Public safety broadband wireless networks go broader

     Most public safety agencies have heard about the important role broadband wireless networking and video security cameras played in supporting recovery efforts following the Minneapolis bridge disaster in August 2007. A handful of cameras were quickly set up, leveraging the city's new Wi-Fi network to provide real-time visibility of the site back to the emergency operations center. That same Wi-Fi network was used by emergency response personnel from a number of agencies working along the riverfront to access and transfer the huge geographic information system (GIS) mapping files that were constantly being updated and critical to the recovery operation. Though it was less than two years ago, much in both the video security and wireless landscape has changed.

     Megapixel and HDTV-compliant networked video security cameras are now delivering video with clearer, sharper images, while advanced analytics are enabling that video to be used more effectively. Meanwhile new video camera devices, from flashlight-cameras to button-cams are making it easier to capture on-the-scene incident footage. Essentially, more video is being captured and analyzed from more locations and perspectives more of the time, improving situational awareness, officer safety and public safety.

     On the wireless networking front, we've witnessed the broad deployment of high-performance wireless networks, leveraging both 4.9 GHz public safety spectrum, as well as Wi-Fi technologies, in both small towns and large cities. With clear public safety objectives (while often also supporting both public works and public access applications), these networks are supporting video security applications with new IP cameras and other camera-enabled devices, and supporting remote monitoring and sharing by officers in the field.

     The combined benefits of these technologies reinforce their continued growth. The visibility provided by network video security cameras combined with the reach, flexibility and mobility of wireless networks enables public safety agencies to better protect their communities and personnel. Traditionally labor-intensive tasks, such as monitoring high crime, high traffic or remote areas, as well as special events and disasters, are leveraging wireless video security networks to increase the effectiveness of public safety personnel as they work to reduce crime, keep neighborhoods safe and save lives.

     In some cities, video security is just one of several public safety applications supported on their broadband wireless network. That's certainly the case in Riverside, California, where wireless coverage blankets the city with both 4.9 GHz and Wi-Fi access delivered over one mesh network operated by AT&T.

A citywide 4.9 GHz network

     Riverside, California, had a number of public safety issues that it was trying to address with its 4.9 GHz network.

     Riverside wanted to provide the police and fire departments with a high-speed wireless network that could deliver numerous applications and services not available via a legacy radio-based network. The network had to be private, secure, reliable and available throughout the city. Personnel needed access to applications running on the city's LAN, as well as Internet-based sites. The system also needed to support remote maintenance of mobile data computers (MDCs) to improve response time for necessary software upgrades, patches and support. And, of course, police and fire needed access to security and other city cameras, as well as video cameras, of other participating agencies (e.g. schools) to aid in their response activities.

     With the 4.9 network, officers in the field have faster, more comprehensive access to a range of essential state and local resources such as photo, warrant and license plate databases, allowing them to check up on suspicious persons. Personnel can file reports accessing public safety applications, such as the records management system, over an encrypted link. The system also allows public safety to spend more time in the field, instead of having to return to the station every time they need to offload video or information such as fire inspection results or police incident reports.

     Anecdotal results to date further reinforce the multi-applicable nature of the Riverside network.

     In one situation, a police volunteer was issuing a parking citation to an unoccupied truck for expired registration. The truck owner came out and became verbally abusive to the volunteer, who then called for a marked unit. As the marked unit was pulling up, the man got into his truck and drove off, striking the volunteer as he left. The in-car video system caught the assault on camera and the marked unit stopped the suspect. The Riverside Police used the 4.9 wireless network to upload the video to the server. The driver was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon — and the video provided evidence.

     In another incident, a K-9 officer was involved in a pursuit into another city in a unit equipped with in-car video and 4.9. The video caught the subject throwing contraband out of his car, which officers were later able to locate. The video also captured the end of the pursuit when the suspect ran from the car. The suspect was caught after a foot chase and perimeter was established. The video, which was uploaded via 4.9, positively identified the subject.

     Sometimes, just having Internet access in the field can make the difference, as was the case when an officer accessed a state Web site to look up probation terms on a suspect he had contacted. A probation search was conducted, illegal drugs were found and the suspect was arrested for possession of illegal drugs.

     In addition to 4.9 GHz supporting public safety applications, the Riverside network also supports public Wi-Fi access with both free and paid service levels. On the public works front, the network enables a slew of wireless applications for traffic signal control, parking meters, water well levels, power bank utilization, sanitation pumping stations and even ball field lighting; applications that drive municipal cost-savings and energy conservation.

     With a few years of planning, deployment and first-hand experience under the city's belt, and with so many cities standing to benefit from its experience, Riverside offers some valuable lessons learned. The city admits it was so aggressive in implementing new MDCs, the wireless network, and a new in-car video system for the Riverside Police Department — all at the same time — that personnel were sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of new technology.

     Steve Reneker, chief information officer for the City of Riverside, also cautions against overselling the free Wi-Fi service to the public. "While there is Wi-Fi coverage across the city, indoor use can be limited by the fact that laptops and handheld wireless devices are typically low powered, and therefore may not be able to transmit to the outdoor Wi-Fi network," he explains. The city promotes a local company that markets Wi-Fi modems recommended for extending the outdoor Wi-Fi network coverage into the user's home.

Small town, high-tech

     Proving that both crime and advanced technology for crime prevention are not just for big cities with big networks, Temple, Georgia, population 2,400, started its wireless public safety network with just one node, transmitting high-resolution video from a popular crime hotspot just off the interstate back to the police station.

     "Immediately following installation we already saw a decrease in crime, as the network is a visibledeterrent to theft and other crimes," explains Jay Repetto, chief of police for the Temple Police Department.

     Pleasantly surprised by the quality of the video and encouraged by the immediate results, the police department expanded the network, incrementally deploying more wireless nodes to enlarge its coverage area, and increasing the number of applications supported by the network. Officers in equipped units can now stream real-time video to headquarters or retrieve taped video at speeds of 120 frames a second (matching high-definition standards) with no discernable latency. Meanwhile, high-speed in-field access to the Georgia Crime Information Center database is saving officers critical time when pulling up information at the scene or during a routine DUI stop.

Minneapolis today

     Since that summer of 2007, Minneapolis has essentially completed its 54-square-mile citywide wireless network supporting both Wi-Fi and 4.9 GHz access on one mesh network. Minneapolis is consistently and deservedly presented as a role model for other cities for its leadership in technology and its innovative public/private business model. But the Minneapolis network deployment was not without challenges. On more than one occasion, completion was delayed due to the logistics of deployments in "challenge areas," so named because of the challenge of locating or obtaining permission to use specified identified poles to mount the required outdoor wireless equipment.

     As lessons are learned and more 4.9 GHz and Wi-Fi broadband wireless networks are deployed to support more applications for more public safety personnel, the results speak for themselves.

     Stephen Rayment is chief technology officer at BelAir Networks. He can be e-mailed at srayment@belairnetworks.com or visit www.belairnetworks.com.

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