Federal Agency Encourages System-of-Systems Approach for Southwest Border LMR Interoperability
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | Comments

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is encouraging a “system of systems” approach for interoperability. CISA is initially focusing the Shared Communications System and Infrastructure (SCSI) methodology along the southwest border region.

“First responders nationwide should be encouraged to find ways to collaborate with partners across all levels of government to share infrastructure, equipment and services,” said Branch Chief Robert "Dusty" Rhoads in a blog.

The concept of leveraging a system of systems is not new to public safety; however, as technology advances, agencies must ensure systems can integrate and information can flow securely and seamlessly. The SCSI methodology supports effective use of technology through governance, planning, standard operating procedures, and joint exercises and trainings to enable multiple public-safety agencies and disciplines to share infrastructure, equipment and services.

“Some of the current land mobile radio (LMR) systems in the southwest border region are well beyond their intended lifespans, having been in use for more than 20 years,” said a report developed by Southwest Border Communications Working Group (SWBCWG) in collaboration with CISA. “Within this vast network of existing systems — all with varying levels of interconnection, interoperability, and owner types — rests the southwest border’s public-safety communications infrastructure.”

The report said agencies across the region identified concerns with voice operability, limited interoperability, daily RF interference and lack of regionwide wireless data. As a collaborative design effort, the Southwest Border SCSI project envisions a spectrally efficient LMR network actively shared by federal, state, local and tribal users. This network’s functionality may be augmented by potential infrastructure sharing through the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and other commercial broadband carriers focusing on public-safety services.

A SCSI approach does not mean establishing a single nationwide network but rather seeks to provide a framework for efficient planning, integration and management of emergency communications systems and resources. There is not a set timeline or budget for implementing this approach. CISA will continue to collaborate with public-safety partners, gather requirements from the public-safety community and determine next steps, a CISA spokesman said.

CISA hopes the approach can increase operability and interoperability, improve spectrum use, optimize resource usage and management, streamline intra-agency and interagency operations, decrease duplication of investments, reduce capital and operations and maintenance (O&M) expenditures, and enhance operational coordination and economies of scale.

DHS agencies recently applied the approach in the Caribbean. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS Joint Wireless Program Management Office (JWPMO) and CISA implemented the Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands Tactical Communications LMR Pilot, which explored holistic governance structures and technical requirements that include varying viewpoints across public-safety communications.

SCSI supports the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP), released last year by DHS, in strengthening and enhancing emergency communications capabilities.

SCSI differs from the Integrated Wireless Network (IWN), a program that began in 1998 and called for a nationwide LMR network that would be jointly deployed, operated and maintained by federal partners. The program was suspended in 2012. Those lessons are important considerations in pursuing a SCSI approach, said a CISA spokesman.

Two SCSI-related documents are here.

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