Aurora first responders go wireless

City of Aurora, Colorado

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Aurora, Colo., officials are blanketing the city with a wireless local-area network so its police officers and firefighters can access information and data quickly from their emergency vehicles.

The city's public safety agencies began the process nearly four years ago, using federal money to install mobile data terminals and related technology in about 160 police vehicles to access information through a Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) network. But just as the project started going strong, officials learned CDPD would be shut down.

After more than nine months of research, agency officials decided to implement a combination of General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Wi-Fi networks, implemented through Denver-based integrator Anyware Network Solutions Inc.

Michael Bedwell, the city's public safety systems manager, said the new initiative costs $100,000 to $200,000. He said all 300 or so public safety vehicles will be outfitted by year's end with new technology for access to GPRS and Wi-Fi networks, which are much faster than CDPD. For example, pulling up a mugshot now takes 20 seconds rather than 50 minutes.

City and company officials said benefits include less network downtime, better security and easier management of software installation and upgrades. To manage the wireless connection and infrastructure upgrades, the city is using software developed by Seattle-based NetMotion Wireless Inc. and Kirkland, Wash.-based Wavelink Corp. NetMotion's technology offers 128-bit encryption and seamless connection among the networks, Bedwell said. That means police cruisers can use a virtual private network to access data from the city's records management system without losing a connection as they move around. The software essentially manages the connection between a dynamic IP address and a static IP address, so vehicles can move in and out of coverage without crashing applications.

Wavelink software allows administrators to install security patches or upgrade virus software from a remote location rather than having that vehicle come off the road, for example. Keeping police cruisers on the road saves time and money, he said.

Representatives from both companies said that more cities and public safety agencies are deploying wireless networks. As government officials learn that security is just as robust, performance is increasing and the price of the technology is dropping, there is a movement toward such wireless networks, they said. Managing and updating mobile devices remotely can cut the cost of the network dramatically, said Aaron Burnett, NetMotion's senior director of marketing.

"From a public safety context, there are real efficiencies," Burnett said. "Instead of 4.7 minutes to respond to a query, they're now doing it in 12 seconds."

Eric Hermelee, Wavelink's vice president of marketing, said Wi-Fi installations are occurring in cities the size of Aurora — home to about 275,000 people -- and larger. He said there's a big adoption in the more conventional campus and office environment, but he sees public safety leading the segment in the public-sector arena.

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