June 23, 2007

WiFi System May Boost Public Safety

By Jason Thomas, The Indianapolis Star

Jun. 22--A stroll through Sarah T. Bolton Park soon could involve stopping to surf the Internet on your laptop.

Construction of Beech Grove's wireless Internet initiative -- dubbed Digital City by Mayor Joe Wright -- could begin within 60 days, with the system up and running by the end of the year.

Beech Grove would be the second municipality in the metro area, behind Brownsburg, to be wirelessly connected.

Officials envision the system, which will have a public safety network and a public access network, to help with information sharing among emergency responders and allow residents to log on from virtually anywhere in the city.

"We're one of the few out there actually building a completely wireless system and making the public safety aspect so prominent," Wright said. "I believe that it is a great thing for our citizens."

The city's Redevelopment Commission chose three vendors last month for the system: Oak Brook, Ill.-based Federal Signal will act as coordinator; Strix Systems, of Calabasas, Calif., will provide the hardware; and Fridley, Minn.-based Unplugged Cities is the service provider.

"It was a package proposal that Federal Signal submitted, bringing those vendors together for the total solution," Wright said, adding that most wireless projects involve multiple vendors.

Engineering work began this week to determine which part of the city would go online first. The system uses about 100 nodes, which are data collection points that will be located on structures throughout the city, such as light poles, traffic poles and utility poles, as well as city buildings and cell towers.

The nodes will direct Internet traffic to two "infusion points" on existing towers. The signal then will make its way to the Internet service provider.

Sound complicated? The system will be built in stages to catch any snags.

"We want to bring it up systematically just to be sure we can improve the system as we go," Wright said.

Officials touted the broadband system's public safety benefits.

The system would allow first responders to share information from the scene, communicating with dispatchers and other safety personnel.

"It allows us to access the Internet while we're moving down the road," said Fire Chief Dennis Buckley, adding that all of the city's emergency vehicles will have access to the wireless network. "It will allow us to do better planning."

A glimpse into the future has the city adding wireless Webcams which would allow first responders to transmit the scene back to the battalion chiefs.

"They could theoretically see the accident scene before they leave the fire station, so they know what they're up against," Buckley said.

The city has spent $800,000 to build the network, which will fund the system for the first 24 months, Wright said. The plan is for subscription fees to finance the project after that.

A telecommunications policy committee is working to determine subscription fees.

"This is a project that has been really neat to see come together," Wright said. "We're just anxious to have all the pieces in place and go forward."

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