More planned for Oregon wireless system

With construction of one of the country's biggest regional wireless networks almost completed, an Eastern Oregon public/private partnership already has plans to expand the system.

The first phase of the broadband network, which will provide Internet data services at up to 15 megabits/sec to first responders, government agencies and eventually private homes, should be finished by the middle of March. A second phase, which could also include voice-over-IP service, is expected to begin in the summer. That will add seven more cities and 200 square miles to the system's area of coverage.

The first phase will provide service to four eastern Oregon and Washington counties and seven cities, over a total of 600 square miles. A newly developed Incident Response Information System (IRIS) will enable emergency management services to take immediate advantage of the network. It uses rugged handheld and laptop computers, integrated Global Positioning System and geographic information system mapping software to provide network users with real-time access to the floor plans and other information of buildings and facilities that could be involved in emergencies.

"All of the major infrastructures in the area covered [by the wireless network] are presented in images that can be accessed by the computers," said Fred Ziari, president and chief executive of IRZ Consulting, which developed IRIS. "All a user has to do is tap on the images, and it will bring up maps of exits, floor plans and anything else that people need information for during emergencies."

EZ Wireless LLC, an IRZ subsidiary, is building the wireless network. One of the immediate applications for IRIS and the wireless network will be to provide emergency personnel with information about the Umatilla Chemical Depot in Hermiston, Ore., one of the Army's biggest stockpiles of chemical warfare agents. A major cleanup of the site is being conducted by incinerating the various agents. IRIS officials allow local emergency personnel to see real-time simulations of the areas the incineration plumes cover, Ziari said.

How the planned second phase of the network construction will go is dependant on what funding is secured, Ziari said. The Morrow County Emergency Management Department, which manages the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP), signed a two-year contract for network access. Access contracts were also agreed by other municipalities, allowing EZ Wireless to pick up the full expense of building the network.

The company is now in discussions with first responders about what their priorities, including voice over IP, are and what funding would be available for those, Ziari said.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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