Building a Regional Radio Talk Path


Author: Tom Gagnon, Emergency Communications Coordinator, Region 3

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When a convoy of truckers drove into the National Capital Region in March of last year, regional public safety and emergency management agencies jumped into action. Unlike stationary protests, this group moved, and moved quickly. This presented a challenge for agencies, which had to be able to work together to maintain a common situational awareness at all times, as the convoy moved between the states and the District of Columbia. They needed to be able to communicate effectively and immediately.

The challenges faced that day in 2022 laid the groundwork for a new emergency communications tool that Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (SWIC) for Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia are now creating with the support of CISA’s Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program (ICTAP): an on-demand interoperable Regional Radio Talk Path.

What does that mean and how did we get to this point?

To achieve immediate communications during the 2022 event, communication experts worked together to patch three separate law enforcement radio systems together. Using radio frequency and Voice Over Internet Protocol, they were able to tie-in radio equipment over the air and IP networks. This took extensive coordination and planning, as this isn’t something that happens routinely. If they hadn’t been able to patch their systems together, they would have found themselves relying on cell phones – which can be unreliable – or officer liaisons – which are staffing heavy – to relay information.

The patching was successful. It worked to maintain common situational awareness so that law enforcement officers could anticipate – and be prepared for -- what might happen next. This meant that not only could state dispatch centers and command posts talk to each other, but also individual state troopers could talk to their counterparts in other states or the district and talk to other dispatch centers. As a result, while the caravan vehicles circled the capital, residents were able to maintain business as usual.

The technology used to patch the systems together was already available, but not something used at a regional scale.  Watching this happen in real time, SWICs for Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia realized that this was a tool that would continue to be necessary, and one that should be readily available, not pulled together independently for each event. The regional radio talk path these SWICs are creating with the support of CISA’s ICTAP will interoperate among all the region’s state and district land mobile radio systems across a single channel.

This communication system will be available on demand, not permanently set up. But by capturing the procedures to set it up ahead of time, the team is able to ensure it will be easily and quickly implemented when needed.

The goal is for the Regional Radio Talk Path to be available for regional State Police and the District’s Metropolitan Police Department. There is real value in solidifying this talk path as a best practice so it can be done quickly when required.  When finalized, this concept can be shared nationwide as a best practice for regional public safety interoperability.

Learn more about CISA’s Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program (ICTAP) here: Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program