Interoperability is the ability to share information in real time between multiple, and separate entities or agencies. In the emergency services realm, interoperability is critical to initial response, and emergency services of all types.
Of many of the problems experienced during major events, one of the most serious is poor communications, or a complete failure of communications. In some cases, communications systems are incompatible not just within a jurisdiction but within departments or agencies within the same community.
Lack of interoperability can occur due to use of outdated equipment, limited availability of technology, isolated or independent planning, lack of coordination and cooperation between agencies, community priorities competing for resources, and funding and ownership and control of communications systems.
There have been a number of initiatives undertaken to facilitate interoperability in public safety communications. For example. Project 25 (P25) was initiated collaboratively by public safety agencies and manufacturers to address issues with two way, land-mobile radio systems. The stated goal and intent of P25 is to enable public safety responders to communicate with each other using common protocols and systems that are not dependent on proprietary hardware and allow multiple agencies to access each others communications networks simultaneously.
Other initiatives and technologies that will foster interoperability include Next Generation 9-1-1 and the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network operated and managed by FirstNet.