U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Government Website

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Safely connect using HTTPS

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


  1. Science and Technology Directorate
  2. News Room
  3. Interoperability is Key to Effective Emergency Communications

Interoperability is Key to Effective Emergency Communications

Release Date: April 15, 2024

During National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, we’re sharing updates on S&T efforts focused on getting first responders the information they need quickly.

When it comes to communicating emergency information to and among first responders, interoperability is a problem. In some cases, emergency responders cannot talk to some parts of their own agencies—let alone communicate with agencies in neighboring cities, counties, or states. And when time is of the essence, the results can be catastrophic. But there are other factors that can impede response, and we are keenly focused on addressing each of these with technological solutions.

The 9/11 Commission Report speaks at great length about the issues the lack of interoperability caused. As a result of the Commission Report, there was a significant reorganization of response capabilities, which included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and, soon after, the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). We've been on the case ever since, working for and with responders to better understand and deliver on their technology needs.

While all these organizations are working to find a solution, we have multiple efforts underway to support new technologies to help correct for these gaps. For instance, our First Responder Capability portfolio and Technology Centers work with responders across the country on communications solutions. But the challenges are formidable, as jurisdictions manage their own technology across 6,000 911 call centers nationwide.

Wireless: The Wave of the Future

Let’s face it. The future of communications is going to be wireless, and that extends to emergency communications, too.

S&T has been sponsoring research across a number of areas, based on findings in the S&T “Study on Mobile Device Security” Report, which concluded that targeted research and development (R&D) could inform standards to improve security and resilience of critical mobile communications networks. As a result, S&T’s Mobile Security R&D Program established the Secure and Resilient Mobile Network Infrastructure (SRMNI) project and has efforts underway to establish standards for secure voice and video capability for communications across the 3G, 4G, and 5G networks.

Last year, interagency discussions were held that included S&T, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, and the U.S. Department of Defense, among others, to identify lab testing requirements for 5G Emergency Communications interoperability. Then, in early spring of 2024, S&T and MITRE demoed new features in the new 5G ecosystem critical to DHS components and first responder use cases and continued to conduct engineering analysis and lab-based research to identify potential gaps. Research will be ongoing.

So, we are trending forward but are still working on helping aid improvements across traditional networks.

Connectivity is Key

As it stands, CAD-to-CAD (computer-aided dispatch) communications are the key to interoperability and resilience between government agencies responding to emergencies. Once the 911 call or text is answered, the information is sent to CAD, which is used to send the right resource to the right location. Public safety agencies have different CAD systems that don’t always efficiently share information. The result is ineffective and costly interoperable issues across communications systems.

In 2021, S&T funded a successful CAD-to-CAD interoperability pilot project run by the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute to apply a single standard across municipalities to achieve interoperability. This pilot was successful in testing this theory by applying specifications across three localities – two in New Hampshire and one in Vermont, all three reliant on an InfoCAD™ environment hosted in the Amazon GovCloud. Through testing of two use cases – a three- or four-alarm fire and a medical emergency – IJIS demonstrated a viable solution in a live environment.  

Our Office of Mission and Capability Support will be conducting market research within the next few months on CAD-to-CAD Interoperability Compliance / Conformance testing. This upcoming effort is part of a five-year research & development portfolio under S&T’s Critical Infrastructure Security & Resilience Research (CISRR) Program, which is funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021. The objective is to build upon the previous work done by the SRMNI project to establish interoperability functional specifications and develop a model for wide-scale implementation of these standards.

Location, Location, Location

Out-of-date Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone numbers, connected to the Internet by design, are another issue that can create emergence response delays. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires VoIP telephone service providers to maintain a subscriber’s verified street address as a dispatchable location to the 911 community. If a call is placed for emergency services and there is a lack of cellular coverage, the VoIP address should serve as backup. But these addresses aren’t being updated when moves are made.

The result is first responders routed to the wrong place during emergencies. Our Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program released a solicitation in 2023 calling for a solution to help identify whether a call to 911 is coming from a different location than the registered location. We will have more information available on this later this spring, but the aim is to better enable VoIP service providers to provide a valid, dispatchable address.

By helping to advance CAD-to-CAD interoperability testing, seeking a solution to assist with address accuracy through VoIP, and planning for mobile interoperability solutions of the future, we at S&T are hopeful that we can help support first responders and the telecommunicators that assist them get services to the people that need them more efficiently.

Learn more about other S&T efforts to help provide technology solutions to improve emergency response communications.

Last Updated: 04/15/2024
Was this page helpful?
This page was not helpful because the content