3 DHS Coordinators Share Views on Regional Program
Wednesday, January 05, 2011 | Comments
All incidents, no matter how big, start local, said Chris Essid, director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC). For this reason, in fiscal year 2010, OEC launched its first regional coordination program.
“We needed a regional footprint out there to help us know what the challenges are in each region,” Essid said. The program was established to assist OEC in fulfilling its mission of ensuring communications operability and interoperability for emergency response personnel at the federal, state, local and tribal levels of government. The 10 regional coordinators will represent OEC in the field and provide regional guidance and planning support involving OEC service offerings, national policy and the implementation and update of the national emergency communications plan (NECP). Nine out of the 10 regional coordinator positions are currently filled.
The coordinators will accomplish this goal by fostering intergovernmental partnerships and by providing OEC’s stakeholder community with a full understanding and subsequent support of its service offerings and activities. “Even though some needs may be different from region to region — the needs in the region where Hurricane Katrina occurred vary greatly from the needs from the region that includes Alaska — it’s important for the regions to be connected, because they can also learn from each other’s experiences,” Essid said. “It’s all about building relationships.”
 The regional coordinator will act as point of contact within DHS, and the program will allow regions to use DHS resources, Essid said. Coordinators will also be able to share lessons learned during weekly conference calls, and six times a year the regional coordinators will gather together to share their information.”
Three regional coordinators discussed their experiences with the program so far with MissionCritical Communications.
Region 1
Region 1 is comprised of geographically small, New England states with predominantly high population densities, so effective emergency communications is essential, said Rick Andreano, regional coordinator for Region 1, which includes Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. “We frequently experience cross jurisdictional incidents, such as severe weather, that affect more than one state,” Andreano said. “The regional coordination program will enhance emergency and interoperable communications between states, urban areas and border communities in both the United States and Canada.”
Generally, New England states are “home rule states” with little to no county government. The region’s diverse geography and unique government structures require a specialized understanding to align national emergency communications goals with distinctive dynamics in the region. Prior to becoming the OEC Region 1 coordinator, Andreano served as statewide interoperability coordinator for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “Since the program launched in September, we have developed a Region 1 regional interoperability council (RIC) composed of the statewide interoperability coordinators from all six states,” Andreano said.
The RIC has discussed regionwide communications issues, shared resources between states and helped each state to merge their communications plans with neighboring states. “Most recently, we have identified a communications challenge on waterways existing between states and developed and implemented solutions for local, state and federal agencies responding to mutual-aid incidents on these waterways. We are currently developing shared capacities between our states, including common interoperability channels and field operations guides.”
Region 9
The regional coordination program provides an interface to first responders and leadership groups working to provide interoperability and enhance operability. “Unique to Region 9, the territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) benefit from having the DHS OEC person three time zones closer — Guam and CNMI are both across the international date line and 10 time zones away from Washington,” said Tom Lawless, regional coordinator for Region 9, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, Guam and CNMI. “Because I focus solely on region 9, I’m able to be an advocate for regional issues whether at the federal, state, local or tribal level and ensure that OEC efforts are meeting the needs of the first-responder community in my region. Additionally, state and local agencies have benefited from using me as an initial point of reference in contacting other federal and DHS entities.”
Lawless assisted California and Nevada emergency communications personnel in accessing each state’s communications assets and capabilities inventory using OEC’s Communications Assets Survey and Mapping (CASM) tool. “This is critical for interoperability and invaluable during fire season along the Sierra Nevada mountain range,” Lawless said. “I have also assisted fire agencies in Nevada to coordinate with changes to federal fire agencies’ communications plans. The changes affect local firefighters, therefore, it’s important for agencies at all government levels to be aware and properly prepare. I am working with other federal personnel to increase awareness of the changes to communications plans. The first step is for the issue to be addressed at the next interagency workshop at the National Interagency Fire Center.”
According to Lawless, the regional stakeholders have welcomed the new DHS program. “They have reached out to me as the OEC regional coordinator to assist with communications issues, facilitate conversations with other agencies and plan for future interoperability efforts. There exists a significant difference between tolerating another federal person in the region and actively making the regional coordinator part of the planning team.”
Region 10
Regional coordinators increase awareness of the NECP as well as statewide communication interoperability plans, said Bruce Richter, regional coordinator for Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The regional coordinator provides an additional link to OEC for sharing information and best practices.
“From the Region 10 perspective, I have seen the benefits of networking, preplanning and enhanced communications and information sharing during participation in regional tactical communications interoperability planning (TICP) and State communications interoperability planning (SCIP) implementation workshops,” Richter said. “As a regional coordinator, these meetings give me the opportunity to answer the questions from stakeholders regarding the actions and intentions of OEC and explain the requirements of the NECP. An OEC presence at these events, through the regional coordinators, reinforces the message that though emergencies start and end at the local level, there are many other agencies and resources available to assist the local agencies, and effective interoperable emergency communications saves time and lives.”
Richter said it can sometimes be a lonely job being the only person at a state, local or tribal public-safety agency responsible for emergency communications, “but by working together, information is shared and success in one region can be expanded into other regions,” he said.
According to all three coordinators, the program has been received favorably. “In its relatively short existence, OEC has already built a solid reputation for working with state, local and tribal partners — from first responders to government officials,” Richter said. “Having an identifiable OEC point of contact who actually lives and works in the region and has more localized awareness of its unique geography and concerns resonates with first responders, building on the knowledgeable and reliable information and assistance regional partners have come to expect from OEC.”
Claudia Wayne, director of the regional coordination program, added, “The more the coordinators are delivering to their state and local governments, the more those governments are starting to depend on them and allowing their position to rapidly grow. We are seeing more value as we move forward.”
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