Persistence Pays Off
By Susan Nunziata
The Allen County Sheriff's Office in Lima, OH, has about 85 fulltime employees and 30 vehicles. The agency interfaces with 27 other departments, including a range of local police, fire and EMS organizations across 407 square miles.
The Sheriff's Office vehicles are equipped with Motorola ML-900 or ML-905 rugged notebook computers that connect via Verizon Wireless air cards to mission critical applications on a shared network.
Officers in the field use the notebooks to connect to the Cisco Public Safety application, which they use to interface with key agency databases such as corrections and first responders. They also access leads on license plates and suspects as well as interface with dispatchers through the Bio Key application. The notebooks also make use of mapping software from Columbus, OH-based DDTI.
Other departments use a range of equipment, from consumer-grade Dell notebooks to GD Itronix rugged notebooks, all of which are also interfacing with the network and centralized databases via Verizon air cards.
Until November 2008, the agency was using an IPSec-based VPN solution from Cisco to secure communications on the network.
As more users joined the network, applications were growing increasingly slow and data were sometimes lost. The VPN did not support network roaming and session persistence, which meant that a VPN session was terminated every time the computer roamed between the WiFi network used in the office and the cellular network used in the field. The VPN session also timed out every time the user moved out of cellular coverage range. In addition, the VPN connection would be lost anytime a vehicle was travelling at high speeds.
When a connection was lost, the system deemed it a security violation. This meant that first responders who tried to reengage the network via the VPN were denied access for anywhere from 20 minutes up to two hours. During this delay, they did not have access to any of the mission-critical applications on the network, and the department's dispatch unit was unable to track emergency personnel to see who was closest in case of an emergency.
The system was also consuming a great deal of time for the four-member telecommunications department, says the department's Deputy Isaac Dunifon. The department had no remote access to help troubleshoot difficulties in the field, which meant that its staffers either had to go out to meet officers at their location, or officers had to drive as much as 40 or 50 miles back to headquarters to have problems addressed. The time spent supporting the field computers was preventing the telecommunications team from moving ahead with other projects, including the rollout of a new fiber optic network backbone.
After convincing the chiefs of all 27 departments to share the costs, Dunifon began exploring options and ultimately chose the mobile VPN solution from Columbitech.
The solution provides session persistence, FIPS-140-2 certification with strong encryption, and seamless handover from cellular to WiFi, all of which the department needed. In addition, Dunifon says the solution was customized to meet the particular needs of his department and certain proprietary software and security requirements.
One such customization gave Dunifon's telecommunications department remote desktop access to every mobile unit in this county so they could do updates, troubleshoot and provide lessons to officers in the field.
"Since we deployed the solution, we have 99% uptime," says Dunifon.
The solution cost the department about $10,000 to deploy, including hardware costs and manpower, but has already achieved ROI, says Dunifon. In fact, he says it freed up so much time for him and his telecommunications team members that they were able to handle the installation of the fiber optic backbone themselves, rather than incurring the $35,000 in costs for outside contractors that had been budgeted for that project.
Next up for the county? Dunifon says the local government is exploring the deployment of a county-wide wireless broadband network that would enable his department to add VoIP functionality to the notebooks used by officers in the field.
Mobile vpn empowers Bell Ambulance EMTs
Bell Ambulance, based in Milwaukee, WI, turned to a mobile VPN from NetMotion Wireless to enable seamless roaming and data connectivity for the tablet PCs used by its 200 EMTs and paramedics. The company responds to an average of nearly 5,000 ambulance calls per month with its fleet of more than 40 ambulances.
Bell's EMT staff uses NetMotion's mobile Virtual Private Network (VPN) software, Mobility XE, to stay connected to critical applications, roam seamlessly between multiple wireless networks, and maintain applications even when moving in and out of wireless coverage areas.
"The goal of our wireless deployment is to provide EMTs and paramedics easy and secure access to patient information and, at the same time, to allow the staff to focus on their primary job, which is patient care," says Steve Caulfield, Bell Ambulance Network Administrator, in a prepared statement. "NetMotion's software enables our IT staff to reduce the number of administrative hours spent on device management and security issues. It also allows us to limit what the end users are able to connect to and view via the Internet. With fewer distractions, they can deliver faster, higher quality care [than was previously possible]."