only format was most suitable; they also found a need for a prefix and suggested the already popular "10" was the best choice and should be retained. The committee found a need for a standard code list to maximize interdepartmental cooperation and to minimize training concerns, because employees would not have to learn a new code list if they changed agencies. In addition to the code list, they determined a phonetic alphabet was also needed, to minimize confusion on the radio, and concluded the international phonetic alphabet already widely in use fulfilled the need adequately.

The result of Project 14 was the publication of a revised "Ten-Signal" aural brevity code, with the recommendation this list be adopted as a national standard. The committee members recommended the code be incorporated as standard keyboard characterizations in existing and future hardware specifications and used in information exchanges between fixed terminals of land mobile systems and on the criminal justice information network. They endorsed the international phonetic alphabet as the standard for the public service community. Finally, they recommended further study of the benefits of the future development of standard codes by individual radio service categories (fire, law enforcement, EMS) for use in conjunction with the listed aural brevity codes.

Project 16

The opening of the 900 MHz band by the FCC offered the public safety community the chance to develop communications systems with significantly enhanced capabilities. The advent of trunked communications systems coupled with digital addressing techniques made possible an entirely new approach to public safety communications systems design.

APCO's Project 16 addressed specific characteristics and functional capabilities of those systems; the intention was to create a system concept that would satisfy the minimum needs of all potential users and permit the inclusion of more complex requirements needed by some communities then or in the future. Project 16 addressed such characteristics and capabilities as channel access times, automated priority recognition, data systems interface, individuality of system users, command and control flexibility, system growth capability, frequency use and reliability. The final document also described a multi-channel mobile communications system that uses digital addressing techniques and frequency switching systems.

Project 17

Project 17 addressed the formation of APCO's Technical Advisory Program, in which volunteer members of APCO particularly skilled in communications management, planning, programming and funding assist other agencies having difficulties in those areas. The goal of the TAP is to provide a source of "tried and true" solutions to certain problems that commonly occur in communications centers, to keep each center from having to "re-invent the wheel," so to speak. TAP also hopes its recommendations may prevent problems or reduce the likelihood of their occurrence. The project committee found the most common problems occur in the areas of system design, spectrum management and dispatcher training.

The Project 17 committee also discovered a root cause of inefficient communications systems: a lack of familiarity with communications concepts by senior policy-making personnel, who may have little or no background in communications prior to assuming responsibility for a communications center. The committee recommended agencies require completion of a course of instruction for all middle-management and senior law enforcement officers; the course would provide an understanding of the basic concepts of communications systems organization, management and regulatory control.

Project 25

A joint effort of APCO and the National Association of State Telecommunications Directors, Project 25 concerns the development of standards for digital telecommunications technology, including an objective to determine consensus standards for digital radio equipment embracing elements of interoperability, spectrum efficiency and cost economies. The project committee believed the best forum for setting these standards was a combination of the public-safety community at the local, state and federal levels and the telecommunications industry, with input from the FCC.

The project's original objective was to create a suite of standards. More than 30 standards were set with six basic interfaces, including common air interfaces (CAI), data interfaces, intersystem interfaces, network and network management interfaces, public-switched telephone network interfaces and host data interfaces. The heart and soul of the project, according to Project Director Craig Jorgensen, is the CAI, which provides the key to interoperability by addressing channel bandwidth, bit rate and access, as well as modulation methods.

Project 25 had a profound impact on the telecommunications industry, which now bases its design and development of new equipment on compliance with Project 25 standards.

Project 26

With the increase in population growth of metropolitan areas in the United States, many public safety emergency response agencies began finding it more and more difficult to handle overcrowded radio channels. Because of this, they also could not modernize their communications systems to ensure interoperability between various public safety agencies. New channels were needed, but the agencies could not acquire the adequate radio frequency assignments. Congress anticipated this problem several years earlier and ordered the FCC to create a national plan that would provide enough radio channels to satisfy current and future needs. The FCC took some early steps toward this movement but did not follow it through completely. APCO established Project 26 in August 1990, banding together with public safety organizations in the tri-state region of New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut. The goal was to obtain radio spectrum relief in urban areas that were experiencing spectrum shortfall. If successful, the agencies would utilize a television channel (Channel 16 in New York). This would aid in expanding and reorganizing radio systems, thereby eliminating overcrowding. In 1992, APCO submitted an application for waiver on behalf of the New York City agencies and metropolitan area jurisdictions to the FCC. The request included applications from all participating public safety agencies and included supportive documentation. The effort was successful and public safety agencies from New York City, Suffolk County and Nassau County are currently using the channel.

Project 28

APCO was called to action again in 1991 when the FCC considered reallocating radio frequency bands currently occupied by public safety organizations across the country to new PCS and mobile satellite services. APCO and the National Association of State Telecommunications Directors (NASTD) formed a Project 28 committee. Chaired by then-APCO President Sam Gargaro, the committee met in April of that year to discuss the implications and possible alternatives or resolutions to the frequency reallocation proposition. The committee determined that reallocation of public safety agencies to other frequencies would be too costly and would not be as safe or effective as the existing 2 GHz microwave frequency being used. APCO and the NASTD notified many city and state officials of the impending problem and asked them to petition Congress and the FCC (with supporting arguments or any study results). A year later APCO again claimed victory with the resulting grandfathering of all state and local government licensees currently occupying the 2GHz band indefinitely. While new users would be allowed to negotiate buy-outs of existing licenses, no state or local government microwave user would ever be forced off.

Project 31

With the onslaught of wireless telecommunication, APCO was concerned about present and future PCS transmissions clogging radio airwaves allocated to public safety. APCO was successful in having the FCC add a provision in its Appropriations Authorization bill, which would prevent public safety from being bumped off its microwave spectrum. Objectives of Project 31 included finding out what spectrum requirements would be for this future influx of airwave usage; identifying how PCA/PCN use would affect operational areas of mobile radio, microwave, 9-1-1 service, cellular, telephone systems computers, personal paging and their associated infrastructures; researching regulatory issues (licensing, spectrum auctions, etc.), networking, billing and costs; and concluding how this would affect government and public safety operations as well as service providers and the general public. APCO recommended that Project 31 be a joint project involving telecommunications organizations and city, town and county associations representing state, local and governmental users and representatives.

Project 32

APCO concluded in order to grow with an ever-changing telecommunications environment, it needed to broaden its primary focus on public safety to include providing support to technicians, maintenance personnel, computer support and managers and directors. Officials also called for expansion of APCO's membership base to include decision-makers, planners and system developers who could make valuable recommendations on technological solutions to their agencies. These people would buy equipment and interest vendors to exhibit a variety of useful products at APCO's exhibit halls that will help meet members' needs. Finally, then-Second Vice President Steven Proctor suggested an increase in communication and cooperation between APCO and other related organizations such as NENA (National Emergency Number Association), for the 9-1-1 and dispatch personnel; and the National Association of State Telecommunications Directors (NASTD), which includes directors of various state agencies. Working more closely with these organizations would help develop joint standards for the technological changes taking place in the telecommunications field.

Project 33

At its1995 annual conference, then-President Ross Morris announced APCO would develop a telecommunications training standard for public safety agencies nationwide (National Public Safety Telecommunications Training Standard). At that time many states had not developed any standardized training for their agencies. Morris assigned this task to the APCO Operating Procedures and Training Committee. It selected a Standard Development Committee comprised of experts from public safety communications agencies throughout the nation. APCO collaborated with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) to evaluate what type of standardized training programs (if any) each state had. The information gathered helped APCO build the foundation for the National Public Safety Telecommunicator Training Standard, which is the minimum standard used today.

Project 34

An offshoot of Project 25, this project addressed wideband aeronautical and terrestrial mobile digital radio technology standards for the wireless transport of rate-intensive information. The project began when members noted the convergence of voice and data services revolutionizing the commercial transport of information, both wireless and wired. While the convergence has had little impact on dedicated public safety systems to date, APCO expects that convergence to be a natural progression within the public safety community as new, rate-intensive technologies are implemented. The project committee discovered four generally universal limitations restricting the use of commercial services for mission-critical public safety wireless applications: priority access and system restoration, reliability, ubiquitous coverage and security. Project 25/34 describes a platform that can be installed as a government/ commercial partnership that overcomes these limitations and provides universal access to all subscribers within a carefully controlled and managed network. It establishes standards for the transmission and reception of voice, video and high-speed data in a wide-area, multiple-agency network.

Project 35

In September 1996, President Clinton and the U.S. Department of Justice proposed a nationwide non-emergency number should be available for citizens. This proposed number (3-1-1) would be an easy-to-remember number and would alleviate some of the crowding on 9-1-1 emergency circuits. Clinton and the Justice Department petitioned the FCC to reserve the 3-1-1 number for this purpose. Realizing the impact of such an action, APCO decided to investigate its ramifications before submitting a position statement. After a great deal of research and debate ending with a Washington meeting of the minds, APCO concluded a non-emergency access number was essential for all public safety agencies, and 3-1-1 was one way to accomplish this objective. While APCO stressed the importance of having a non-emergency number, it also pointed out public education was more important than the selection of a method by which a call would arrive. APCO also said a functional 9-1-1 system should be in place before a 3-1-1 system is implemented. Many cities did not even have access to 9-1-1 systems at the time of this project (and still do not). APCO concluded a federal mandate to guide 3-1-1 implementation should not exist. Individual municipalities and members of local government should make the decision. The 3-1-1- number should be reserved for government access and should not be widely known as a nationwide number like 9-1-1.

Project 36

This project was developed to research and develop universal standards for Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and CAD-to-CAD exchanges. The goal was to develop effective processes for the exchange of data between third party call centers such as alarm companies and PSAPs.

Project 37

The main goal of this project is to provide public safety communications personnel with high quality certifications programs. To help understand what would make the program the best it could be, project developers devised a survey for agencies to complete. After the surveys are completed and collected, the Project 37 Committee will compile the results, research the information, and gather any related certification program standards and structures for review. From this information, the project's steering team will form sub-groups to analyze the different program structures and certification processes. This should provide APCO project leaders with a solid base for a successful certification program structure and process. Committee Chair Lynn Feller said the goal of the project is to define and create a set of high quality, highly visible and valuable standards for certification for public safety communications personnel.

Many of the early projects were assigned to individual chapters, and the documents pertaining to them reside in the files of those chapters, far from headquarters. If your chapter can share those documents with us, we'd love to use them to complete our coverage of the project series in a future issue.

Project 38

Established in August 2000 in Boston at APCO's Annual Conference to facilitate the timely implementation of wireless 9-1-1 Phase II. With First Vice President Thera Bradshaw taking the initial leadership role as Board liaison, the project was coined Project LOCATE following its first meeting in San Francisco, California, later that fall. At the meeting Bill Hinkle, of APCO's Ohio Chapter, was named chair.

The project committee plans to help PSAPs ready themselves to receive wireless E9-1-1 technology so they may identify the exact location of emergency calls made from wireless phones (in accordance with FCC docket 94-102 Phase II). PSAPs must obtain the appropriate equipment and make requests to wireless carriers for Phase II services. However, implementation has been slow, partly due to carrier reluctance, lack of funding and lack of individual state wireless E9-1-1 legislation.

The committee will work with PSAPs, carriers, local and state governments as well as the FCC in achieving this goal. Committee members, along with APCO staff, will compile information on each state's wireless E9-1-1 status, e.g., absence or presence of legislation, funding or a statewide 9-1-1 authority. It will identify carriers' status of wireless Phase II technology, and it will identify the needs of individual PSAPs.

Additionally, the committee will establish liaisons with the FCC and various public safety organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Association of State Legislators (NASL) and the National League of Cities (NLC). Forming working relationships with these entities will help speed implementation of this lifesaving technology, which is severely lagging in many areas of the country.

Project 39

This project deals with public safety 800 MHz interference. It was established at the Executive Council's 2001 Mid-Year meeting in Jacksonville, Florida.

Chaired by RoxAnn Brown of APCO's Oregon Chapter, the committee established its goal and mission to provide multiple, reality based, and where possible, tested short-term (less than 12 months), mid-term (less than 24 months), and long-term solutions for 800 MHz interference issues involving wireless/cellular providers and Public Safety that can be applied to eliminate life-safety communications interference within the United States.

Kevin Kearns, of APCO's Washington Chapter, was named chair of the project's Technical Sub-Committee. The Technical committee is comprised of 8 APCO members of a variety of locations and backgrounds from around the country and also includes 6 members representing various commercial carriers and manufacturers.

The Technical Committee has established a regimented document management system to help track any documentation that develops. The Committee is currently compiling an update based on the original Best Practices Guide (BPG) that was made public in January of 2001. In general, the Committee's information finds the BPG remains relatively accurate, however, the Committee desires to expand on and clarify the method by which the various interference mechanisms can be identified.

Project (40) RETAINS

This project was formed to address the staffing crisis throughout our nation's communications centers after the Executive Council Meeting in Salt Lake City in August 2001. Establishing this issue as a project came by recommendation from a task force headed by Steve Souder of APCO's Virginia Chapter.

The APCO Communications Center Task Force found that personnel recruitment and retention are key to the staffing of our nation's 9-1-1/Public Safety Communications Centers (PSCC). While recruitment and retention are not the only factors, they are probably the most prevalent cause for the crisis. With that known, the APCO Communications Center Task Force developed a "Best Practices" document, which is designed to provide jurisdictions and agencies guidance and assistance in resolving the crisis in recruitment and retention of 9-1-1/PSCC personnel.

The project is headed by Julie Righter, of the Nebraska Chapter, and will address the issues brought forward in the Best Practices document.

Project 42

The goal of Project 42 is to identify those areas where standards are needed to achieve system interoperability and create a common operating picture at all levels, horizontal and vertical. Project 42 will look at such issues as:

Identify the scope of minimum common geospatial information required to be shared to coordinate Public Safety Answering Points with emergency medical, fire, law enforcement deployed units and emergency management operations centers at the local, regional, state and federal levels.

Identify what standards are needed. This will be done by determining which elements have a commonly accepted quasi standard.

Place element sets into the APCO standards process for validation.(An example of one such set of items are map icons and embedded metadata describing those icons. Do icons, such as vehicle or building symbols, on one map make sense to someone from another jurisdiction, are they readable, are they defined and does the information describing those icons translate across the intended user boundaries?)

Project 43

A number of major, broadband-based developments are leading to a paradigm shift in the role of the PSAP. Implementation of a new nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network led by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) will place broadband communications into the hands of first responders. Next Generation 9-1-1 technology will enable PSAPs to utilize broadband data in ways that will transform how the public reaches 9-1-1 and how telecommunicators communicate with first responders. Other IP-based technologies, including those supported through smartphones, tablets, and mobile apps, are widely prevalent throughout the general public and are capable of sending an array of information to the PSAP. As a result, PSAPs of the future will be the nerve center, managing data-rich communications via broadband technology with 9-1-1 callers and first responders.

Project 43, Broadband Implications for the PSAP, will help telecommunicators, public safety answering points (PSAPs), 9-1-1 authorities, emergency operations centers, and others in the public safety community to embrace existing and prepare for evolving broadband communications technologies that will impact PSAP operations and support emergency responders.


View Project LOCATE Web Page & PSFA Web Page

To continue efforts in the deployment of public safety wireless telephone location technology.