District builds wireless network for public safety

Washington, D.C., this month started building the nation's first wireless high-speed broadband data network dedicated solely for first responders.

The network will let public safety workers send voice, data and streaming video from an ambulance to a hospital, said Suzanne Peck, the city's chief technology officer. It could also convey the detection of a chemical weapons attack. 'This is the broadest use of broadband,' Peck said.

The city is working to procure from the Federal Communications Commission a renewable, experimental license that will give the district authority to test the network for up to a year in a spectrum in the 700-MHz band, Peck said.

'We're going to do that with the consent of a D.C. regional subscriber who has authority in that band,' she said. 'It's a public TV station in Frederick, [Md.], whose range doesn't reach Washington, so we won't be interfering with their operations.'

The network will use 10 transmission sites that will give first responders wireless coverage throughout the city.

The network is a companion to DC-Net, an OC-48 Synchronous Optical Network that will connect 400 locations, including office buildings, schools, libraries, vehicles and emergency call centers (Click for Feb. 9 GCN story).

The combination of DC-Net and the wireless public safety network will ensure that during an emergency, a police officer in a squad car could request or send data over the wireless network from his mobile data terminal, notebook PC or personal digital assistant.

The wireless network is reserved for public safety use only, Peck said. Police, fire and rescue workers will not be contending with any other subscribers.

The city has spent $2.7 million to build the network. When the two networks are finished, 'we'll have the finest public safety system of any municipality,' Peck said.

The wireless equipment for the public safety network is being provided by Flarion Technologies Inc. of Bedminster, N.J. Motorola Inc. is acting as the systems integrator for the network.

Firefighters and other emergency workers will be able to use the wireless network to communicate in the underground tunnels throughout Washington's Metro subway system and in downtown buildings, Peck said.

Although the network runs independently of the Internet, it can connect to it to share data with other public safety agencies, Peck said.

'So much of what we are doing is the creation of a safety infrastructure for our public safety officers,' Peck said. 'They put their lives on the line every day. So the tools we can give them that will enable them to do their job and be less in harm's way is a very wise investment.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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