DC area to use wireless network for emergencies

Police, fire and other emergency personnel in the Washington area are turning to open standards and instant messaging to overcome their inability to communicate via proprietary voice radio systems.

This wireless instant messaging system will accomplish what the agencies' voice radio communications cannot, and that's the means to seamlessly communicate with police, fire, medical and other agencies that may be responding to an emergency. It will also give rescue workers access to multiple state and federal databases.

The project, called the Capital Wireless Integrated Network, or CapWIN, was envisioned before Sept. 11 and grew out of frustration over the communication problems that Washington, Virginia and Maryland agencies have had in coordinating responses to traffic problems.

But the terrorist attacks underscored the importance of interoperable communication systems, said officials, and Congress approved US$20 million for it. IBM Corp. was selected this month to undertake the project.

Government and company officials said key to IBM's selection, one of six vendors vying for the project, was meeting the project's design criteria, which included use of open standards, off-the-shelf technologies and easy maintenance.

"We had to provide a very open-standards-based approach. The customer did not want a proprietary solution; they did not want to be vendor-dependent," said Kent Blossom, IBM's director of safety and security services for IBM Public Sector.

The system will be based on Web standards, XML and Java and will use IBM's MQ messaging technology. It will be designed to support up to 10,000 users from some 40 agencies.

The project is being managed by the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Maryland, which will provide the communications bridge for the system.

Fred Davis, deputy director of the CapWIN project, said that as far as he knows, the project tying three different jurisdictions is unique. "This has never been approached before, that I'm aware of, in this large of a scale," he said.

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