Integration Aids Public Safety

Mississippi deploys systems to link police, fire, medical, and other personnel to fight crime and better respond to emergencies.
The state of Mississippi is in the midst of upgrading its public-safety information and communications infrastructure using federal money to create an integrated system that may serve as a model for the nation. Three counties in the southern part of the state--Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson--are the first to begin integrating communications and public-safety records collected by state and local law enforcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and fire departments and emergency medical responders.

When completed, the project will provide law-enforcement officials and first responders with mobile access to public-safety information, including arrest warrants, mug shots, and data on criminals, as well as hazardous-materials data and medical-emergency protocols.

The Automated System Project links agencies in three counties, Chris Alley, chief technology architect for Automated System Project, says.

The Automated System Project links agencies in three counties, Chris Alley, chief technology architect for Automated System Project, says.
Dubbed the Automated System Project, it will link about 30 public-safety agencies in the three counties to a centralized information-sharing system, says Chris Alley, chief technology architect for the project. Alley works for the University of Southern Mississippi's office of public safety, technology, and training, which is coordinating the project. The project is expected to cost around $25 million in federal grant money; the university has received $14 million so far.

The project has two redundant data centers, each hosting an IBM eServer iSeries 825 and two eServer xSeries systems running Novell's SuSE Linux and an IBM DB2 database. Tarantella Inc.'s Secure Global Desktop Enterprise Edition provides secure remote network access to the systems. The project bought more than 1,200 Tarantella seats; about 200 are being used now.

Automated System Project is being rolled out in three phases. The first phase was completed in February and linked existing jail-management systems for three county jails. Phase two, which began in June, integrates the records-management and computer-aided-dispatch systems for fire and law enforcement. The final phase will launch in October and will provide mobile access to databases from laptops placed in police, fire, and emergency-response vehicles.

Before the project, "each agency was an island," Alley says. "This is the first time in the history of Mississippi that law enforcement has had access to information, including active warrants, in other counties."

The system also provides access to Homeland Security regional information-sharing systems. "That's where they can see known terrorist watch lists and the FBI most wanted," Alley says. The system does proactive searches to see if someone who is arrested is on a watch list, he says.

In addition, jail employees won't have to place dozens of calls to check inmate records or search warrants from surrounding jails.

Other organizations and agencies are gaining access to Automated System Project, including the Harrison County District Attorney's Office and the local offices for the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Customs Service.

Officials expect the system to prove itself in all types of disasters. First responders "will have access to all of the available information from their vehicles," Alley says, "so it can be a coordinated response, whether it's a tornado, hurricane, or a hazardous-materials spill or leak."

If a tornado or other natural disaster strikes a law-enforcement building, for example, police officers will still have access to all of their data and can now operate from a remote site, Alley says.

When applications and data are accessed remotely through a Tarantella Java applet, the session is protected with Secure Sockets Layer encryption. Users--whether they're law-enforcement, fire, or emergency-medical personnel--are provided with a customized screen based on rights that gives them access to the specific applications and data they need for their jobs, Alley says.

Once the initial three phases are complete, the project is expected to expand to the rest of the state and could prove a test case for integrated law-enforcement and public-safety systems across the country.

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