Wireless nets on the move, feds say

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the federal government took its time addressing wireless communications issues, but now it's moving ahead at a faster clip on three major projects to move law enforcement and first responders beyond landline technology, the directors of those projects said.

The Justice and Treasury departments, for example, are moving so quickly on a joint wireless network that the network's system architecture should be finished by July, procurement requests issued this fall and the network deployed by late spring 2003, according to Michael Duffy, director of the telecommunications services staff in the Justice Management Division of the Justice Department.

"To see Treasury and Justice actually working together on a project is big news, I know," Duffy said, speaking at a meeting hosted by the Bethesda chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association last month. "But we all recognize that our world changed in September."

The joint Justice/Treasury Wireless Network's goal is to replace the aging land mobile radio (LMR) systems currently used by 70,000 law enforcement officers in both agencies, Duffy said. "Most of the equipment we have deployed now is fairly antiquated — and some of it is Smithsonian quality," he said.

Meanwhile, the National Wireless Communications Infrastructure Program (NWCIP), an intergovernmental wireless program designed to enhance communications among first responders, tested successfully May 28 and will be tested again June 21, said Charles Cape, director of special projects and programs in the Commerce Department's Office of the Chief Information Officer.

NWCIP will also be added by early June to the long-distance telecommunications contract held by the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, said Cape, who directs the program.

NWCIP, conceived several years ago, aims to provide interoperability among the many LMR systems used by the Defense Department and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It was placed on a fast track after it gained attention from the Office of Homeland Security following the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the same time, interoperability is the keyword for Project SafeCom, one of the Office of Management and Budget's 24 e-government initiatives, said Thomas Weisner, director of the Office of Wireless Programs in the CIO's office at Treasury. SafeCom is an effort to ensure that federal, state and local public safety personnel can communicate with one another in emergencies, Weisner said.

Treasury is the managing partner for the program, which includes Justice, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, among other agencies.

By October, the project partners hope to gain an executive order to require federal agencies to install common interoperability frequencies in their mobile and portable radio equipment, Weisner said.

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Wireless on the Go

Three major programs focus on delivering or improving wireless communications:

* Justice/Treasury Department Wireless Network — Replacing land mobile radio systems currently used by 70,000 law enforcement officers.

* National Wireless Communications Infrastructure Program — Enhancing communications among first responders.

* Project SafeCom — Ensuring that federal, state and local public safety personnel can communicate with one another in emergencies.

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