Partnerships in Interoperability: A Best Practices Model

It is axiomatic in the EM (emergency management) community both that regional collaboration is the foundation of emergency management and that interoperability of equipment – one of the keys to a successful collaboration – is 10 percent technology and 90 percent governance. But collaboration cannot be mandated; it has to be created – i.e., built on mutual trust and hard work, the invaluable components of a policy of sharing actionable information among public and private partners.

There are numerous examples throughout the United States of diverse geographical and political jurisdictions that have developed successful emergency-management programs by excelling in the adoption and use of best practices in forming regional partnerships in interoperability. Among the most notable of those partnerships is one created by three Virginia jurisdictions – the University of Virginia (UVA), the City of Charlottesville, and Albemarle County – that now work together on a routine daily basis as well as during and after catastrophic events.

The overarching philosophy of the partnership is focused on not only regional cooperation but also, and more specifically, seamless communications. Recognizing that disasters do not limit themselves to specific jurisdictions, UVA, Charlottesville, and Albemarle County all are involved in the development of a regional Emergency Operations Plan (EOP – the specifics unique to any of those jurisdictions are separately addressed in the appendices to the plan).

All three jurisdictions operate under a regional governance model for their Emergency Communications and 911 Center. More specifically, the Regional Motorola 800 MHz Public Safety Analog/Digital Trunked Radio System – which provides 100 percent interoperability between the three jurisdictions and their respective police, fire, and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies – also makes console integration possible between the mission-critical radio system and Sprint Nextel network.  In addition, the same system integrates Radio over Internet Protocol (RoIP) through a “Catalyst solution” that allows use of broadband application access through VPN (Virtual Private Network) back to the mission-critical 800 MHz radio system.

A Broad Spectrum of Additional Resources

Among the other systems and/or organizations counted on to facilitate communications between and among the three jurisdictions are the following: 

  • A regional computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system;
  • A regional mobile data computer network;
  • A regional emergency management coordinator (shared between the three jurisdictions);
  • A regional local emergency planning committee (LEPC);
  • A regional WebEOC (used to facilitate a shared situational awareness); and 
  • A regional CityWatch (reverse 911-like) telephone notification system.

Other regional activities and resources include but are not limited to: regional training programs and exercises (conducted annually); a regional hazardous-materials response team (which includes members of fire and police agencies and from the UVA environmental health & safety team); a regional drug task force; a regional  automatic/mutual-aid response capability; regional command trailers (provided by the city and county as well as UVA); and a regional NIMS (National Incident Management System) training program.

Cooperation is inherent in daily operations – and, of course, imperative for success during and in the aftermath of catastrophic events. Regional cooperation also is mandatory for the planning of large special events such as concerts, VIP/dignitary visits, graduations, and major sports events.

EMMA, Fire Protection, and Help From Students 

The three jurisdictions are now also working on a regional Geographic Information System (GIS) pilot project called the Emergency Management Mapping Application (EMMA) for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the National Institute of Justice. When completed, EMMA – which will link directly to the WebEOC – is expected to be able to provide the geospatial information needed to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a major incident or event in the region.

The University of Virginia plays a unique role in that it contracts for fire protection from the City of Charlottesville, further solidifying the partnership between the two jurisdictions. UVA also is one of the few American universities that provides funding for a city building inspector to help in safety enforcement – and has, in addition, its own state-authorized fire marshal, who works directly with the city’s fire and building departments and the city and county fire marshals. Innovative partnerships with student fraternities and sororities are among the other education and safety initiatives that have been vigorously developed and pursued.

Considerable success also has been achieved through a direct partnership between the city’s fire department and UVA’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety on matters related to fire prevention, student fire-safety education, and campus fire alarms. Any safety problems id

entified are handled swiftly and effectively. As with any such challenging undertaking, strong leadership is required as well as inspiring creativity and those have always been provided by Fire Chief Charles Werner, a national leader in interoperability, and Julian Taliaferro, former Fire Chief, current Charlottesville City Council member, and icon in the region.

Kay Goss
Kay C. Goss

Kay Goss is the President of World Disaster Management, LLC. Her emergency management work began 40 years ago, as senior assistant to two state governors coordinating fire service, emergency management, emergency medical services, public safety, and law enforcement for 12 years. She then served as the Associate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director for National Preparedness, Training, Higher Education, Exercises, and International Partnerships (presidential appointee, U.S. Senate confirmed unanimously). She was a private sector government contractor for 12 years, at the Texas firm, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) as senior emergency manager and homeland security advisor and SRA International’s director of emergency management services. She currently serves as a nonprofit leader on the Board of Advisors for DRONERESPONDERS International and for the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management, and as graduate professor of Emergency Management at University of Nevada at Las Vegas for 16 years, İstanbul Technical University for 12 years, the MPA Programs Metropolitan College of New York for five years, and George Mason University. She has been a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) for 25 years and a Featured IAEM CEM Mentor for five years, and Chair of the Training and Education Committee for six years, 2004-2010. She is also on the Advisory Board for Domestic Preparedness.

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