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The National Interoperability Field Operations Guide

   by Riley Land
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   News Flash! Version 1.4 of the NIFOG published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Emergency Communications, is out and gloriously supercedes Version 1.3! Let’s all take a moment to let that sink in, get back in our chairs, and let the applause die down. To some of us that statement rates a yawn and a “humph,” and to others we hear the familiar, “Du wuh?” Most of you recognize the familiar “Du wuh?” from the Merriam-Webster definition:

   1)   the noise uttered by a firefighter, law enforcement officer or other public safety official immediately after hearing something that does not pertain to sports, food or drink
   2)   a sound uttered by a government employee after hearing something that they do not comprehend nor do they wish to as it may involve work or effort.

   At one time we were actually going to change our department patch from “Protecting Life, Property, and The Environment” to “Du wuh?” Cooler heads prevailed and no uniform change took place.

   I know that all of you know what the NIFOG is, but to prove to you that I know I will tell you that it is our Uncle Sam’s best attempt at giving us a shot at local, regional and national interoperability by setting aside a significant number of radio frequencies and repeater pairs of frequencies that we can program into our existing radios. These frequencies and pairs are spread across practically every radio spectrum band that any public safety or government agency should be using already. This includes VHF Low Band, VHF High Band, UHF, 700 MHz, and the much sought after and often maligned 800 MHz band.

   The use of these frequencies is absolutely free to us, and the only cost might be the cost of having your radio shop or vendor shop program them into as many radios as you can afford. Some of you may be savvy and astute enough to program them in yourselves if you have the programming software and proper cabling for your radios. If your radio shop guy or county engineer whines and cries about the cost of programming these for you, remind him that a nice ACU 1000 or other electronic cross banding interoperability unit might set you back a cool $20,000 or more. I still use my ACU 1000, but I have found that trying to have every interconnect cable for every radio type in use in the surrounding counties can be difficult. Each cable at my last purchase was around $135.00 each, and it takes a little while to set up a new radio in the computer controller to optimize the system for that radio. That can be tough in the middle of the night, in the rain, or when the Chief is waiting for his coffee. I won’t say any more for fear of having the Raytheon people show up at my next picnic with malice aforethought in their hearts. Remember, I said I still use it and I really like it a lot.

   Grandma always said, “Too much of anything is enough.” How many frequencies are enough? I counted 198 separate frequencies and/or frequency pairs set aside for our use. Yes, I have no life and counted them so you won’t have to. Any overachievers may email me and debate the actual number if my after-dinner aperitif caused me to miscount. You don’t have to have all of them programmed in every radio to be effective, but the more the merrier. Some radios may not have enough empty slots for all of the frequencies, some radios may be limited as to the number that it can actually hold, your vendor shop may charge you by the frequency, or for any reason that you can’t fill the boat there is a solution. Contact the surrounding jurisdictions that you are most likely to be called on for a mutual aid response, and coordinate with them for as many as you both can program. In this case one is actually better than none at all.

   Ooops, they are on UHF and we are using VHF. Drat, foiled again. This is the age-old problem that started this whole interoperability mess. The military solved this problem early on by buying all of the same radios and designating specific frequencies for use in specific situations. If your unit’s radio craps out, send the “scrounge” over to the other unit to borrow one of theirs, and we’re back in business. If only it were so easy in the civilian sector. If you have been in the business for any length of time, you know that every county in the good old US of A is a sovereign entity. That simply means that the county commissioner, the Mayor, or your Chief Executive Officer, along with other elected officials, can decide, all on their own, what type, make, model, frequency band and color of radio they will buy for their county personnel to use. Their decisions are often based on sound fiscal judgment, and they have shopped for the most cost-effective units to fit into their well-managed county budgets. Or, it may be that the cute, fit former FFA Queen sales rep from Zyxken got there before the heavyset guy from Makaz. (Zyxken and Makaz are registered trademarked names of fictitious radio manufacturers.) Not for us to judge or be sued for, right?

   Unfortunately, these decisions very rarely factor in the interoperability possibilities with other surrounding counties. I mean after all, have you seen that sales rep from Zyxken? Why not pull a little funding together from somewhere and buy as many as you can of some reasonably priced radios that can be programmed with interoperability frequencies with your surrounding neighbors? These could even be dual band radios, giving you access to the UHF and VHF frequencies. Give these to your Battalion Chiefs and patrol captains or shift supervisors and EMS captains that may be called to respond, and at least they can serve as commo points of contact once in the requesting jurisdiction. While you’re at it, if you have the interoperable frequencies programmed in your day-to-day radios, they can at least talk to each other, and your commo point of contact from your agency can relay messages and radio traffic from the requesting jurisdiction to your responding units. Remember that a significant number of the frequencies listed in the NIFOG are simplex frequencies and can be used “brick to brick” anywhere in the US. When you respond outside your jurisdiction, you will probably run out from under your county repeater coverage fairly quickly.

   I really just wanted to give you some ideas about using the NIFOG and encourage everyone to at least program as many frequencies as you can in as many radios as you can. Talk to your neighbors and get together on what will work best for each of you. You can download copies of the NIFOG off the internet, or order really cool, neat, spiral-bound, pocket-sized versions from wherever really cool, neat pocket-sized versions are sold. Try for a copy and for some other really cool stuff. You won’t have to delete this from your browser history before your spouse gets on the computer. Be sure and read the really boring introduction inside the cover and read and digest the droll, dry, mind-numbing user’s guide and rules and regulations governing the use of NI frequencies on pages 1-24. My county attorney recommended that I add that last line.

   Cautionary Note: Version 1.4 by my reading appears to assume that you have already narrow-banded. If you haven’t or are in the process, Version 1.3 gives frequencies and splits in both wide band and narrow band notation. If you have narrow-banded, good for you, if you haven’t, shame. I won’t tell anybody. Better get crackin’ and we can save that debate for a later date, when there is beer.

   Be forewarned, if you haven’t already been to see your radio vendor shop, your county or city radio shop, or your “King of Freqs” county engineer and have asked them to program in the National Interoperability radio frequencies from the NIFOG, step back and get ready for, “Du wuh?” You can do it, Axle, just another day in paradise. Interoperability can start with just two jurisdictions, and before you know it we can have an interoperability pandemic. Catch you later on VTAC14.

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