Can we learn to share?
CapWIN program emerges as a model for first responders<@VM>Report: Cash flow not enough for first responders
- By William Welsh
- Jul 02, 2003
The CapWIN project will give first responders such as U.S. Park Police Officer David Whitehorne mobile access to criminal justice databases around the Washington region.
The CapWIN project has its roots in an attempted suicide incident that shut down the Capital Beltway for nearly six hours. "There were multiple agencies arriving [on the scene], and they couldn't talk to each other," said George Ake, program director for CapWIN (right).
Dennis Blaine of E.F. Johnson said data interoperability will become a big opportunity for public safety companies and systems integrators over the next five years.
Kent Blossom of IBM Global Services said the goal of CapWIN is to enable first responders to communicate with each other without having to replace their existing hardware and other equipment.
Bruce Barney envisions a day when police and emergency personnel responding to a major disaster in the Washington region will immediately share information electronically as they arrive at the incident.
The first officer on the scene, he said, will create a file on his of her mobile laptop for the emergency. As other responders arrive, they will communicate through instant messaging, using icons identifying them as police, fire, emergency personnel or highway safety. As more personnel arrive, they will establish chat rooms to discuss developments in the unfolding investigation. Support personnel not at the scene will participate through Web browsers at their desks.
Barney is the director of technical operations for the Capital Wireless Integrated Network project, known as CapWIN. The incident management capability that Barney described is one part of a new data communications network, scheduled to go live this summer, to support first responders in the nation's capital.
The project initially will enable 10,000 first responders from 35 federal, state and local agencies around Washington to communicate via instant messaging, tap into each others' databases and coordinate responses to incidents with regional ramifications.
The five-year, $20 million CapWIN project, awarded to IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., last August, embodies much of the promise and challenge of similar programs planned or under way in other metropolitan areas around the county.
But because it is tying together first-responder systems in the nation's capital -- a terrorist target -- the program has garnered significant attention. CapWIN also faces a tough challenge because it addresses interoperability within an entire region, rather than within a single jurisdiction, analysts and industry officials said.
[IMGCAP(3)]Unlike many interoperability projects, CapWIN initially is focusing on data rather than voice interoperability. Data exchange is more difficult and complex, because it lets users tap into multiple databases, said Dennis Blaine, executive vice president of sales and marketing for E.F. Johnson Co., Lincoln, Neb.
"It's a much tougher nut to crack," he said.
Blaine said data interoperability is an emerging trend in the state and local market, and will become a big opportunity for public safety companies and systems integrators over the next five years.
The Justice Department is funding CapWIN through its National Institute of Justice grant program. The agency will provide $74.6 million in grants to local law enforcement for interoperability in fiscal 2003, according to the department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
CapWIN "sets an example for the types of projects that will be necessary all over the country in order to implement wireless networks specific to homeland security," said Meredith Luttner, an analyst with market research firm Input Inc., Reston, Va.
Police and other first responders in the Washington region recognized the need for interoperable systems as early as November 1998, when a man threatened suicide on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, connecting Alexandria, Va., to Prince George's County, Md., over the Potomac River. The incident shut down the Capital Beltway for nearly six hours as first responders tried to prevent the man from jumping.
[IMGCAP(2)]"There were multiple agencies arriving [on the scene], and they couldn't talk to each other," said George Ake, program director for CapWIN.
Two years later, federal, state and local governments in the Washington area formed a consortium to develop an integrated transportation and criminal justice information wireless network. However, federal funding for the project didn't materialize until after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ake said.
"[The project] is an excellent example of how, with some federal leadership and federal dollars, municipalities can get some leverage to do things they want to but couldn't otherwise afford," said Ray Bjorklund, an analyst with market research firm Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.
Joining IBM on the CapWIN team are subcontractors P.B. Faradyne Inc., Rockville, Md.; Jabber Inc., Denver; Templar Corp., Alexandria, Va.; TeleCommunications Systems Corp., Annapolis, Md.; and Motorola Inc., Schaumberg, Ill.
Under the first phase of the project, which is scheduled for completion in early 2004, contractors will provide mobile computing and data communications capabilities for agencies without them, including mobile access to criminal justice bases in the district, Maryland, Virginia and the FBI.
In addition, the CapWIN team will design the system to give first responders access to the Northern Virginia Smart Travel Center, which employs intelligent transportation technology solutions, as well as access to hazardous materials information.
Looking ahead, CapWIN officials are considering automatic vehicle location, voice interoperability, incident management tracking, interfaces to medical databases, detailed mapping, video interfaces to computer-aided dispatch and records management, Ake said. The executive board that oversees the CapWIN project must approve future tasks, he said.
CapWIN officials have requested an additional $6.4 million beyond original funding to carry the project into 2004 and 2005, Ake said.
The strategy behind CapWIN is to bridge disparate systems and enable first responders to share data and communicate with each other without having to replace their existing hardware and other equipment, said Kent Blossom, director of public sector for safety and security at IBM Global Services.
The system uses IBM off-the-shelf interfaces, servers and software, Blossom said. The system is scalable and, therefore, can be deployed in other regions around the country, he said.
As part of its strategy, the CapWIN staff deliberately chose an open, standards-based approach for the network, employing extensible markup language standards developed for the public safety community, and N-Tier, or Any Number of Tier, standards. The project owns the codes, so it is not saddled with a proprietary system, Ake said.
Blossom said the real challenge on a project of this type is not the technology implementation, but getting agencies to work with each other. This is particularly acute when it comes to sharing criminal justice database information.
Jurisdictions typically have laws and regulations that bar sharing certain types of information, Barney said. In some cases, lawmakers must revise state laws to remedy the situation.
But the reluctance of law enforcement officials in Washington, Maryland and Virginia to share information has dissipated significantly since Sept. 11, 2001.
"The most remarkable thing about [CapWIN] is the level of cooperation among federal and state government," Luttner said.
U.S. Park Police Officer David Whitehorne, who is working with the CapWIN project staff and who will be one of the network's end users, said the project marks the dawn of a new era in law enforcement and public safety for the area's first responders.
"[CapWIN] will take us 100 years beyond where we are now," he said.
Interoperability is the hot-button issue in public safety today, said Bob Hickes, director of homeland security for state and local government with BearingPoint Inc., McLean, Va. First responders must be able to communicate with each other and access critical data during a major disaster or terrorist attack.
The CapWIN project has come to grips with some of the stickier issues surrounding interoperability, such as getting agencies in different jurisdictions to work together and share information, and overcoming problems posed by incompatible equipment and systems.
While state and local governments show an equal interest in voice and data interoperability, the fact remains that there are more solicitations for voice interoperability projects, O'Brien said. Both approaches require agencies to work in concert.
"Sept. 11 demonstrated to the first responder community that they have to be working cooperatively. No single agency can ride in and take care of [a major incident]," Hickes said.
Motorola and E.F. Johnson, rivals in the world of mobile radio communications, have worked on statewide interoperability projects, officials of both said. For example, Motorola has tackled voice interoperability projects in Michigan, South Carolina and other states, while E.F. Johnson has been involved in similar projects in South Dakota and Texas.
Motorola won a $10.7 million contract from Chesterfield County, Va., in February to provide an integrated public safety system, a $12.7 million wireless interoperability contract from Anne Arundel County, Md., in March, and a $3.3 million integrated public safety contract from Minnesota in June.
[IMGCAP(4)]E.F. Johnson's original contract two years ago with South Dakota for mobile radios was worth $3.7 million, while the company's contract with the Texas Department of Public Safety last year for portable radios was worth about $1 million.
Company officials familiar with these projects said the federal government is making a concerted push to encourage companies to manufacture equipment that complies with Project 25, a standard that ensures interoperability among digital land mobile radios used for public safety purposes.
One way to get interoperability moving forward at a faster pace would be to develop a national standards program, said Robert Hicks, program director for transportation and public safety with Public Technologies Inc. of Washington. However, "developing a national standards program would take a lot of time and money," he said.
Blossom said IBM is looking at 10 to 15 similar opportunities to CapWIN around the nation, though he declined to name specific projects.
Because CapWIN was conceived before Sept. 11, 2001, "it was a natural place for homeland security issues to be addressed," said Charles Samara, chief of police for Alexandria, Va., and chair of the CapWIN Executive Committee.
Having heard what CapWIN can do, first responders in Richmond, Va., and Baltimore have expressed interest in joining CapWIN. For now, though, the project team needs to concentrate on phase one, Samara said. If the first phase is successful, then the possibilities are unlimited, he said.
"Now, everyone sees the need for this, and they want to come aboard. We'll get them aboard, too," he said. *
Staff writer William Welsh can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The money is not a flood yet, but it has started." ? Morgan O'Brien, Nextel
Henrik G. de Gyor
Just as federal grants for first responders are starting to reach state and local governments, a new report warns that police, firefighters and other emergency personnel are woefully underfunded and unprepared for terrorist attacks.
The report by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan research group, said the federal government is expected to provide about $27 billion for first responders over the next five years. State and local agencies likely will spend between $26 billion and $75 billion.
The report, released June 30, said first responders need about $98 billion more than these planned amounts.
Former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., and Richard Clarke, President Bush's former cybersecurity chief, led the 20-member task force that wrote the report, "Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared."
In response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security said it already has provided billions of dollars in funding to first responders and will provide billions more in the months ahead.
"This department has distributed more grant money [to first responders] than ever before," said Gordon Johndroe, a department spokesman. "We are distributing the money based on threat information as Congress will allow us, not just on the old formula."
He also said the department has streamlined the grant process, so that it takes only a few weeks, rather than months, to get money to the states.
Indeed, after waiting many months for federal grants after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, state and local governments are getting funds for personnel, equipment and technology initiatives, according to industry officials. The money comes from the $3.5 billion Congress approved for first responders in the 2003 federal budget and supplemental appropriations. It passed an additional $3.5 billion for first responders in 2004.
Since March, the Department of Homeland Security has made more than $4.4 billion available to first responders. In May, the department provided $700 million in homeland security formula grants to 30 major cities. In June, the department announced that 10 states would receive about $400 million in grants to enhance response and preparedness capabilities.
"The money is not a flood yet, but it has started," said Morgan O'Brien, vice chairman of Nextel Communications Inc. of Reston, Va.
However, the actual amount that will go toward technology initiatives from these grants is small. For example, the $700 million in grants announced in May includes only $10 million for projects such as interoperability, security assessment and radiological defenses, according to market research firm Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.
"Government agencies and IT security vendors should face the cold reality: DHS has earmarked a sliver of money for technology projects," said John Kost, Gartner's managing vice president for worldwide public-sector research. "The vast majority will simply end up paying for 'feet on the street.' "
For this reason, local IT leaders and vendors targeting the government sector should work together to build credibility and political clout, so that technical solutions are at least as compelling to decision-makers as supporting payrolls, Kost said.
While most industry officials agreed that funds for personnel and equipment should go directly to local governments, this may not be the right approach for certain technology initiatives.
O'Brien said that as far as voice and data interoperability is concerned, state governments should tackle interoperability. He believes local governments are too small, and the federal government is too large to oversee regional interoperability initiatives.
Industry officials said it is imperative that the funds go down to local governments as quickly as possible. "Some states aren't pushing money down to cities and counties," said James Lee Witt, a security consultant and a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "There's a pretty big void right now."
The hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that will flow to state and local government over the next two years is more than the states are used to handling, said Bob Hickes, director of homeland security for state and local government with BearingPoint Inc., McLean, Va.
"The states may need to put together a fast-track grant process. The existing processes weren't geared to handle the amounts that are coming," he said.