20 Years - Looking Back, Reaching Forward
Twenty years ago, in 1999, the Indiana General Assembly created the Integrated Public Safety Commission (IC 5-26). Back then, it wasn't uncommon for different agencies within the same geographical area or discipline to have their own dedicated radio communications system. Many agencies were using low-band VHF, a few were using UHF and 800 MHz. But the overall problem was that not everyone could talk to each other in the event an incident expanded beyond their agency, or local area or county.
Thankfully, public safety leaders in the state had a vision. Since 1990, the Indiana State Police had been gradually building an 800 MHz system but progress was slow and delayed due to funding. In 1997, the Indiana General Assembly appropriated $7.5 million to the Indiana State Police to build the next phase of the project, but the superintendent, Mel Carraway, took a fresh look at the radio communications problem before proceeding. Over the next couple of years, several statewide summits were held, bringing together hundreds of public safety professionals and elected officials from local, state and federal agencies, representing all disciplines and jurisdictions, to discuss the future of public safety communications. The resulting Statewide Public Safety Voice/Data Communications System Strategic Plan (1998) laid the foundation for what would become a national model for the shared system approach to solving the lack of interoperable communications.
The state issued an RFP in in 1999, eight vendors responded, and Motorola was chosen to build out Indiana's 126-site statewide Safety- Acting for Everyone, Together (SAFE-T) public safety communications system. In 2000, in an unprecedented show of support, 68 counties formed 12 consortiums and applied to become a part of SAFE-T's demonstration project. But while support was high, sources of funding were not.
Then, on September 11, 2001, the coordinated terrorist attacks on America exposed deep gaps in the country's ability to respond to large disasters. Chief among those gaps was the ability for first responders to communicate. Firefighters lost their lives because they did not receive the same evacuate order that law enforcement received in the Twin Towers. This tragic fact, more than anything, spurred the Indiana General Assembly to create a dedicated source of funding for SAFE-T. HEA 1001, passed in March of 2002, designated a portion of existing BMV fees to help fund system implementation.
Fast forward to 2019. In these past 20 years, a staggering amount of progress has been made, both technologically and in terms of improved cooperation and coordination. SAFE-T has grown from an idea in the minds of visionaries into a public safety land mobile radio system that has served as the national model for other states. Even more, the cooperative spirit that forged the SAFE-T system has led to the success of other shared communications systems, including the statewide Computer Aided Dispatch/Mobile Data Device (CAD/MDD) system, and, now, the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (FirstNet).