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Back to Archives | Back to April 2011 Contents 

Technology Talk

Deploying a Wireless Network for Emergency Field Communications

By Robert Dawson, Undersheriff, Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, Freehold, New Jersey

he Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office is located in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and serves 53 municipalities. The office is the first agency in the country to be nationally accredited in all five areas of operation. This five-star accreditation achievement covers the law enforcement division, the correctional facility, the correctional health care system, the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center, and the youth detention center. Although the services of the sheriff’s office have been formally recognized through accreditation, the office has experienced a number of technical issues.

One of the technical issues concerned the field communications vehicle. The vehicle was brand new in 2008 but had outdated and inefficient technology. This setup did not allow for true networking and expandability and thus did not allow staff to share resources when the communications vehicle was deployed. When public safety officials wanted to access computer-aided dispatch; query local, state, or national databases; or search the Internet, multiple log-ins were required. This tedious, error-prone process took time away from law enforcement professionals’ first duty—to protect citizens.

The Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office deployed a wireless network in its field communications vehicle with voice and data capabilities that support the sheriff’s office and local police agencies during emergency response situations. The network allows for communications staff and officers in the field to share information and communicate in real time. It enables a remote, mobile means of communications wherever needed and provides first responders with immediate access to critical data. The agency’s information technology officials opted to set up a local area network (LAN) with voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) infrastructure to grant access to the county’s public safety wide area network (WAN), utilizing a secure virtual private network (VPN) tunnel. When the vehicle is started, it is automatically connected to the VPN and available for use. Communications staff can log onto the computers with a single password and access the sheriff’s office’s dispatch system as if they were at headquarters. They can track small- and large-scale incidents and query local, state, and national systems. The communications network provides improved officer and public safety.

The new, wireless, VoIP, VPN, and LAN technology in the mobile command post enables the sheriff’s office to provide better safety for its personnel and better security for its citizens. The ability to communicate at all times and collaborate quickly promotes safety.

“Our officers in the field need access to case files, mug shots, and video online,” said Monmouth Sheriff Shaun Golden. “To ensure the safety of our officers on duty, we needed to provide them with this vital information in real time to enhance situational awareness, which was not possible with our old network.”

The network enables emergency personnel to connect to a wireless access point and utilize the Internet and other tools for strategic operations during countywide events such as fairs, parades, and multijurisdictional drills. The field communications vehicle houses four Internet protocol (IP) phones, enabling multiple people to be on a call at one time and the ability to conference another party. The vehicle also has two cordless IP phones, which can be used outside the vehicle. Further, the vehicle is equipped with printing and fax capability—if a document had to be faxed to or from the vehicle, this can be accomplished without any additional hassle. The camera/digital video recorder on the vehicle is networked and video can be monitored from headquarters to assess the situation and ensure safety. The personal computers also have access to the sheriff’s office’s cable network through a television-streaming device that enables users to remotely view their office’s cable, satellite, or personal video recorder, which allows workers in the command center to feed information to important news channels such as CNN and weather. “Essentially, we created a communications center on wheels,” said Paul Doty, network operations manager for the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office. “Everything is networked; we have fax capabilities, the ability to receive multiple calls, and wireless communications. It gives the field units flexibility and allows operators to perform at peak efficiency on the scene.”

As the sheriff’s office increases the amount of data— mug shots and video footage included—shared by public safety officials, it is important that the network remains as secure as possible. Video is recorded in the field communications vehicle and is sent into the communications center. By installing an adaptive security appliance, the sheriff’s office ensures the data are secure, maintains confidentiality, and prevents unauthorized access. The agency also implemented an intrusion detection solution to prevent denial of service attacks, which are attempts to make a computer resource unavailable.

Simplified Communications

The Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office simplified its communications in the field by utilizing a VPN to connect to the sheriff’s network over the Internet. Information can be sent to the field in real time, reducing strain on 9-1-1 operators. The vehicle is equipped with Wi-Fi technology seamlessly routed through the countywide hub, increasing collaboration and information sharing and allowing officers to better protect themselves and their communities.

The upgrades to the emergency field communications vehicle resulted in an increase in public safety interoperability and collaboration in the field. The following are just a few examples of where the technologies implemented in the vehicles have benefited the emergency response officers of Monmouth County:

  • Provided communications at the Jersey Shore Marathon. More than 230 emergency medical services calls were managed and responded to from the emergency field communications vehicle.

  • Utilized as a communications hub at the unfortunate scene where a New Jersey state trooper was struck by a car on I-195 while performing his duties, searching for the occupants of an abandoned car along the highway.

  • Serves continuously as a communications hub for the Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Task Force in Monmouth County. The task force sets up weekly DWI checkpoints at various locations within the county, bringing several different law enforcement agencies together to do so. The various agencies’ interoperability is made possible by the field communications unit. These checkpoints protect people from drunk or unfit drivers.

  • Serves as a communications hub for large special events, including the Monmouth County Fair, to maintain public safety. Deploying the new call manager expanded the flexibility and interoperability of the field communications unit, which helps improve the safety of citizens and police officers. It allows the field communications unit to coordinate efforts and communications among park rangers, the local police, the county sheriff, emergency medical services providers, fire agencies, and the Fire Marshal’s Office. The unit also provides video surveillance from the rooftop pan-tilt-zoom camera.

By connecting to the sheriff’s office public safety WAN, the new VoIP solution also gives all first responders real-time incident information, important phone numbers, and hazard information, which benefits the responders and other public safety professionals. Operators have real-time access to premise history, criminal history, warnings, and alerts. For example, if a number of domestic violence calls have been received from a particular address and the homeowner has a gun, the operator and officers would be notified and therefore better prepared to handle the situation and protect themselves and the public.

Following the loss of the Sea Bright, New Jersey, Police Department’s phone system from a power outage during a storm, the field communications vehicle was utilized to keep the department’s headquarters operating. After using the vehicle, Sea Bright Chief John Sorrentino said,

I cannot say enough about the field communications vehicle. What a great resource. The vehicle was able to roll into our scene and basically take over the communications network for our town. That includes police, fire, first aid, and OEM [Office of Emergency Management]. This unit was able to free up resources for our town and enabled us to put those resources to use in other areas. Don’t forget that as this situation was working, we still had an entire town to continue to protect and patrol. As the chief of police, it was a great relief to me, knowing that the phone situation was being handled by such a highly professional staff from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

Please cite as:

Robert Dawson, "Deploying a Wireless Network for Emergency Field Communications," Technology Talk, The Police Chief 78 (April 2011): 124–125.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 3, April 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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