Just outside of Washington, D.C., Arlington County recently opened a new, state-of-the-art emergency communications center (ECC). The ECC includes a new digital radio system that complies with Project 25. Project 25 defines new standards for interoperability of public safety communication systems.
Interoperability is a common issue in the communications industry. Communications standards and universal interoperability were key to the growth of the internet. Interoperability did not develop as rapidly in public safety communications systems. Older public safety communications system often did not allow neighboring public safety organizations to communicate with each other.
Arlington’s new digital radio system was about twice as expensive as all the rest of the center. The fact sheet for the project notes:
Cost of the new ECC is approximately $9.6 million, including construction costs; furniture; video capabilities; cabling; 9-1-1 software and equipment; and technology equipment, included computer-aided dispatch. Cost of the new digital radio system is approximately $18 million.
For comparison, consider the cost of your house, furniture, televisions, personal computers, and personal software. Compare that to the cost of your digital cell phones, DSL or cable modems, and all other digital communication technology that you own. The cost of your house and its contents is probably on the order of a thousand times greater than the cost of your digital radio systems. Moreover, just your house and furniture probably cost a thousand times more than all the digital technology that you own.
Of course, emergency communications systems have extraordinary requirements. But so too do emergency communications buildings, furniture, software, and other equipment used in an emergency communication center.
Digital radio systems for public safety seem to have lagged far behind cost-performance improvements for other digital technologies. This outcome suggests the importance of institutions and ideas to results in different communications fields.