Interoperability is the goal for wireless network

First responders may eventually turn to personal digital assistants before their radios in emergencies, tapping into an interoperable wireless network recently developed and tested by federal scientists and engineers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has completed the first round of tests on a wireless emergency network.

Local, state and federal emergency workers have found their radio systems, which use many different frequencies, to be an often-hopeless mode of communication.

Under Project 25, new standards for radio interoperability emerged, but tight budgets have made upgrading to those expensive systems troublesome for most jurisdictions.

Instead, NIST is developing the wireless ad hoc network in which first responders could relay messages through their PDAs. Law enforcement officials could insert wireless LAN cards, which allow the handhelds to transmit voice, text, video and sensor data to any other nearby PDA, constantly tracking each other's locations and automatically rebuilding the network if broken.

On the tiny screens, the responders could scroll through the names and titles of nearby workers. Planted inside the buildings, sensors that detected and measured smoke, heat or vibration could even send information and updates through this new network to the emergency workers' handhelds.

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