Talk Amongst Yourselves
When police arrive at the scene of an accident or crime, they talk to each other over the radio. But they can't communicate with anyone else. Typically, police radio frequencies differ from those used by firefighters, emergency medical teams and state transportation department officials. Getting the word out to other first responders means using the radio to ask headquarters to make phone calls. Even at the scene, police officers cannot radio firefighters, and firefighters cannot radio police officers. Ditto other first responders.

In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, multiple jurisdictions compound the problem. The police from the District of Columbia cannot radio the Maryland or Virginia State Police or the police from local municipalities let alone firefighters or emergency medical personnel.

"One important lesson we learned from Sept. 11 is that we needed to do more to help our first responders communicate seamlessly and more effectively across jurisdictions and different systems," says Senator George Allen (R-Va.).

Early next year, the first piece of a seamless communications system will arrive. For the past 12 months, an IBM-led team and a groundbreaking consortium of public safety and transportation agencies in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia have been assembling the first regional public safety data communications network to cross jurisdictional lines. Called the Capital Wireless Integrated Network or CapWIN, the interoperable system will connect as many as 10,000 officials and first responders from more than 40 local, state and federal agencies through a secure central communications system.

The system requires no special hardware for users. Authorized personnel with low-cost, industry standard devices such as PCs, PDAs, and data-enabled mobile phones will be able to use the system. CapWIN will provide two communications services. It will enable first responders to send instant messages to others at the scene of an event and provide access to information stored in government databases far from the scene. Suppose a Maryland State Trooper pulls over a speeding motorist with Virginia plates. CapWIN will enable the officer to ask Virginia databases about the car's owner and outstanding warrants before approaching a driver who may be dangerous.

The heart of CapWIN's technology is an open, modular cluster of IBM servers running the company's WebSphere software. The servers route messages and browser requests for data to the various systems connected to the network. A global directory provides an interface with the disparate government systems, allowing each to share data with the others. According to IBM, the system's security features meet or exceed FBI standards for mobile data communications.

IBM assembled a team of companies to contribute pieces of the system. As the prime contractor, IBM provides systems integration, program management, architecture, design and development. PB Farradyne is designing and developing associated intelligent transportation systems, while Pelican Mobile is responsible for mobile computer system installation and support. Telecommunications Systems Corp. will install the central site and provide training and documentation. Templar Corp. will provide software that can access numerous databases. Motorola will connect existing systems to CapWIN, and Jabber will furnish instant messaging software.

"Typically jurisdictions do not share data," says Kathleen Daw, an IBM business consolidation partner. "In some cases, legislation prohibits sharing. The most groundbreaking part of this project was the decision to form a consortium and share data among members."

The CapWIN technology has created a model that other multi-jurisdictional regions can copy. Officials from the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas and a dozen other regions around the country have expressed interest in the concept, Daw says. In addition, cities near the region covered by CapWIN Baltimore and Richmond have asked to join the consortium once the system is up and running.

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