CapWIN looks like win-win for D.C. area

Members of Congress met yesterday with representatives of the public safety community to celebrate some of the milestones of the Capital Wireless Integrated Network.

CapWIN is a wireless, mainly text-based interoperable communications system that was developed in cooperation with law enforcement and public safety officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia at the state, federal and local levels.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, police, fire and transportation officers in the capital region each had their own separate communication systems, said Sen. George Allen (R-Va.).

'We realized, unfortunately, on 9/11, that improvements needed to be made' to the region's public safety communications, Allen said. 'We saw it first-hand at the Pentagon, when first responders rushed to the site to help.' Because of communications problems, some of the first responders didn't know about toxic chemicals in the air. With CapWIN, officials are making sure public safety officers have the tools they need to respond with speed and knowledge.

Allen praised CapWIN for its 'unprecedented teamwork to protect the homeland.' Federal, state and local agencies joined in cooperative efforts across state lines, rivers and districts.

Officials talked about additional applications for CapWIN.

'We need this type of cooperation on the issue of gangs,' said Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary, which funded CapWIN with $20 million. 'The area we all love is becoming infested by gangs.' The Washington Post reported last week that 70 gangs are in operation now in Prince George's County and Montgomery County in Maryland, he said.

Deborah J. Daniels, assistant attorney general of the United States, echoed Allen.

'You can't just build new systems,' Daniels said. 'If people aren't willing to talk with one another, it won't do you any good in the first place. To protect us, first responders have to be armed with more than just the tools of the trade.'

Although CapWIN was launched because of congressional support, the project's 'real heroes are the people in the back of the room,' said James P. Moran (D-Va.), referring to members of the area's law enforcement community who were attending the event. The meeting included representatives of the D.C. Fire and EMS Department, the Maryland State Police, the Virginia Transportation Department, the U.S. Park Police, the D.C. Transportation Department and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.

CapWIN went online in June. Housed at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Transportation Technology, it wirelessly transmits instant messaging, secure e-mail and images to as many as 10,000 users on their personal digital assistants or wireless notebook PCs.

Users can search CapWIN's global directory for specific help, said George Ake, CapWIN's program manager. 'You can say, 'I need someone who can speak Farsi,' and it will let you search for that,' Ake said.

CapWIN can also access hazardous-materials databases kept by the National Institutes of Health.

'Is this absolutely perfect? Nothing is,' Allen said. 'But compare where we were on 9/11 to where we are now.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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