System links village's services

System links village's services

Buffalo Grove, Ill., connects databases, sharing departmental information

By Merry Mayer

Special to GCN

Firefighters in Buffalo Grove, Ill., can get blueprints of a burning building, locate hazardous materials and check for previous fire violations before they reach the scene'all from notebook PCs.

But it's not just a matter of putting a notebook in a fire truck. The village put all its departments on the same communications system. That allows police, fire, building and other departments to easily share information.



Linking village government databases lets Buffalo Grove., Ill., officials share information in a more efficient manner.



Buffalo Grove officials decided to scrap all its computers in 1995 after a report identified redundant databases and islands of automation with no data sharing between departments.

They hired Robert Giddens as director of management and information systems to roll out all-new technology.

The village spent roughly $750,000 in 1995 and about $400,000 every year since on the system, Giddens said.

The centerpiece of the system is Lotus Notes. 'Village employees spend about 80 percent of their computer time within Lotus Notes,' Giddens said.

Lotus Notes is a standard platform for
e-mail. But for Buffalo Grove it grew beyond e-mail to knowledge management, Giddens said.

Firefighters on the way to a fire can get maps, locations of electrical and alarm panels in the building, and building layouts. This information had been stored in two three-inch thick three-ring binders, deputy fire chief Tim Sashko said.

But firefighters, paramedics and other personnel still have to query the computer to get this information. The next step is to link the data so it immediately gets transmitted to the screen when the computer-aided dispatcher enters the address. That capability should be in place later this year or early next year, Sashko said.

'We already have the technology to do this, we just need the time to develop it,' Sashko said.

Linking village government databases also ensures that other departments have immediate access to the latest information. For example, the fire department inspects buildings annually and establishes an emergency contact person. Once entered, this information is immediately available to the police.

'It has reduced the response time to get hold of the owner by hours,' Giddens said. 'During a recent burglary, the police department was able to contact the business owners within 10 minutes of notification of the problem at 2 in the morning,' he said.

To keep things as simple as possible, users update the system's data themselves. 'It's the workgroup concept at its finest,' Giddens said.

The new system not only increases efficiencies, but also lets the village do things it couldn't before. 'There is a crime opportunity database utilized by the police where they maintain a listing of suspicious activities,' Giddens said.

With village fire trucks and ambulances already equipped with notebooks, the next step is to get police squad cars online. Buffalo Grove is running a pilot to put notebooks in police cars. Police officers would be able to write reports from cars, giving them more time on the streets, Giddens said.

On the run

The system runs on nine 333-MHz Hewlett-Packard P2 NetServers with 256M of RAM each and hard drives of 8G to 18G. The servers run either Novell NetWare or Microsoft Windows NT 4.0.

In addition, a Hewlett-Packard 9000 server, running HP-UX, handles Buffalo Grove's core financial applications.

There are 180 PCs for the village's 250 employees. They use at least 233-MHz Pentiums with 32M of RAM. The PCs run Windows 95, and application software includes Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes.

For now the system is linked using Hewlett-Packard Procurve Hubs and ACC Amazon routers from Network Systems Integration of Simi Valley, Calif.

Five of the servers, in municipal buildings, are connected via fiber optics. The other four servers are at remote sites and are connected using the TCI Cable Co.'s institutional network or coaxial institutional network.

But the village plans to go wireless in three to four months, Giddens said.

To help in that effort, Illinois recently approved a grant of $80,000 for Buffalo Grove.

'The state was impressed enough by what we were doing to help us go wireless,' Giddens said.

It will use the newer technology, sending voice, video and data over IP networks at speeds of 12 million instructions per second. The village is already updating its municipal area network to connect the system, Giddens said.

Security isn't much of a concern because the notebooks will be used only to compose, with data saved only to the central database, Giddens said. 'If the laptop is dropped a minute after the report is sent, all I do is issue a new laptop,' he said.

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