ATLANTIC CITY -- Police will soon have access to the casinos' surveillance systems to help them fight crime in the Tourism District.
By early next spring, all gaming halls will be part of Mutualink, a radio and wireless interoperability system that will allow law enforcement access to the closed-circuit televisions in each casino as well as hospitals and other public institutions. State officials said access to the cameras will help emergency responders in the event of a terrorist attack or other public safety event.
The agreement between casinos and the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, announced Tuesday, follows the highly publicized carjacking last month at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort that left a Middlesex County man dead and his female companion wounded.
But the surveillance program is not a reaction to that, Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert said
"This was ongoing," Gilbert said. "This directly relates to all our challenges in the city with weather, threats of terrorism, crime, as well as all the things that come with being a barrier island with a lot of unique infrastructure and a lot of people together."
The DGE has been working with State Police and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to activate the emergency system in each casino that will allow dispatchers, police, fire, emergency medical services and other public safety agencies to share voice, video, text and files across a secure Internet connection.
"We are committed to preparing Atlantic City to respond to both natural disasters and man-made emergencies, including potential acts of terrorism or criminal activities," said David Rebuck, acting DGE director. "This system will allow law enforcement, first responders and the casinos to evaluate public safety events in real-time and coordinate a more timely and effective response."
Mutualink, Inc. is a Connecticut-based provider of a program that allows for responders and various agencies to access and communicate with each other despite having different radio and wireless systems.
The emergency system is a key part of Gov. Chris Christie's plan to make Atlantic City safer for tourists and residents, state Attorney General Paula T. Dow said.
"As we implement Gov. Christie's plan to renew Atlantic City as a premier international gaming and tourism destination, we are making public safety a top priority," Dow said. "Once deployed, Mutualink will ensure the seamless inter-operability of critical communications systems, so that when we need to share information in the heat of an emergency, when lives are at stake, the lines of communication will be open."
Casino executives have been trying to repair Atlantic City's image and assure tourists that the resort town is safe despite the fatal carjacking Sept. 17 that began in the Taj Mahal garage. Three Camden men have been arrested in that crime, charged with felony murder, murder, kidnapping and other offenses.
Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president and chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association, said he doesn't believe there is a major problem with crime in Atlantic City.
"I always thought it was a relatively safe place to go to for tourists," Fahrenkopf told reporters at the Global Gaming Expo, an annual industry conference in Las Vegas.
In a first step, the state has entered into installation agreements with the existing 11 Atlantic City casinos as well as the $2.4 billion Revel casino opening in May. Rebuck said the system is expected to come online at some of the casinos later this year, with the rest early in 2012.
"We're being really aggressive on this one," he said.
The system already is in use in the city.
"We have a mobile model we've used in our mobile command post," Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee said, adding that it was championed in the city by Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Foley.
During the Dave Matthews Band Caravan in June, the system helped with things like traffic, said Johnny Delgado, AtlantiCare's chief of emergency medical services.
"It was excellent," he said of the unit the ambulance was loaned.
AtlantiCare has already ordered two units that will allow it to join the private link and access cameras and radio communications.
The AtlantiCare units were bought with two federal grants totaling about $100,000 -- and "can literally be up and running within a half a day once we get them," Delgado said.
The grants cover the cost of equipment, installation and training.
Delgado, who has worked with the Department of Defense and Homeland Security in his 30-plus years in EMS, said the system is the key to make communication quicker and more efficient in emergencies.
"Believe me, if this (system) had been around way back when, life would have been a whole lot easier," he said.
The casino link-in will be funded entirely through a grant from the state Office of Homeland Security Preparedness. The State Police brought it to the DGE's attention, spokeswoman Lisa Spengler said.
"This is an important link to integrate the Tourism District with Atlantic City's overall 'safe and clean' initiative." Gilbert said.
Jubilee said the addition of the casinos is "very important."
"It allows a complete connection to their radio system, their phone system and their video system, and it's remote," he said. "It just puts us that much closer to inter-operability, and that's important when we have so many different types of radio systems and video camera systems.
"This tool will allow us to communicate and see and talk to anyone who has the device," he added.
The system will work even with Atlantic City's antiquated computer system, but the planned upgrades to that will make things even better, he said.
"As that gets improved down the line it will improve the quality of information we'll be able to push across the Mutualink network," Gilbert said.
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