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At the 'Bleeding Edge' of Public Safety

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By Brian Kalish March 8, 2011

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The need for public safety agencies to have interoperable radios is well-documented. In January the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved an order that would establish interoperability standards for a nationwide public safety communications network.

First responders rely heavily on scarce and shrinking VHF spectrum as well as complex radios, said John Santo, executive director of Customs and Border Protection's wireless systems program office. One of the biggest challenges, he said, is that his agents cannot see what they are responding to.

New technologies necessary for interoperable systems are sometimes called "bleeding edge," since there is a risk in using them. But for public safety, that includes real blood, because first responders usually respond to life-threatening situations, said John Powell, interoperability chair of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, during an all-day FCC forum on Friday that addressed various interoperability issues.

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