From Bruce Schneier’s “First Responders” (Crypto-Gram: 15 September 2007):
In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a report on communications interoperability. In 25% of the 192 cities surveyed, the police couldn’t communicate with the fire department. In 80% of cities, municipal authorities couldn’t communicate with the FBI, FEMA, and other federal agencies.
The source of the problem is a basic economic one, called the “collective action problem.” A collective action is one that needs the coordinated effort of several entities in order to succeed. The problem arises when each individual entity’s needs diverge from the collective needs, and there is no mechanism to ensure that those individual needs are sacrificed in favor of the collective need.