It sounds like a scene from a bad '70s cop show: the state and county police are chasing a suspect on the highway. The officers are closing in and want to share information, but they can't because their radios don't use the same frequencies. So the police communicate the only way they can—by shouting out of the windows of their speeding cruisers.
For Dr. David Boyd, the deputy director for operations for the Office of Research and Development in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, this Keystone Cops scenario is all too real. "It happened in California in the mid-'90s," says Boyd, who earned a PhD in Applied Management and Decision Sciences (now PhD in Management) from Walden. "It is also a prime example of how the lack of telecommunications compatibility—or interoperability—in the U.S. impedes the work of American public safety agencies and ultimately threatens their response to crime, disaster and terrorism."
In addition to being deputy director for operations, Boyd runs SAFECOM, a program created by the Office of Management and Budget to address public safety communications issues such as the interoperability crisis.
"Inadequate and unreliable wireless communications have plagued public safety organizations for decades," says Boyd, who has been studying the lack of interoperability since the early '90s, when he directed the Office of Science and Technology in the Department of Justice.
It was there that Boyd completed his Walden dissertation: on organizational change in a law enforcement technology development organization. "I was looking at how a technology organization is best constructed and how, in theory, it operates. In conducting my interviews and surveys for the dissertation, I realized that some of the assumptions I took to be valid about my own organization were not valid," he says. "We had assumed that the processes we had established were the reason for our success—but our success really had more to do with the overall environment: the level of support we received from the administration, Congress and especially the public safety community."
Boyd's dissertation was of considerable interest within the agency because it represented the first systematic study of its technology programs. "Former directors asked for copies; copies were placed in the agency library. And the General Accounting Office (GAO) requested copies," says Boyd.
Understanding the importance of support, especially from the safety community, influenced how Boyd approaches his work with SAFECOM, which was designed by and for the public safety community.
Today, Boyd spends about 60 percent of his time on SAFECOM. He regularly meets with District of Columbia-area and local first responders and routinely briefs government agencies. He also regularly testifies before Congressional subcommittees regarding first-responder interoperability and has briefed staffers in the West Wing.
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