Wireless network provides cops with X-ray vision

Having to send police officers to an armed robbery alert at a bank in California with no real clue as to what was happening inside the building made Sergeant Dan Zanone think there must be a better way

Having to send police officers to an armed robbery alert at a bank in California with no real clue as to what was happening inside the building made Sergeant Dean Zanone think there must be a better way.

Zanone, a 27 year veteran with the Seal Beach Police Department, is in Auckland today for the Wireless Data Forum's Convergence 2003 conference to talk about how his department has outfitted its patrol officers with wireless PDAs linked directly to video cameras inside such buildings.

"We get a lot of false alarms from such systems and typically it's a single blinking light on a monitor that the dispatcher sees. We wanted more information than that." Zanone put together a wireless link from the building's security cameras, which were already in place, back to the dispatcher's monitors.

"That was great but what we soon learned would be even better was a link to the patrol cars themselves." After local media coverage of the idea, Zanone was inundated with calls from other police departments wanting to know how to do something similar. Fortunately, he says, Cisco also called and offered to re-build the system from the ground up to make better use of the network and to enhance security.

"That's not something you can turn down."

Today Seal Beach police officers can see whether an alarm has been triggered by accident or by some kind of deliberate event and respond accordingly. Instead of wasting time reacting to false alarms they can better utilise their resources to respond only to those real-life emergency calls. Zanone says the cars are fitted with a mobile access router that means as they approach a hot spot on the wireless network they are able to see up to 25 frames per second footage from the cameras inside. The footage is delivered to the officer via the car so latency is less than a second. Tactical decisions can then be made quickly to contain the situation.

"If you take a situation like the Columbine High School shooting, they had video surveillance in place but it was simply recording the events rather than being pro-actively used." Eventually Zanone says the system should be extended to include a certain amount of remote access control as well.

"We could lock and unlock doors inside buildings before going in. The fire department could monitor heating and ventilation controls before entering a building so as to exhaust the smoke out or to pinpoint the exact location of a fire." Zanone says even medical personnel are interested in the system.

"Having a camera mounted on a paramedic at a scene could allow an emergency room doctor to assess patients before they even get to the hospital."

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