- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

The federal government has chosen a local wireless public safety network to study as a nationwide model for communication during emergencies.

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is scheduled to announce today that it will evaluate the effectiveness of the District’s Wireless Accelerated Responder Network (WARN) in sharing radio spectrum among federal, state and local governments during emergencies.

In addition to the District’s police, fire and emergency services departments, the U.S. Secret Service, Park Police, Department of Homeland Security, and Virginia and Maryland agencies also have access to the network, which cost $3 million to establish, said Robert LeGrande II, the District’s deputy chief technology officer.

The network will serve as “a road map going forward … in big, urban areas where coordinated efforts will be used,” said John M.R. Kneuer, NTIA’s acting administrator.

The agency will issue a report next year that identifies lessons learned in implementing and executing network operations, and the prospects for cost and personnel savings. The network already fulfills one of the 24 recommendations in President Bush’s 21st Century Spectrum policy, which includes finding more efficient uses of spectrum and ensuring regulatory policy keeps up with technological advancements, Mr. Kneuer said.

WARN was first used in January 2005 for Mr. Bush’s inauguration. It consists of 12 radio sites and 200 network devices that wirelessly connect public safety mobile devices throughout the area.

“We believe having multiple jurisdictions and organizations … on like technologies on the same frequency is what we have to do to address interoperability for the nation,” Mr. LeGrande said.

He said that the network is used daily as the primary communications system in the District’s fire and emergency response mobile command buses.

Mr. Kneuer said WARN was selected rather than similar networks in Alaska and Hawaii because in the Washington area it is “really likely to have coordinated responses by feds and non-feds.”

He added that the current networks are exceptions, “and to make it the rule we need a better blueprint of how you do it.”

The Washington network, which runs on an experimental license in the 700 MHz band provided by the Federal Communications Commission, is used for myriad video applications, monitoring chemical and biological sensors, and tracking devices enabled by the Global Positioning System.

As an example, streaming video from a camera mounted on a robot can be sent to hazardous-materials or explosive-device team personnel in a command center to keep humans out of danger, Mr. Kneuer said.

Questions and criticism surrounding the District’s emergency responders have increased since January when New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum died after being robbed and beaten in a sidewalk attack.

Mr. Rosenbaum was not deemed a medical priority at the scene by the city’s emergency workers nor taken to the closest hospital for treatment.

Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said it was an honor for WARN to be recognized federally.

“The mayor believes very strongly that while you can always do more to prepare for the unexpected, our post-9/11 planning has helped make the District a safer place for residents and visitors alike,” Mr. Morris said.

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