"During Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, winds and floods knocked out virtually every form of communication: landline service, cellular phone service, the Internet, and radio transmission. Even when radio equipment did work, law enforcement officials and emergency crews were unable to communicate with one another because their radio systems were incompatible. This caused confusion and delay and made it nearly impossible for officials to coordinate missions. During emergency situations--whether a natural disaster like Katrina, large transportation accident, or terrorist attack--public safety officials from different agencies (in some cases, different counties and States) must be able to effectively communicate with each other. If they cannot share information quickly, critical time will be wasted and lives could be lost. Unfortunately, police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel cannot always depend on wireless radio communications during natural disasters, major accidents, or criminal activities because their radio systems are often incompatible. New technology is emerging that will enable public safety officials to exchange information seamlessly: experts call it 'interoperability.' One of the most promising of these technologies is software defined radio (SDR) systems. SDR is a type of radio that uses software to control a radio's operating parameters and protocols, allowing the radio to be updated and reconfigured, thus minimizing the need to change existing hardware. SDR can overcome the challenges of incompatible communications systems by allowing radios to be easily updated with new functions, protocols, and standards. Most police radios today cannot be easily reconfigured to implement new capabilities, and as a result, incorporating new communications technology into an agency's operations can take decades."
NIJ Journal (March 2008), NCJ 221504
Department of Justice: http://www.usdoj.gov