Table Of Contents
Mobile Command Center
Cell Phone Links
Wireless Solution Facilitates Law Enforcement
and Emergency Actions for Buffalo Grove
"Our new wireless Cisco network is faster, less expensive and more reliable than our INET cable system."
Director of Managed Information Services
Village of Buffalo Grove
The Village of Buffalo Grove is a suburban community 35 miles northwest of Chicago. In 1995, the Buffalo Grove Police Department upgraded their computer system to include a Wide Area Network solution (known as INET), provided by their local Cable TV franchisee, allowing remote access of police department data. A few years later, laptops were placed in police squad cars, containing basic data on license plates and current registrations. This enabled officers to handle a variety of issues directly from their squad cars instead of calling into headquarters.
However, the officers remained highly dependent on headquarters for other critical data while on patrol.
Even with the laptops, officers still found it necessary to return to the headquarters building to write up incident reports, which continued to be paper-based. Not only was this a time-consuming process that took officers out of the field, the paper-based forms had their own problems: handwriting variables meant accuracy was a problem. Complex searches for data within the department forms was both difficult and time-consuming for officers. Worse, paper forms would sometimes get misplaced or lost. At the same time, the cable provider for their network solution was turning its attention to the Internet and other revenue-generating opportunities, so the department's INET cable connectivity was becoming unreliable.
"Our infrastructure was aging and our INET connectivity was becoming increasingly undependable," says Robert Giddens, Director of Managed Information Services for the Village of Buffalo Grove. "In addition, our officers were spending countless hours tethered to a desk writing reports instead of out on the street helping our citizens. These factors convinced us it was time to consider how some new technologies could provide us with a better solution."
Giddens' team had built a solid relationship with Cisco partner RMS Business Systems in the mid 1990s when they selected the company to install the original network. "We chose RMS six years ago, because we wanted to team with a knowledgeable business partner," says Giddens. "We were looking for a partner that specialized in integration. We were completely confident in RMS and still are."
RMS recommended a Cisco Aironet® wireless solution. The appeal of the Aironet system was two-fold: Cisco Aironet provided a wireless solution offering secure, high-speed access with a great deal of bandwidth, and it offered a low ongoing cost of ownership.
"The Buffalo Grove team looked to us to make the technology recommendation that would meet the requirements of their project," says Paul Zucker, Vice President of Technology at RMS. "We had previous experience with the Cisco Aironet wireless LAN/WAN solution and believe it to be a best-of-breed product. We knew it was the right solution to meet the Village's needs."
RMS began its partnership with Cisco in the late 1990s. "We wanted to develop specialties in IP telephony and wireless solutions and were convinced that Cisco was going to be the leader in both these technologies," Zucker explains. "So we took the training and exams necessary to become a Cisco partner."
The first step in developing a fast, reliable solution for the police department was an examination of the physical landscape in Buffalo Grove, to understand where the buildings that might interfere with reception were located and to identify any other obstacles to a wireless signal. Next, "replication centers"—areas where officers could remotely access the Cisco network—were designated. These would be areas within the Village where officers would be able to transmit reports directly from their squad cars.
WAN coverage had to be available around the clock. "We needed to make sure that the areas where the officers were parking to do their paperwork offered WAN coverage at all times," says Giddens. "This was critical. To ask them to drive around to find a better connection was out of the question. The application had to work smoothly in order to meet the police officers' needs."
In addition, he notes, from the police officers' perspective, the system had to work seamlessly. The officers did not have time to undergo intensive training to adapt to a new system—they didn't want to have to push a lot of buttons or contend with a complex process.
Because they are geographically diverse, RMS concluded that Buffalo Grove's three fire stations were appropriate locations to serve as replication centers. The Village Administrative Campus in the village center, which houses the police headquarters, would serve as the fourth replication center. Cisco Aironet 340 Series Access Points were installed at each site.
Cisco Aironet 340 Series Access Points and Wireless Bridges are based on direct sequence spread spectrum technology and operating in the 2.4 GHz band, they support data rates up to 11 Mbps, at which the client adapters have a range of 400 feet in open environments. The Cisco Aironet 340 Series also includes the Cisco Wireless Security Suite for enhanced wireless networking security. This IEEE 802.1x-based solution provides scalable, centralized security management and supports dynamic, per-user, per-session wired equivalent privacy (WEP) 128-bit encryption keys to protect the privacy of transmitted data. Other features include mutual authentication, message integrity check (MIC), and key hashing to ensure that each data packet is encrypted with a different key.
With the wireless network in place, Buffalo Grove's police officers are spending more of their shift time out in the community. If an incident or arrest report needs to be written up, officers need only drive a few miles at most to transmit their reports back to headquarters. Not only are Buffalo Grove's citizens getting better presence from their police force, but the wireless network is saving the department more than US$4,000 every month that would otherwise have been spent on T1 and ISDN lines for its four links.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how expensive or inexpensive a system is. If it isn't reliable, it is useless," Zucker says.
"Our new wireless Cisco network is faster, less expensive and more reliable than our INET cable system," Giddens explains. "The residents are pleased because the police officers are closer to their designated areas and covering what they need to cover. The chief is pleased that the department is saving money and serving its citizens better."
Mobile Command Center
Buffalo Grove's wireless system has continued to evolve. Once the basic network that RMS designed was up and running, the technology was extended to the Village's Mobile incident command vehicle complete with a 53-foot pneumatic mast, much like those used by mobile television broadcast trucks. The mast has a directional antenna that links into the Village's wireless network via a Cisco Aironet 340 Series wireless bridge. Inside the truck are a hub and a computer with a hardwired network; the bridge connects the wired network to the wireless network.
"With this connection established, the truck responds like just another building on the wireless network," Zucker explains. "We also hang another wireless access point onto the truck so that any squad car that arrives at the scene can link up to the network as well. It functions as a mobile replication center."
Should the on-scene police or fire crew need to access departmental files, they now have three options: They can use the computer in MCSC; they can use the wireless LAN created around the MCSC; or an umbilical cable can be run from MCSC to the police car or to the fire department's vehicle.
In addition to the access point, there is a camera mounted atop the mast, which allows the department to capture video. As a result, the fire and police incident command vehicles can look down on developing situations, such as a burning building or a crime in progress.
"Then we thought, what if we were able to show this image back at the fire station or police station?" Zucker says. "We added an IP video server, so the stations can connect to the truck using a browser and look at live video."
Cell Phone Links
Another issue that RMS and Buffalo Grove addressed was the departmental use of cell phones.
"It's well known in the emergency response business that cell phones are often unusable because the air waves become clogged," Zucker explains. To address this issue, the department again turned to Cisco technology." We took a pair of Cisco 1750 V routers with voice cards in them, and we are using voice over IP (VoIP) via a radio frequency (RF) link to provide phone service right to the scene." One of the benefits of this technology, Zucker says, is the flexibility of the system. VoIP "permits two concurrent conversations," Zucker says, "and it can be upgraded to permit up to four for those on scene."
"What RMS designed and implemented is a great solution," says Giddens. "In the first place, it gives time-saving tools to the police in their daily field operations. Equally important, it enables the Village to create a virtual office anywhere in town, which can connect to the PBX for phone service through VoIP." In addition, the system allows both the fire and police departments "to send video anywhere in town back to the police and fire station through VoIP. They can control the camera to see what they need to see: This gives them a new dimension in using their resources."
The potential uses of the mobile command center cannot be overstated, he continues. "We had a big fire in town a year ago, before this resource was available, and an apartment complex went up in flames. Had the fire chief been able to see from the top down as opposed to bottom up, he'd have had additional tools in his arsenal—voice, video, fax lines, and Internet connections—so he could gauge wind direction and weather conditions. All of this can be critical in fighting fires or in other crises, such as a chemical spill or flood."
The Village of Buffalo Grove used US$70,000, provided by the state of Illinois in 2000, to fund the original four-site wireless network. Because the solution was so well received, Buffalo Grove applied for and received an additional US$50,000 in 2001 to fund the connection of schools and the park district to the wireless network. That project is under way.
"We've teamed with one school district so far, and our intention is to team with the other three in the near future. Our municipal wireless infrastructure ultimately will include about two dozen public building sites throughout the town. There also will be video cameras at fixed points, facilitating police crime prevention programs," Giddens explains. The enhanced system, he says, will also rely on Cisco Aironet Access Points and Wireless Bridges.
Posted: Fri Jan 13 20:22:24 PST 2006
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