Vermont public safety goes digital

In the last nine months many state agencies have combined forces to boost homeland security, but Vermont recognized the need for improved communication and information sharing well before Sept. 11.

Vermont's Department of Public Safety started planning its move to a digital communications network from a 50-year-old microwave system in 1999 when it hired RCC Consultants Inc. of Woodbridge, N.J., to review its existing system and recommend a new one.

Officials wanted a system that would provide enough bandwidth for communications from 48 municipal police departments, the state police, the Department of Transportation, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and a handful of fire departments.

The state recently hired Alcatel USA of Plano, Texas, to build the system. Vermont awarded the company a nearly $9 million contract for a digital communications system that will put voice, data and video on a single network.

'From a law enforcement perspective, our current system could not deliver information from the records management and computer-aided dispatch systems that we need,' said Francis Aumond, director of the department's Division of Criminal Justice Services.

'Voice communications remain the lifeline for law enforcement, and the digital system will provide the efficiency, improved signal quality and flexibility we need,' Aumond said.

Public safety personnel used the old system for voice and low-level data communication, such as one-line e-mail messages. The system transmitted signals to microwave towers and then to the station. The analog system was set up in 1954 and upgraded in the 1970s, Aumond said.

'The equipment was beyond its lifecycle,' Aumond said. 'We had to buy old equipment to support it, the parts were getting hard to find and we realized we needed a new solution.'
One of the most vexing problems for state officials was connecting the 13 land mobile systems used by police and fire departments and other state agencies.

Aumond said Alcatel's hardware and software solved the interoperability problem.

Alcatel's Mainstreet 3600 bandwidth manager, which also is used by the Federal Aviation Administration to let pilots speak to air traffic controllers, works by time-division multiplexing and uses asynchronous transfer mode transmission, said Jim Gillett, assistant vice president for Alcatel's broadband networks. The multiplexing technology converts voice traffic for transmission on a digital network.

Aumond said the ability to encrypt data and expand the network were two of the most important considerations.

The system also will increase the speed of data transfer by using T1 lines. The state police will save nearly $100,000 a year by eliminating use of commercial frame relay networks to connect to the microwave system and to transmit data through 56-Kbps modems. The state police spend nearly $250,000 a year on those services.

'This system will give us enough bandwidth to meet our needs for some time and share it with other government and quasi-government agencies,' Aumond said.

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