The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) works closely with U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico border regions on numerous cross-border initiatives. Communications interoperability is a fundamental challenge to all emergency response agencies, but border regions face additional challenges due to technical, operational, policy and vast geographical differences on either side of the borders. The 5,500-mile-long international border between the United States and Canada and the nearly 2,000-mile-long international border between the United States and Mexico offers a diverse array of geographies, communities, languages and operational environments that pose unique challenges to the federal, provincial, state, local, and tribal responders in the region.
Public Safety and Emergency Communications Coordination Along the United States-Canada Border
The United States-Canada border area poses unique communications challenges, including operable and interoperable communications gaps for radio and public safety communications along and across the border; legal and governance framework issues covering radio communications between U.S. and Canadian response personnel; and interoperability concerns for public safety broadband planning efforts.
To address these challenges, the DHS Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) and Public Safety Canada formed the Canada-United States (CANUS) Communications Interoperability Working Group (CIWG) to improve interoperable cross-border emergency communications. CANUS CIWG works with the U.S. border states to address cross-border communications requirements through a joint proclamation issued by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Beyond the Border Action Plan: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. In its role as a bi-national, federal-to-federal agency working group, the CANUS CIWG is comprised of U.S. and Canadian Federal Government officials and emergency communications, public safety, and security stakeholders who support cross-border emergency communications and improved response coordination to bi-national incidents.
DHS, through OEC and the CANUS CIWG, also coordinates with U.S. border states to address cross-border communications challenges, including regulatory requirements and bi-national coordination. In addition, the CANUS CIWG partners with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) and the Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (CITIG) to address and improve U.S.-Canadian cross-border public safety communications interoperability.
For additional information on the CANUS-CIWG, contact CANUSCIWG@hq.dhs.gov.
Emergency Communications Support Along the United States-Mexico Border
Coordinated communications between federal, state, local, and tribal organizations with a border security mission is critical in combating cross-border illegal activity along the United States and Mexico border. The varying terrain and pockets of sparsely populated areas within the Southwest Border Region limit operable and interoperable communications. In addition, the large number of federal, state, local and tribal (FSLT) agencies and governments performing operations on the border necessitate ongoing coordination and communications.
As part of OEC’s role to assist FSLT agencies in establishing and maintaining interoperable emergency communications, it coordinates the activities of the Southwest Border Communications Working Group (SWBCWG). The SWBCWG serves as a forum for FSLT agencies in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas to share information on common communications issues; collaborate on existing and planned activities; and, facilitate federal involvement in multi-agency projects within the Southwest Border Region. The SWBCWG aims to enhance communications operability and interoperability, effectively use the region’s available critical communications infrastructure resources, and ensure that programs continue to meet the stakeholders’ needs.
SWBCWG participants include representatives from 10 federal offices, 20 state agencies, 66 local agencies and six Tribal Nations who rely on communications to support critical public safety and border security missions. Participants include stakeholders from various disciplines, including system managers, communications engineers and technicians, spectrum managers, emergency managers and planners, federal, state, local law enforcement, and fire, emergency medical services and management services officials and practitioners.
OEC also assists in limited cross-border communications coordination with Mexico through the U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Commission on Telecommunications, a working group that aims to resolve operable and interoperable communications challenges between the two nations.