Make PoliceOne your homepage. Working with the limitations of radio for interagency cooperation. Phonetic alphabets are meant for radio users to be able to pronounce and understand strings of letters and numbers regardless of signal quality. The police alphabet, unique to American officers, is even more succinct than the military code and useful for communicating information like names and license plates clearly over radio. Even after the NATO alphabet came into use, local and state police departments continued to use the APCO police alphabet to transmit information such as license plate numbers over the radio. In fact, the police alphabet may be even shorter and punchier than its military counterpart.

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Since , APCO International has served public safety communications through a series of projects aimed at solving the unique problems telecommunications professionals encounter. Below are brief descriptions of the projects we have records for in our historical files.

Many thanks to David Swan and the Historical Committee for their help in putting this list together. The project was an education campaign aimed at the public and the media, designed to put pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to address frequency reallocation as a solution to the frequency shortage problem that resulted from the rapid growth of mobile communications.

In , the U. Attorney General awarded a grant to APCO for the research and development of a public safety communications standard operating procedure manual.

The manual addressed radio, teletypewriter and radiotelegraph use and was a big seller for APCO. More than 23, copies were sold by April The manual was so popular it was translated into French, Spanish and Japanese.

Public and private libraries, attorneys, corporations, private law enforcement agencies, federal agencies, armed services agencies, research and consulting groups stocked and used the manual, which represented the first attempt to standardize two-way radio use. A welcome side effect was publicity for APCO, resulting in an unprecedented surge in membership. Perhaps equally interesting is the debate that began after the manual was disseminated and put into use, a debate centered around putting civilian operators - particularly females - in communications centers.

The question was raised by members who wanted to free their male sworn officers from comm center operations and put them back on the road and in the field where they were severely needed. The use of standardized procedures meant it was no longer necessary to have a sworn officer at every position in the comm center and eventually led to the creation of the entity we now call a telecommunicator.

APCO's Project 3 was a study of police communications in the metropolitan Chicago area, with the objective of developing and implementing a communications plan for more effective law enforcement in the area, which had a severe shortage of frequencies available for public safety use.

The frequency-shortage problem was not, of course, limited to Chicago; law enforcement agencies in many metropolitan areas found themselves unable to provide for their radio basic needs, much less use the newest and most sophisticated equipment and communications techniques currently available.

The result was danger to the officers in the field and to the citizens of those areas. The project directly addressed the problem as stemming from the FCC's inability to foresee - and unwillingness to reorganize the spectrum to accommodate - the rapid growth of land mobile radio services. Agencies, including the Division of Park Operations of the National Park Service, were quick to adopt the "ten signals" for official use. Although the actual signals and ten-codes have evolved over time, this project was the first attempt to address the need for standards in radio-use language, a basic tenet of interoperability.

To assist agencies dealing with the problems inherent in locating and securing frequencies for land mobile radio use, Project 5 involved the development and publication of a public safety frequency coordination manual. APCO gave a copy of the manual to each of its frequency coordinators and sold them to others at barely above cost. The cost was set low because APCO was more interested in strengthening and accelerating the entire coordination process than in making a profit.

It was designed to give members a look at how a national conference operates and at important issues being discussed by experts and leaders in the field of public safety communications. It was also a way to familiarize the membership with its leaders and to see them in action, and APCO hoped to increase attendance and participation in national conferences by lending the film to the chapters.

However, in the six months following the film's production, not one copy was requested by chapters or members. The course used audio-visual aids and simulators to supplement standard training tools. It was designed to be used by those involved in all aspects of public safety, including police, fire, highway safety, conservation and civil defense.

It included sections for training at both the supervisory and non-supervisory level and presented material applicable by both large and small departments. The course was designed as basic training and did not seek to write policies or procedures for universal use, in recognition of the unique operational considerations of various agencies and public safety entities.

It dealt with ideas, procedures, systems and management, rather than equipment or technical issues. After surveying agencies that had received LEAA funding in the three years preceding the project, APCO was able to identify how they got it and to provide a "cookbook" style resource to assist other agencies seeking that same type of funding.

Specifically, APCO asked how each agency made decisions and identified statewide telecommunications plans, as well as the telecommunications portions of comprehensive law enforcement plans. APCO found out who developed and contributed to these types of plans, what professional skills were employed, what the plans contained, how they were updated and how they were enforced or implemented. The result was a checklist for applicants to ensure their plans reflected real requirements, were technically feasible, had been properly coordinated and had the vital elements to guarantee success.

Project 14 studied the efficacy of the use and standardization of aural brevity codes, such as " They also discovered of the three possible code formats alpha-only, alpha numeric and numeric-only , the numeric-only format was most suitable; they also found a need for a prefix and suggested the already popular "10" was the best choice and should be retained.

The committee found a need for a standard code list to maximize interdepartmental cooperation and to minimize training concerns, because employees would not have to learn a new code list if they changed agencies.

In addition to the code list, they determined a phonetic alphabet was also needed, to minimize confusion on the radio, and concluded the international phonetic alphabet already widely in use fulfilled the need adequately.

The result of Project 14 was the publication of a revised "Ten-Signal" aural brevity code, with the recommendation this list be adopted as a national standard. The committee members recommended the code be incorporated as standard keyboard characterizations in existing and future hardware specifications and used in information exchanges between fixed terminals of land mobile systems and on the criminal justice information network.

They endorsed the international phonetic alphabet as the standard for the public service community. Finally, they recommended further study of the benefits of the future development of standard codes by individual radio service categories fire, law enforcement, EMS for use in conjunction with the listed aural brevity codes.

The opening of the MHz band by the FCC offered the public safety community the chance to develop communications systems with significantly enhanced capabilities. The advent of trunked communications systems coupled with digital addressing techniques made possible an entirely new approach to public safety communications systems design. APCO's Project 16 addressed specific characteristics and functional capabilities of those systems; the intention was to create a system concept that would satisfy the minimum needs of all potential users and permit the inclusion of more complex requirements needed by some communities then or in the future.

Project 16 addressed such characteristics and capabilities as channel access times, automated priority recognition, data systems interface, individuality of system users, command and control flexibility, system growth capability, frequency use and reliability. The final document also described a multi-channel mobile communications system that uses digital addressing techniques and frequency switching systems. Project 17 addressed the formation of APCO's Technical Advisory Program, in which volunteer members of APCO particularly skilled in communications management, planning, programming and funding assist other agencies having difficulties in those areas.

The goal of the TAP is to provide a source of "tried and true" solutions to certain problems that commonly occur in communications centers, to keep each center from having to "re-invent the wheel," so to speak.

TAP also hopes its recommendations may prevent problems or reduce the likelihood of their occurrence. The project committee found the most common problems occur in the areas of system design, spectrum management and dispatcher training.

The Project 17 committee also discovered a root cause of inefficient communications systems: a lack of familiarity with communications concepts by senior policy-making personnel, who may have little or no background in communications prior to assuming responsibility for a communications center.

The committee recommended agencies require completion of a course of instruction for all middle-management and senior law enforcement officers; the course would provide an understanding of the basic concepts of communications systems organization, management and regulatory control.

A joint effort of APCO and the National Association of State Telecommunications Directors, Project 25 concerns the development of standards for digital telecommunications technology, including an objective to determine consensus standards for digital radio equipment embracing elements of interoperability, spectrum efficiency and cost economies.

The project committee believed the best forum for setting these standards was a combination of the public-safety community at the local, state and federal levels and the telecommunications industry, with input from the FCC. The project's original objective was to create a suite of standards.

More than 30 standards were set with six basic interfaces, including common air interfaces CAI , data interfaces, intersystem interfaces, network and network management interfaces, public-switched telephone network interfaces and host data interfaces. The heart and soul of the project, according to Project Director Craig Jorgensen, is the CAI, which provides the key to interoperability by addressing channel bandwidth, bit rate and access, as well as modulation methods.

Project 25 had a profound impact on the telecommunications industry, which now bases its design and development of new equipment on compliance with Project 25 standards. With the increase in population growth of metropolitan areas in the United States, many public safety emergency response agencies began finding it more and more difficult to handle overcrowded radio channels. Because of this, they also could not modernize their communications systems to ensure interoperability between various public safety agencies.

New channels were needed, but the agencies could not acquire the adequate radio frequency assignments. Congress anticipated this problem several years earlier and ordered the FCC to create a national plan that would provide enough radio channels to satisfy current and future needs. The FCC took some early steps toward this movement but did not follow it through completely. The goal was to obtain radio spectrum relief in urban areas that were experiencing spectrum shortfall.

If successful, the agencies would utilize a television channel Channel 16 in New York. This would aid in expanding and reorganizing radio systems, thereby eliminating overcrowding. The request included applications from all participating public safety agencies and included supportive documentation.

The effort was successful and public safety agencies from New York City, Suffolk County and Nassau County are currently using the channel. APCO was called to action again in when the FCC considered reallocating radio frequency bands currently occupied by public safety organizations across the country to new PCS and mobile satellite services.

Chaired by then-APCO President Sam Gargaro, the committee met in April of that year to discuss the implications and possible alternatives or resolutions to the frequency reallocation proposition. The committee determined that reallocation of public safety agencies to other frequencies would be too costly and would not be as safe or effective as the existing 2 GHz microwave frequency being used.

A year later APCO again claimed victory with the resulting grandfathering of all state and local government licensees currently occupying the 2GHz band indefinitely. While new users would be allowed to negotiate buy-outs of existing licenses, no state or local government microwave user would ever be forced off. With the onslaught of wireless telecommunication, APCO was concerned about present and future PCS transmissions clogging radio airwaves allocated to public safety.

APCO was successful in having the FCC add a provision in its Appropriations Authorization bill, which would prevent public safety from being bumped off its microwave spectrum. APCO recommended that Project 31 be a joint project involving telecommunications organizations and city, town and county associations representing state, local and governmental users and representatives. APCO concluded in order to grow with an ever-changing telecommunications environment, it needed to broaden its primary focus on public safety to include providing support to technicians, maintenance personnel, computer support and managers and directors.

Officials also called for expansion of APCO's membership base to include decision-makers, planners and system developers who could make valuable recommendations on technological solutions to their agencies. These people would buy equipment and interest vendors to exhibit a variety of useful products at APCO's exhibit halls that will help meet members' needs.

Working more closely with these organizations would help develop joint standards for the technological changes taking place in the telecommunications field. At that time many states had not developed any standardized training for their agencies. It selected a Standard Development Committee comprised of experts from public safety communications agencies throughout the nation.

An offshoot of Project 25, this project addressed wideband aeronautical and terrestrial mobile digital radio technology standards for the wireless transport of rate-intensive information. The project began when members noted the convergence of voice and data services revolutionizing the commercial transport of information, both wireless and wired.

While the convergence has had little impact on dedicated public safety systems to date, APCO expects that convergence to be a natural progression within the public safety community as new, rate-intensive technologies are implemented. The project committee discovered four generally universal limitations restricting the use of commercial services for mission-critical public safety wireless applications: priority access and system restoration, reliability, ubiquitous coverage and security.

It establishes standards for the transmission and reception of voice, video and high-speed data in a wide-area, multiple-agency network. In September , President Clinton and the U. Department of Justice proposed a nationwide non-emergency number should be available for citizens. This proposed number would be an easy-to-remember number and would alleviate some of the crowding on emergency circuits.

Realizing the impact of such an action, APCO decided to investigate its ramifications before submitting a position statement. After a great deal of research and debate ending with a Washington meeting of the minds, APCO concluded a non-emergency access number was essential for all public safety agencies, and was one way to accomplish this objective.

While APCO stressed the importance of having a non-emergency number, it also pointed out public education was more important than the selection of a method by which a call would arrive. APCO also said a functional system should be in place before a system is implemented. Many cities did not even have access to systems at the time of this project and still do not.

APCO concluded a federal mandate to guide implementation should not exist. Individual municipalities and members of local government should make the decision.


APCO Projects

The NATO phonetic alphabet is the most widely used radiotelephone spelling alphabet. It is officially the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet , and also commonly known as the ICAO phonetic alphabet , with a variation officially known as the ITU phonetic alphabet and figure code. The International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO assigned codewords acrophonically to the letters of the English alphabet , so that critical combinations of letters and numbers are most likely to be pronounced and understood by those who exchange voice messages by radio or telephone, regardless of language differences or the quality of the communication channel. Strict adherence to the prescribed spelling words—including the apparently misspelled "Alfa" and "Juliett"—is required in order to avoid the problems of confusion that the spelling alphabet is designed to overcome. A NATO memo stated that:. It is known that [the ICAO spelling alphabet] has been prepared only after the most exhaustive tests on a scientific basis by several nations. One of the firmest conclusions reached was that it was not practical to make an isolated change to clear confusion between one pair of letters.


Phonetic Alphabets

The APCO phonetic alphabet , a. It is the "over the air" communication used for properly understanding a broadcast of letters in the form of easily understood words. Despite often being called a "phonetic alphabet", it is not a phonetic alphabet for transcribing phonetics. The APCO first suggested that its Procedure and Signals Committee work out a system for a "standard set of words representing the alphabet should be used by all stations" in its April newsletter. The list was based on the results of questionnaires sent out by the Procedures Committee to all zone and interzone police radio stations.


The police alphabet: an important ‘language’ for LEOs


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