TrendWireless technology key to emergency response

Published 7 March 2006

Hurricane Katrina and, before that, 9/11, demonstrated the fragility of communication systems during a crisis. Local and state governments are thus increasingly looking to wireless technologies for homeland security missions as they seek ways to improve communication among emergency units and between local, state, and federal agencies. Experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the of Chicago, and leading consulting companies and law firms said in a meeting held in Chicago last week that cities face a “dire” need to create feasible emergency-response plans for security and natural disasters like last summer’s Hurricane Katrina. They spoke at an event sponsored by the Midwest branch of the tech group AeA.

The city of Chicago, for example, will soon request bids to implement a city-wide wireless network consisting of 7,500 antennas and costing $18 million. The development of the WiFi network, as well as collaborative projects between high-tech trade associations, government laboratories like the Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, and small businesses may make Illinois a center of security technology development. ‘Illinois is well-positioned to lead in the development of new technologies for homeland security that can be quickly transferred into products, services and jobs,’ said Ed Longanecker, executive director of AeA’s Midwest council and a speaker at the event. ‘One of the key things that security officials need to address is ensuring that WiFi and other communications technologies work across jurisdictions at all levels’, said Dereck Orr, program manager of public-safety communications systems at NIST. ‘The only way that will happen is by developing national standards to define how the diverse components of the homeland security infrastructure will interoperate. The government has successfully created such communications standards for other purposes’, he added.

One project getting attention now is SAFECOM, which DHS is leading to promote improved radio communications for emergency-response agencies. An earlier version of the plan was issued in 2004, but the new version, released in recent days, describes how to incorporate both wired and wireless links within networks. Steps are being taken by NIST and others to help implement the standards.

-read more at AeA Web site