Team works on first-response net for D.C.

'The main obstacle in fielding interoperable radio systems is the lack of interjurisdictional standards.'

'Alisoun Moore, CIO of Montgomery County

Steve Barrett

District of Columbia police chief Charles Ramsey last month delivered sobering news about the ability of Washington-area officials to respond to a terrorist attack: Local first responders aren't able to fully mesh their digital communications.

'There are some agencies we can communicate digitally with and some we can't,' Ramsey said when briefing D.C. businesses following the Bush administration's raising of the terrorist alert warning to Code Orange, the second highest level.

Some federal, state and local agencies that don't have digital links with D.C. systems have assigned staff to Washington's Joint Operations Command Center so they can communicate despite their incompatible digital links.

Help is on the way in the form of a regional digital first-responder network, but it won't be running until the end of the year. When it begins service, the network will be the first interstate, interagency digital system in the country that converts data messages among incompatible systems, its developers said.

The Capital Wireless Integrated Network, or CapWIN, is a project of the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Transportation Technology, which received $20 million for the program last year.

CapWIN earlier had received funds from the Transportation Department to study digital switching technology.

Year-long RFP

'We went through almost a year of developing a request for proposals' after receiving the funding, CapWIN deputy program director Fred Davis said. 'We awarded a contract in August 2002 to IBM Corp.,' he said.

'The main obstacle in fielding interoperable radio systems is the lack of interjurisdictional standards,' said Alisoun Moore, CIO of Montgomery County, Md.

Davis said his project aims to provide a link among the digital wireless first-responder networks deployed via PCs, personal digital assistants and wireless phones across the region, as well as wired data networks.

The first phase of the CapWIN project focuses on three services:
  • Mobile computing and data communications

  • Access to the criminal justice databases of Virginia, Maryland and the District, as well as the FBI's National Criminal Information Center

  • Management support and tracking for units that respond to an incident.

CapWIN managers plan to begin field-testing their system next month and to deploy dozens of test units across the region this summer. Project managers are negotiating with local first-response agencies to determine the number of units to be deployed. They expect to complete the three tasks of the project's first phase by the end of the year, Davis said.

CapWIN has licenses to service 10,000 clients across the region, which will include various fire, emergency medical and police units. Thirty-five state, federal and local agencies are participating, Davis said.

Later phases of the project will add technologies such as records management and computer-aided dispatch service to CapWIN. The system also could add voice over IP at a later stage, Davis said.

At the state level, CapWIN will link digital radio systems of the Washington Area Law Enforcement System, the Virginia Criminal Information Network and the Maryland Integrated Law Enforcement System.

'A Maryland state trooper, for example, will be able to communicate with any other police officer in the district, Maryland or Virginia who is logged on to the system,' Davis said.

Passed the test

The project team already has concluded a pilot in which it deployed 22 clients in highway service, police and fire vehicles used by 10 agencies in five jurisdictions. Alexandria, Va., provided its mobile data message switch and mobile client software for the pilot, which uses Mobile Data Browser software from HTE Inc. of Lake Mary, Fla., as well as PoliceWorks switch software from Motorola Inc. and UCS Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Davis said many local first-response agencies use HTE software. Others use systems from Aether Systems Inc. of Owings Mills, Md., or 800-MHz digital radio systems and Cellular Digital Packet Data systems from various manufacturers.

CapWIN uses IBM eServer pSeries Unix servers running WebSphere software. Its IBM Global Directory will serve as a bridge connecting the various agencies' addressing systems.

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