Interoperability as a Function of Disaster Response




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Reference Bibliography (Annotated)

Interoperability as a Function of Disaster Response


Cohen, Steven, William Eimicke, and Jessica Horan. 2002. Catastrophe and public service: A case study of the government response to the destruction of the World Trade Center. Public Administration Review, 62, no. 4 - Supplement 1: 24-32.

Researchers at Columbia University present a chronology of events subsequent to the WTC disaster and analyze the role of leadership and standard operating procedures in crisis management. This article takes an in-depth look at communication issues and provides a step-by-step account of primary official’s interactions across agencies immediately after the attack.

Dilmaghani, Raheleh B. and Ramesh R. Rao. n.d. On Designing Communication Networks for Emergency Situations. La Jolla, CA: University of California. Available online: www.itr-rescue.org/pubs/network.php. Accessed on Nov. 1, 2006.

This article, which focuses on the technical aspects of interoperability communications, takes into consideration that communication infrastructure must have specific requirements of reliability, robustness, and the ability to work with existing technologies when in the context of emergency response scenarios. The authors, researchers in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California-San Diego, have proposed a new technology called Hybrid Wireless Mesh Network as a possible new highly reliable communication infrastructure capable of working in heterogeneous environments – e.g. a communication system that would successfully integrate multiple agencies in communication. The authors describe the current problems related to non-interoperability and propose their new technology as the solution to the problem. This research project was funded in part by RESCUE and the National Science Foundation.

Garwin, Thomas, Neal Pollard and Robert V. Tuohy, eds. 2004. Project Responder: National Technology Plan for Emergency Response to Catastrophic Terrorism. Washington, D.C.: National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) is a non-profit organization focused on expanding and sharing knowledge to result in the prevention and deterrence, or mitigation, of terrorist attacks. Since April 2001, MIPT has established its main mission as developing a National Technology Plan, which has culminated in this report. While the report covers a wide range of technological issues related to terrorism prevention, there are three chapters of specific interest to those researching interoperability: Chapter 4—Unified Incident Command Decision Support and Interoperable Communications; Chapter 9—Logistics Support; and Chapter 11—All Source Situational Understanding. Each section presents “technological roadmaps” of new initiatives to close the gaps in responder capabilities, and provides Response Technology Objectives as recommended programs for the federal government to adopt in all-hazards viewpoints.

Kane, John. 2001. The Incident Command System and the Concept of Unified Command at a Terrorist Incident. Community Response to the Threat of Terrorism. Fairfax, VA: Public Entity Risk Institute. Pp. 9-15.

This report, published by the reputable Public Entities Risk Institute, was written by Lt. John Kane—Sacramento, CA, Police Dept. The author is a certified first-responder and provides a mechanical description of Incident Command Systems and gives the opinion that there is room for little else but a Standard Operating Procedure in the event of disasters or emergencies. The report is very straightforward and provides only an introductory look at the ICS and SOPs. It does, however, provide very intriguing introductory questions and can provide a direction for further research.

Lund, Donald A. 2002. Learning to Talk: The Lessons of Non-Interoperability in Public Safety Communication Systems. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, JusticeWorks.

The author is the director and primary researcher at JusticeWorks, a public entities research and information institution based out of the University of New Hampshire. This report makes use of numerous case studies of non-interoperability to establish reasoning for the lack of interoperability across the nation. While many of the case studies are focused locally (i.e. radio compatibility across New Hampshire county borders), larger instances such as the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, and Columbine are also covered thoroughly. The author concludes by offering solutions and a lengthy list of further supplemental sources.

Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor. 2002. Emergency Communications: The Quest for Interoperability in the United States and Europe. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper 2002-7, Executive Session on Domestic Preparedness (ESDP) Discussion Paper-2002-03. Cambridge, MA.: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University,

Mayer-Schonberger is an assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. His essay provides a discussion and compare/contrast viewpoint of communications interoperability in the United States and Europe. He takes an in-depth look at the three steps seen as requirements for interoperability and makes the claim that the elusiveness the United States has experienced in regard to this matter is not so much a story of technical hurdles, but of structural and political obstacles – and even those he claims are more perceived than actually in existence. His is an interesting and distinct take on this issue that takes into consideration bureaucratic blunders as a large piece of the problem.


Minetree, Pete. 1991. Telecommunications Interoperability in Urban Search and Rescue. Santa Barbara, CA: National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue.

Minetree is a co-founder of the National Institute of Urban Search and Rescue—a non-profit organization operated for educational and literary purposes in areas related to urban search and rescue. The institute has over 50 member organizations from all levels of government, industry and academia; it is headquartered in Santa Barbara, CA. This report examines the issue of interoperability from a pre-9/11 perspective and offers solutions that may seem overly simplified in today’s time, but a refreshing and hopeful perspective nonetheless.

National Task Force on Interoperability. 2003. When They Can't Talk, Lives are Lost: What Public Officials Need to Know About Interoperability. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Institute of Justice, Office of Science and Technology, AGILE Program.

The National Task Force on Interoperability is a task force made up of members from 18 national associations, State and Local elected officials, and public safety officials with the goal of raising awareness about the importance of communications interoperability and to provide guidance about the initial steps to take in developing interoperable public safety radio communication systems. The AGILE program (which produced this document) was funded by the National Institute of Justice, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice. This brochure-like document advertises for the need for better communication interoperability, provides the basics of the case for interoperability, and provides a cost-benefit analysis of how to achieve interoperable status.

National Task Force on Interoperability. 2003. Why Can't We Talk? Working Together to Bridge the Communications Gap and Save Lives: A Guide for Public Officials, Washington, D.C.: National Task Force on Interoperability. U.S. Department of Justice.

The AGILE program (which produced this report) was funded by the National Institute of Justice, a component of the United States Department of Justice. This report, published in February 2003, addresses the five key reasons “Why Public Safety Agencies Can’t Talk,” including incompatibility, lack of funding, lack of planning, lack of coordination, and a limited/fragmented radio spectrum. Also addressed are governance structures and possible funding strategies.

National Task Force on Interoperability. 2003. Why Can't We Talk? Working Together to Bridge the Communications Gap and Save Lives: A Guide for Public Officials - Supplemental Resources. , Washington, D.C.: National Task Force on Interoperability, U.S. Department of Justice.

This supplemental source to the previous “Why Cant We Talk” provides case studies and other full-length articles on interoperability (cited from reputable scholarly journals), as well as an extensive report on radio bands and frequencies. The document provides ample resources for literature reviews and further research on the topic.


Sauter, Mark A., and James J. Carafano. 2005. Homeland Security: A Complete Guide to Understanding, Preventing, and Surviving Terrorism. New York: McGraw Hill.

The authors of this handbook-style guide to homeland security are both considered reputable sources in the Washington D.C. private sector. Sauter is the former Chief Operations Officer for the Chesapeake Innovation Center, an institution focusing on coordinating security technology innovations in conjunction with both the National Security Agency and private enterprises such as defense contractors. Carafano is a Senior Fellow for Defense and Homeland Security at the Heritage Foundation. Useful chapters relating to interoperability are: Chapter 11, Part III; Chapter 13; and Chapter 15.

Timmons, Ronald. 2006. Radio Interoperability: Addressing the Real Reasons We Don’t Communicate Well During Emergencies. Ph.D. Dissertation. Naval Postgraduate School.

This post-graduate dissertation written for a degree in “Security Studies” (Homeland Security and Defense) provides an examination of the entire realm of emergency scene communications, while avoiding focusing solely on “superficial technological solutions.” Timmons argues that there are numerous causal factors for inadequate disaster communications including behavioral reactions, general lethargy, and inadequate procedures and training—all of which affect the overall issue of interoperability.

Townsend, Anthony M. and Mitchell Moss. 2004. Telecommunications Infrastructure in Disasters: Preparing Cities for Crisis Communications. New York: New York University, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response.

This report establishes a framework for understanding interactions between large urban disasters and the telecommunication infrastructure, taking into consideration specific case studies of the 1990s and 2000s. The topic does not take into consideration only the emergency response stage, but all phases of a disaster – from attempted prevention to eventual recovery years after the event. Similarly, it does not take into consideration only official telecommunication channels, but all civil communications. It further examines the role of telecommunications and consequences of failure across four phases of post-disaster recovery, and concludes by providing three areas of necessary improvement.

U.S. Conference of Mayors. 2004. Interoperability Survey. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Conference of Mayors.

This document provides the results of a 2004 survey on interoperability among the US Conference of Mayors member cities. The survey addressed issues related to the level of interoperable communications across city, state, and federal public safety agencies; obstacles to interoperability; investments required to become interoperable; and federal funding for interoperability issues. The document provides both the hard data and an executive summary of the results.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 2005. Statewide Communication Interoperability Planning (SCIP) Methodology: An Approach based on the Commonwealth of Virginia's Planning Process. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

This government document, written by the Department of Homeland Security, describes a process that builds support at all levels of government in the event of a disaster. Seven key elements to interoperability are identified in this report; the goal of the document is to establish the SCIP method as the standardized interoperability methodology across the US.

-- 2004. Statement of Requirements for Public Safety Wireless Communications and Interoperability. Version 1.0. Washington, D.C.: SAFECOM Program U.S. Dept of Homeland Security.

This Statement of Requirements (SoR) document, published by the DHS SAFECOM program, details the operational requirements of “public safety for wireless communication and information capabilities” and provides specific scenario examples to justify these requirements. The report does not address the status of such requirements, nor does it provide directions on how to achieve them—it is merely a statement of what is considered necessary to be successfully interoperable.

U.S. General Accounting Office. 2004. Project Safecom: Key Cross-Agency Emergency Communications Effort Requires Stronger Collaboration. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office.

This report, released by the US General Accounting Office in April 2004, provides a strong critique of the SAFECOM program for its very limited progress in both its main objective of achieving communications interoperability and its secondary motive surrounding the originally projected $1billion+ of savings related to successfully achieving interoperability. The document also provides a history of Project SAFECOM, its goals, and analyzes how close the program is to actually achieving those goals. This would be well-used as a realistic vantage point of how little the issue of interoperability has positively evolved since 9/11/2001.

-- 2005. Homeland Security: DHS' Efforts to Enhance First Responders' All-Hazards Capabilities Continue to Evolve. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Accountability Office.

This report, published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in July 2005, addresses three fundamental questions related to the Homeland Security Presidential Directives to establish an all-hazards approach to emergency events. Numerous tables, graphs, and visuals are used to answer 1)What actions has DHS taken to provide policies and strategies that promote the development of the all-hazards emergency management capabilities of first responders? 2)How do first responders’ emergency management capabilities for terrorist attacks differ to capabilities needed for natural or accidental disasters? and 3)What emphasis has DHS placed on funding awarded to state and local first responders to enhance all-hazards emergency management capabilities. The issue of interoperability is taken into consideration when answering all of these questions.

U.S. House of Representatives. 2004. Protecting Homeland Security: A Status Report on Interoperability Between Public Safety Communications Systems. Washington, D.C.: Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

This transcript of Congressional testimony before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives addresses the status of interoperability progress on a national level. Primary areas of discussion are focused on radio-band frequencies, funding, and Project SAFECOM. Technical issues are also spoken of by technological experts.

Wachtendorf, Tricia. 2004. "Improvising 9/11: Organizational Improvisation Following the World Trade Disaster." Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Delaware.

The author, a researcher at the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, completed this doctoral dissertation in Spring 2004. An invaluable resource as an alternative viewpoint to interoperability—or in fact a result of the lack of interoperability in regards to 9/11—this extremely detailed report takes into account over 750 hours of direct observation during a two month period following 9/11, primary and secondary documents, and over 60 interviews with first responders and key decision making personnel. The author discusses a concept of “improvisation as a major form of disaster response” when having to adapt to multi-organizational networks, and especially in the event of a breakdown of inter-agency communication. This piece was also published by the Public Entities Risk Institute at www.riskinstitute.org.

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