Emergency Communications:

Overlap and Views on the Effectiveness of Organizations Promoting the Interoperability of Equipment

GAO-18-173R: Published: Oct 30, 2017. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 2017.

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Mark L. Goldstein
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goldsteinm@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

There is some overlap in the missions of the Department of Homeland Security's (Homeland Security) SAFECOM, Emergency Communications Preparedness Center (ECPC), National Council of Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (NCSWIC), and the Department of Commerce's (Commerce) Public Safety Advisory Council (PSAC) because all of the organizations promote interoperable emergency communications. However, each organization has a specific focus and role. There is also overlap in membership, especially between SAFECOM and PSAC. However, we found that the organizations are complementary and not duplicative and that the overlap in mission among the organizations appears to have positive effects.

Most stakeholders told GAO that SAFECOM, ECPC, NCSWIC, and PSAC operate and collaborate effectively. For example, stakeholders said SAFECOM, along with NCSWIC in some cases, has developed effective written products that promote the interoperability of emergency communications. However, three stakeholders--representing tribal, county, or municipal interests--of the 11 GAO interviewed, told us that they believed that the views of tribal, county, or municipal organizations were not fully represented on SAFECOM and PSAC. SAFECOM, an organization with over 50 members, and PSAC, with 43 members, have two associations that exclusively represent counties, two organizations that exclusively represent cities, and one that exclusively represents tribal interests. This representation is lower than the representation of federal, state, police, and emergency-medical-service organizations. A leading collaboration practice is ensuring that all of the relevant participants have been included in the collaborative effort or mechanism. Five of 11 stakeholders did not identify this as an issue. Three stakeholders asked about this issue did not respond. Without greater inclusion of these stakeholders, there is the risk that their concerns and views are not being incorporated into the efforts of SAFECOM and PSAC to improve the interoperability of emergency communications. There is also the risk that their information needs are not being met by the information coming from SAFECOM and PSAC, possibly affecting their ability to make sound decisions regarding budgeting for and purchasing emergency communications equipment. 

Why GAO Did This Study

Public safety communications systems are used by thousands of federal, state, and local jurisdictions, all of which have first responders--such as police officers and firefighters--who respond to various types of emergencies. During the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the lack of interoperable public safety communications hampered rescue efforts and the overall effectiveness of public safety operations. More recently, interoperability issues arose during the Navy Yard attacks in 2013.

GAO focused on the efforts of federally supported organizations that promote the interoperability of emergency communications. GAO focused its review on the four main organizations supported by Homeland Security's Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) and Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration that promote interoperable emergency communications: SAFECOM, ECPC, NCSWIC, and PSAC. This report discusses (1) the missions and memberships of organizations that promote the interoperability of emergency communications, and to what extent, if at all, they are overlapping or duplicative, and (2) selected stakeholders' views on the effectiveness of the efforts of these organizations. GAO assessed (1) the missions and memberships of the organizations against criteria developed in GAO's Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication: An Evaluation and Management Guide; (2) interviewed agency officials and selected organization members about how these organizations were collaborating and operating; and (3) compared these stakeholders' responses to relevant practices from GAO's leading practices on collaboration. Members were selected from organizations that had overlapping membership in SAFECOM and PSAC.

What GAO Recommends

We are making two recommendations, one to DHS and one to FirstNet:

  • The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct that OEC examine the composition and functioning of SAFECOM to determine whether all relevant stakeholder groups are adequately represented and their views adequately expressed and considered through memberships in the organizations, executive committees, subcommittees, working groups, or other means. (Recommendation 1)
  •  FirstNet should examine the composition and functioning of PSAC to determine whether all relevant stakeholder groups are adequately represented and their views adequately expressed and considered through memberships in the organizations, executive committees, subcommittees, working groups, or other means. (Recommendation 2)
For more information, contact Mark Goldstein at  (202) 512-2834 or goldsteinm@gao.gov.
 

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should direct that OEC examine the composition and functioning of SAFECOM to determine whether all relevant stakeholder groups are adequately represented and their views adequately expressed and considered through memberships in the organizations, executive committees, subcommittees, working groups, or other means. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: FirstNet should examine the composition and functioning of PSAC to determine whether all relevant stakeholder groups are adequately represented and their views adequately expressed and considered through memberships in the organizations, executive committees, subcommittees, working groups, or other means. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Telecommunications and Information Administration: First Responder Network Authority

 

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