Interoperable Communications Technologies Need Uniform Testing Standards, Official Says

By Matthew Harwood


To help industry ensure their emergency radio products are interoperable and increase first-responder confidence in those products, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in coordination with NIST established the P25 Compliance Assessment Program (P25 CAP). Under the program, manufacturers voluntarily test their products in a DHS-certified laboratory and then post their test results on a Web site called the Responder Knowledge Base that public safety agencies can access.

"For the first time, public safety officials have one place that they can go to obtain test results performed through a formal process and who results are presented in a common manner, making comparisons between manufacturers' products much less time consuming," said Orr.

Subcommittee Chairman David Wu (D-OR) said he approves of P25 CAP but added that it must instill confidence in public safety agencies that spend millions of dollars on equipment. "A compliance assessment process signals to the purchaser that a product meets all of the requirements of a standard," he said . "Any laptop with a Wi-Fi logo, or any toaster with an Underwriter’s Laboratory sticker, had to go through testing and certification to be able to display those marks." Public safety equipment should too, he said.

In November 2009, DHS took a step toward fulfilling that role, mandating that public safety agencies receiving federal money could only buy P25 CAP-validated products under the 2010 SAFECOM grant guidance (.pdf). The program, however, needs buy-in from public safety agencies for the standard to be effective. Currently, only four manufacturers comply with the P25 CAP testing program—Motorola being one of them—according to Orr.

Despite low participation in the P25 CAP program, neither Orr nor Boyd want to impose standards similar to Europe's TETRA model, which mandates formal testing of public safety radio equipment. Both the government and private sector witnesses said the European Union's standards are expensive and onerous.

Much of the hearing was devoted to explaining the complexity of interoperable emergency communication systems to frequently confused subcommittee members. Which left members of Congress agreeing with Chief Jeffrey D. Johnson of the International Association of Fire Chiefs when he said, "We in the fire service are not so much interested about how radios and systems work, but that they work."

♦ Photos of radios by brettneilson/Flickr


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