Communicating Success: A Recap of the COPS 2007 Technology Program Advanced Training Workshop

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” —George Bernard Shaw

Interagency communications projects that are established to address local interoperability concerns present challenges in both technology and sociology. The challenges involve the need of multiple jurisdictions and disciplines that are striving to recognize and understand existing and emerging technology while dealing with the ever-present challenges of human interaction. As a result, interagency communications projects, particularly those involving communications interoperability, are often quite complex and require enormous cooperative effort. As complex as these projects are, common challenges exist among the agencies that allow for the development of effective practices as well as the opportunity to learn from the successes and hard-learned lessons of others.

The interagency communications projects of jurisdictions that have received COPS Office 2007 Technology Program grants have brought challenges in planning, decision making, needs analysis, acquisition, governance, and funding. As they progress toward the second and third years of their projects, completing the projects and using the assets provided by them will require ongoing commitment to maintaining the new, shared capabilities. Effectively, the long-term viability of the technology and processes put in place will be determined by how well the transition from funded projects to maintained systems is managed.

The COPS Office recognized the need for a forum to foster the exchange of ideas and experiences and to provide training and education to recipients of the 2007 grants to assist them in making their information-sharing projects successful. In response, SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, in conjunction with the COPS Office, developed and delivered an Advanced Training Workshop for the grantees. It took place on November 18–19, 2008, in San Diego, California.

The goal of the workshop was to pick up where the December 2007 Kickoff Conference left off. Now in the second year of grants, the workshop was designed to educate COPS 2007 Technology Program grantees in the implementation of advanced phases of their data information sharing and voice interoperability technology projects, the closing phases of project and grant management, and the long-term maintenance of their projects. Jointly, SEARCH and COPS Office staff prioritized needs, recommended approaches, and developed an overall approach for training delivery.

The workshop was structured around a multipronged approach to provide a combination of teaching, education, tools, resources, and peer networking opportunities, which provided practical guidance, direction, and assistance in support of the grantees’ successful completion of their technology projects.

COPS Office and SEARCH staff, along with additional subject matter experts, presented and facilitated a structured agenda that followed best practices for systems planning, procurement, data sharing, and technology implementation. SEARCH staff conducted sessions on overarching project principles, concepts, and best practices, while practitioners from public safety agencies around the country who have managed technology projects successfully shared their experiences, common issues, problems, and successful strategies.

The workshop was smaller than the Kickoff Conference, with the grantees being offered one of two sites in which to attend the workshop: San Diego, California, or San Antonio, Texas. Twenty-four grantees attended the 2-day San Diego event and represented the following jurisdictions:

The participants appreciated the benefits of convening a small number of attendees and discussing a variety of relevant topics. The format of the sessions facilitated interaction between attendees and presenters to enable them to share real-life information in real time. Attendees valued the opportunities to discuss important issues related to an array of technologies funded by the grants, to learn practical planning and procurement principles, and to hear about examples of quality information-sharing projects from the very people involved in those projects.

Dereck Orr, Program Manager for Public Safety Communications, Office of Law Enforcement Standards, National Institute of Standards and Technology presented a session titled “The P25 Compliance Assessment Program.” It focused on the federal program that establishes a process for ensuring that equipment that complies with P25 standards is capable of interoperating across manufacturers.

A session presented by David Furth, Associate Bureau Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spotlighted 800 MHz rebanding. Rebanding is a reality facing many radio systems around the country and his session discussed the FCC’s efforts and how rebanding could affect COPS Office grantees.

Effectively managing the services and solutions that result from information technology (IT) projects was the focus of a session presented by SEARCH Consultant Jim Cabral. It dealt with Information Technology Services Management (ITSM), a proven approach for managing IT systems. A primary characteristic of ITSM is that it takes a customer-centric view of IT’s contribution to business process and interaction, rather than a technology- centric approach to IT’s support for business.

Other sessions focused on successes and lessons learned from several local projects:

These local experiences were provided by practitioners from public safety agencies around the country that have managed technology projects successfully, identifying common issues, problems, and successful strategies.

COPS Office staff presented and facilitated a session on effective grant management. They discussed specific techniques involved in managing grants and common issues and concerns, such as modifying project budgets and extending the project performance period.

The attendees received a workbook containing information that they could use both during and after the workshop. The binder, along with publications from the Law Enforcement Tech Guide for Communications Interoperability series (SEARCH) and the guide Identifying and Measuring the Effects of Information Technologies on Law Enforcement Agencies (Institute of Law and Justice) comprised a comprehensive set of tools and resources that attendees could rely on once they returned to their agencies or jurisdictions and continued implementing the principles taught during the workshop.

In addition, the workshop provided peer networking time at the end of the first day. This opportunity to share project information and other less-formal opportunities for interaction with SEARCH and COPS Office staff, speakers, and other attendees was welcomed by all.

Positive attendee evaluations and feedback confirmed the importance of these workshop sessions and opportunities toward providing education, assistance, and information sharing.

Preparation for the next Advanced Training Workshop, scheduled for February 24–25, 2009 in San Antonio, Texas, is underway.

These workshops were part of a multifaceted training and technical assistance package implemented by SEARCH and funded by the COPS Office in support of the 2007 Technology Program. Ongoing and future assistance includes onsite and offsite direct technical assistance, annual project reviews, and the development of podcasts highlighting best practices in interagency communication projects. For more information about these efforts, call the COPS Office Response Center at 800.421.6770 or SEARCH at 916.392.2550.

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