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What is communications Interoperability?

The ability to

  • Communicate within discipline
  • Communicate across discipline
  • Communicate across jurisdiction
In order to
  • Coordinate at a regional level
  • Coordinate at incident commander level
  • Communicate across tactical response
What are the components of a truly interoperable communications system?

What are the barriers to creating one?

According to a report published in February 2003 by the National Task Force on Interoperability, the emergency response community views the following as the key issues hampering emergency response wireless communications:

Incompatible and aging communications equipment;
Limited and fragmented budget cycles and funding;
Limited and fragmented planning and coordination;
Llimited and fragmented radio spectrum;
and limited equipment standards.

What is Public Safety Communications doing to help improve interoperability?

Public Safety Communications, working with the US Department of Homeland Security, NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, New Jersey State Police all 21 New Jersey Counties and various other federal, state and local partners in all disciplines, has taken steps on a variety of fronts to improve interoperability. It is important to understand that the process of achieving statewide interoperability may take up to two decades, but important interim measures which move locales, counties, and the state toward that goal are already in place. They include:

NJICS UASI Initiative

NJICS in the other counties

Participation in the development of a SAFECOM Statement of Requirements (SoR) which, for the first time, defines what it will take to achieve full interoperability and provides industry requirements against which to map their product capabilities;

Conducting a Statewide Interoperability Baseline Survey;

Initiating an effort to accelerate the development of critical standards for interoperability

What is the New Jersey Interoperability Communications System (NJICS)

The NJICS is a statewide communication system comprised of a series of specific interoperable communications assets established in each of New Jersey’s five regions. These assets include radio cache radios; interconnect switches, tactical interoperability channels and region-wide interoperability channels. The infrastructure for the NJICS is housed at county and local sites in the individual regions. Using the NJICS municipal, county, state and federal public safety agencies can achieve interoperability via the radios that they own today.


In order to provide a progress report on the NJICS, a discussion of the starting point for interoperable communications must be stated. Prior to implementing the NJICS, the following were the only interoperability channels available to the average first responder:

Interoperability Methods Available in New Jersey before the NJICS

Statewide Police Emergency Network (S.P.E.N.)
"" 4 simplex VHF channels
  "" 2 channels reserved for Police Operations
1 channel reserved for coordinating with police agencies
1 channel for other agency interoperability

Varied by County

Interoperability was limited to a small number of channels all in one frequency band (VHF). Most communications on this system were also specified for law enforcement use only, so other first responders like fire and emergency medical services had no other means for interoperability.

After the initial build out of the NJICS, a variety of resources are now available in the different regions based on the funding that was available. The Northeast/UASI region is the most developed system at this point and serves as the model for the other regions. Currently, the following interoperability assets are available to the average first responder:

Interoperability Methods Available in New Jersey currently via the NJICS

Regional Central Dispatch (24/7/365)
Region wide tactical interoperability channels in each radio band
Over 2,000 radio cache radios distributed throughout the state’s regions

At least 24 radios at each County OEM statewide
Radio cache radios are uniformly preprogrammed with all of the Interoperability channels
Radio cache radios come with spare batteries, multi-unit chargers and cases

Radio caches includes 21 interconnect switches for tactical operations only (another 18 are on order)

NJ Interconnect switches, which are the first in the nation to have voice IDs, transmit their ID every ½ hour
NJ Interconnect switches can be remotely disabled if they are improperly activated
Includes portable communications equipment that can be moved to an incident in the event the infrastructure is unavailable

Interoperability channels, not agency operating channels, are connected for interoperability remotely

Over-the-air backhaul network (no phone lines) is in place
System can be activated and deactivated remotely
The system stays in the deactivated state when not being used
System also provides a direct connection to NYC agencies (NYPD, NY OEM, NYFD)
Direct interoperability with NJ Transit (Transit also has 20 radio cache radios)
A Project 25 solution (Federal interoperability standard)

Below are example incidents/events where NJICS was used:

  • Essex County Jail Move – Involved the move of the Essex County Jail facility from West Caldwell to Newark. Incident involved the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, New Jersey State Police, NJ Department of Corrections, and Essex County Corrections.
  • Republican National Convention (RNC)– Involved support bi-state (New Jersey and New York) communications during the RNC in the 800 MHz frequency band. The NJICS provided primary 800 MHz interoperability in the New York City area. Involved agencies included Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigations, New Jersey State Police, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Essex County Sheriff’s Department, New York City OEM, and the New York Police Department.
  • Orange Alert – After the Department of Homeland Security raised the alert level to Orange around the Prudential building in Newark, the NJICS provided direct connectivity for the New Jersey State Police (800MHz) and the Newark Police Department (UHF) within 10 minutes of receiving the request.
  • TOPOFF: Project Exodus – During the national TOPOFF exercise held in New Jersey and Connecticut, the NJICS provided wide area command and control interoperability for over 150 EMS agencies in an area that spanned from the Meadowlands in Bergen County to the PNC Arts Center in Monmouth County. All EMS agencies then converged on Newark Liberty Airport and conducted their tactical operations on the NJICS tactical channels.
  • TOPOFF Nutley and Wanaque Points Of Distribution (POD) – At these PODs the NJICS provided over 50 radio cache radios to effectuate interoperability.
  • PGA Championship – At the PGA Championship held in Springfield New Jersey, the NJICS provided primary communications for the New Jersey State Police, Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and Union County OEM. The entire events radio requirements were met using the NJICS channels.
  • Hudson County Rapid Deployment Team (RDT)– After the London bombing, the Hudson County RDT which is comprised of over 12 local law enforcement agencies was deployed on the passenger Ferry’s operating in this area for approximately a 2 month period. As each agency had different radios, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office requested radios from the NJICS radio cache. The operation ran successfully from the Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken and Ocean County ports into the New York City ports. The furthest operation in New York City reached into the Brooklyn Port. This deployment occurred at the same time as the PGA championship, so the NJICS managed two large scale incidents at the same time.
  • US Coast Guard Joint Boarding Tactical Exercise – During this exercise the NJICS provided primary interoperable communications in Port Newark for US Coast Guard, Newark Fire Department, Newark Police Emergency Services Unit, New Jersey State Police, Union County Police Department, Newark OEM, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, University Hospital – EMS, and Jersey City EMS. The exercise tested critical command and control functions in a tactical boarding exercise of a commercial ship.
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