Interoperability: Where does the towing industry fit in?

Interoperability is the operational buzz word for first responders nowadays, but it has been around for many years. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have brought it to the forefront of public safety agencies leadership and administration. Millions of dollars have been spent on equipment, training and resources to bring agencies closer to being interoperable, especially in emergency and disaster response operations. Now, 10 years later, the question still remains, are we any closer to being truly interoperable?
The answer is yes and no. The public emergency service agencies are much closer to being interoperable in 2011 than they were in 2001. However, our private sector partners are lacking in interoperability with us. Interoperability is defined as the ability of multiple agencies from differing disciplines to seamlessly communicate and work together. Interoperability requires a vision and dedication for public and private sector partners to come together, collaboratively, and develop interoperable coordination methods for emergency and disaster response.
The goal of interoperability is for all agencies, public and private, to be able to communicate with each other, via radio, during non-emergency and emergency events. This includes federal, state, local and private emergency service responders. This is imperative for command and control at any incident, regardless of its complexity. In addition, proven interoperability is essential for personnel safety and accountability at incident scenes.
The towing industry is an integral part of emergency services and disaster response across the United States. The tow operators in our community attend incident briefings and are a part of our unified command team during emergency response operations. In addition, the tow operators in our community are regular attendee’s to our Local Emergency Planning Commission (LEPC) and Regional Homeland Security Oversight Committees (RHSOC). This overall coordination and participation of the public-private sector agencies is imperative to local emergency services fulfilling our mission.
The towing industry brings a vast amount of training, expertise and resources for emergency services to draw from. These resources have assisted us locally in vehicle extrication, water searches and recovery, aircraft crash rescue, commercial vehicle accidents, hazardous materials incidents, weather related disasters and pre-planning for special events like our bi-annual air show.
The abilities of the towing industry to assist emergency services are uncharted waters for most public safety agencies across the nation. However, for the emergency service agencies who have taken the time to develop the relationships it is turned into a great and much needed asset.
Cameron emergency services focus on interoperability with the towing industry should be a benchmark for the rest of the nation to follow. Our tow operators are professionals in their industry and are a valued partner in our emergency response system. They have the ability to communicate with local emergency services in the following manners:
• Directly on the tow operators assigned radio frequency;
• Directly on any of the Cameron emergency services assigned radio frequencies;
• Directly on any Missouri statewide mutual aid frequency;
• Directly on any of the federal interoperable frequencies;
• Dispatch console or gateway patch to the new statewide interoperable network being rolled out by the state of Missouri.
This allows our tow operators to communicate with us directly while enroute to the scene and while on the scene. It eliminates the need to go through multiple dispatch centers to relay traffic and obtain information. The direct communication eliminates the potential for confusion, errors, and saves valuable time in a life threatening emergency and disaster response.
The goal of emergency services is to protect and serve our citizens. This requires a collaborative, team effort of both public and private sector agencies. The towing industry brings a tremendous amount of technical expertise and resources to the table. We have found it to be a great relationship that has assisted us in many different types of emergency and disaster responses. It is time for the rest of the country to see the value in private sector partnerships, in particular the towing industry, and bring them on-board as a valuable member and asset to their emergency services system.

Chief Sloan is the Chief of Police and Emergency Management Director for the City of Cameron, MO. Cameron is located in northwest Missouri, at the intersections of U.S. 36 and Interstate 35 and has a population of approximately 10,000 citizens. Chief Sloan is a 22 year veteran of emergency services. He is a certified law enforcement officer, a certified firefighter I and II and a MO licensed EMT-Paramedic. He holds an A.S. in Criminal Justice from Missouri Western State University, a B.A. in Fire Administration from Western Illinois University and will graduate in December 2011 with his M.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Lincoln University.

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