State lines

No wires. Wireless networking is becoming a top priority of many state and local agencies for public safety communications.

For example, Montgomery County, Md., government has dedicated 44 802.11b wireless hot spots to public safety mobile users, said Barbara Garrard, chief of enterprise infrastructure for the county's Technology Services Department, at the recent FOSE trade show in Washington.

At times, the WiFi connection was the most cost-effective connectivity available, Garrard said. In some cases, to connect a building to the county's fiber-optic network would have been prohibitively expensive. 'You would have had to dig an underground cable, and it would have cost a fortune,' she said.

Web consolidation. Santa Clara County, home to California's Silicon Valley, wants to use the Web to maintain high levels of service to citizens hit hard by the dot-com bust while cutting costs by downsizing.

The county plans to accomplish this by consolidating its public Web presence from 51 separate sites into one, at www.sccgov.org.

The county's 15,000 employees will be reduced by 1,200 between now and July 1, said Elizabeth Gorgue, senior IT project manager. She described the internal employee portal as 'the workbench to access all our applications.'

The county recently launched an electronic forms automation suite for employees using Liquid Office from Cardiff Software Inc. of San Diego and Vignette V7 software from Vignette Corp. of Austin, Texas. The portal integrates Vignette with the county's human resources application from PeopleSoft Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.

Employees trying to change their status or benefits used to have to fill out about 18 paper forms. Now the forms are streamlined for electronic workflow.

Standards vs. terror. All levels of government need to develop performance standards to measure their ability to prevent and respond to terrorist incidents, a top-level industry executive said recently.

Without such measures, a noticeable discrepancy will remain between government capabilities and public expectations, said George Vradenburg, a member of the Homeland Security Department's Private Sector Senior Advisory Committee. Vradenburg also is chairman of the Vradenburg Foundation and a former senior executive with AOL-Time Warner.

'There is a mismatch between what the public expects from public safety and an absence of performance standards to measure our accomplishments,' he said at the Homeland and Global Security summit in Washington.

Surveys show that many first responders give themselves barely a passing grade in their ability to respond to terrorist incidents, he said.

Vradenburg called on government to set performance standards as well as increase information sharing with the private sector, and improve communications with the public about what to do in emergencies.

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