The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) recently selected Kentucky's Mutual Aid and Interoperability (MAI) initiative as a winner in its 2006 Recognition Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Information Technology in State Government. The winning initiatives were chosen from 139 submissions by 33 states.
"I want to compliment the many state agencies that played a key role in the development of this project and reiterate our dedication to ensuring the security of our commonwealth's communities, first responders and families."
- Gov. Ernie Fletcher
KOHS CIO, Mary Pedersen (left) and Kentucky CIO, Mark Rutledge accept the NASCIO award
during the 2006 NASCIO Annual Conference in
(L-to-R) Mark Rutledge, Mary Pedersen, and NASCIO President, Matthew Miszewski.
(L-to-R) Chuck Miller, COT project manager, Mary Pedersen, KOHS CIO, and Derek Nesselrode, KSP
The MAI project was one of 12 state IT initiatives in 10 categories to receive awards. NASCIO's Recognition Awards Program, in its 18th consecutive year, featured several new categories this year reflecting the wide range of IT projects currently under development within state governments. Emphasis was placed on recognizing programs that exemplify best practices, support the public policy goals of state leaders, assist government officials to execute their duties and provide cost-effective services to citizens.
Gov. Fletcher applauded the initiative, stating, "Kentucky is committed to ensuring the safety and protection of our citizens and communities. I am proud of the state's Mutual Aid Project and this award underscores our commitment to providing our first responders with the resources and tools they need to communicate effectively. I want to compliment the many state agencies that played a key role in the development of this project and reiterate our dedication to ensuring the security of our commonwealth's communities, first responders and families."
In 2005, the commonwealth of Kentucky launched the MAI project as a partnership between the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (KOHS), the Commonwealth Office of Technology (COT) and the Kentucky State Police (KSP). The project was conceived as a way to correct a long-recognized problem that prevented the state's first responders from communicating with one another. This lack of voice interoperability severely limited the effectiveness of agencies in times of emergency and in situations requiring aid or assistance from neighboring agencies. The MAI project has corrected this problem by providing first responders with the capability of communicating with one another across boundaries in realtime.
This problem of interoperability came about as populations grew and the need for support agencies increased. As these agencies requested and received frequencies for use in their day-to-day operations, resources were quickly exhausted. Eventually, new frequency bands were opened to support new requirements. These frequencies were assigned according to availability and propagation characteristics. Unfortunately, this practice has resulted in a number of frequency bands (150MHz, 450MHz and 800MHz) being used by first responders in Kentucky. In many cases, neighboring agencies have frequency assignments operating in entirely separate frequency bands, which inhibits inter-agency communication. This situation precludes a simple channel-sharing plan with which local agencies could share frequencies and the benefits of communicating with each other.
Most local agencies have tried to work around this problem by instituting a policy of radio swaps, cell phone usage or other proprietary methods. Typically, these methods limit interoperability to two or three agencies, and are expensive, cumbersome and only marginally effective.
The MAI project resolved this problem by building a network that provides several common channels in each of the three frequency bands used in the commonwealth. These channels are nationally recognized, dedicated to mutual aid, and any agencies desiring to participate in their use may do so after signing a memorandum of understanding.
This project's total cost was less than $2 million, but has provided the means to allow all first responders to communicate with each other, in real time, with no loss of capability, at absolutely no cost to the individual participants. Additionally, current propagation studies have documented mutual aid radio coverage to more than 97 percent of the commonwealth.