Officials praise D.C. wireless network

CapWIN

The Capital Wireless Integrated Network is making a difference in the Washington, D.C., area, giving public safety workers a valuable tool for daily and extraordinary situations, officials said this week.

Much of the discussion about interoperability has focused on voice and radio communications, but CapWIN officials have been working for years to develop a way to share data among public safety organizations in the metropolitan area. CapWIN provides a system for text-based, real-time messaging and chats, as well as the ability to access information and databases in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

CapWIN has "provided all of us in the public safety industry a baseline to operate for the future," said Edward Plaugher, chairman of the CapWIN Executive Leadership Group, during a Sept. 28 press conference on Capitol Hill. The group is composed of federal, state and local public safety officials from across the area.

In an everyday situation, such as a traffic stop, a text-based solution can make a big difference because an officer can request and receive information about the person without ever alerting him or her, as opposed to a radio call, which could be overheard, said Richard Thomas, an officer with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.

"If I'm able to have something handheld, where I can read the information, I can still look at the person across from me and smile in their face, knowing that this information is coming back that something's wrong," he said.

Officials at the Pentagon agency plan to offer the CapWIN solution to all officers on laptop PCs or personal digital assistants, said Paul Murph, the agency's chief information officer. They are also working with a Virginia company to add a heads-up display to the PDA version so that officers in the field will still have their hands free for other activities, including using their guns, he said.

Since it went live earlier this year, CapWIN has been used during major events, including the National World War II Memorial dedication in May, this year's Fourth of July celebrations on the National Mall and the funeral for former president Ronald Reagan.

In each of those situations, the chat room feature ensured that officers from all of the organizations involved had the correct information at any given time and were not working with rumors or information that had gotten confused after being passed through hundreds of people, said Lt. Dave Mulholland, CIO for the U.S. Park Police.

Unlike typical chat rooms, CapWIN's feature automatically displays the entire chat when someone new signs on, so they have access to what was said before, Mulholland said. Users save time by not having to repeat questions that were already answered, and it prevents the confusion caused by different answers, he said.

Officials are still fine-tuning the system — for example, they are working with commercial carriers to improve wireless connectivity. In the meantime, representatives of organizations such as D.C.'s Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the Maryland State Police said they are planning to expand their deployments of CapWIN-enabled systems.

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