DC-NET Takes Charge of Telecommunications
DC-NET Takes Charge of Telecommunications
City-owned network streamlines service and saves millions
Peter R. Roy, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, expects DC-NET will save Washington, DC, more than $10 million annually.
Washington, DC, is a city preoccupied with streamlining communications. Even before the attacks on September 11, 2001, the district’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) was searching for better, more secure ways to speed communications between fire, police, emergency teams, and the district’s agencies, as well as to improve the quality of overall communications within the government.
One solution has been to implement DC-NET, a world class, fiber-optic network that is wholly owned by the District of Columbia and dedicated exclusively to government use. In addition to the advanced technology, DC-NET will save the city more than $10 million annually once it is completely up and running.
Communicating Across the Board
Expected to be fully operational early this year, the system’s benefits will end the overloading that occurred during 9/11, delivering instant, always-on communications via telephone, radio, computers, and wireless devices. The threat of interference, delays, or disconnections will become a thing of the past.
On a day-to-day basis, DC-NET also will:
- Enable EMTs to coordinate with DC hospitals via wireless devices powered through the network;
- Improve timing systems to smooth traffic flows;
- Allow remote police and fire units to feed data to the Department of Public Works so downed trees and heavy snows can be removed quickly;
- Provide streaming of educational videos between district libraries and other educational facilities; and
- Improve neighborhood services at senior centers, parks, and recreational venues with multicast video presentations and high-speed access to learning seminars.
Selling a New Mindset
While DC-NET is a winning proposition for the district, the quest to make it a reality has been challenging, requiring patience, intense interagency and public education efforts, and broad-scale cooperation, all in a business mindset not always encountered in municipal government.
The District of Columbia is not the first municipality to build and operate its own high-speed telecommunications network. Several other cities are investigating the benefits behind municipality-owned networks. The municipalities of Portland, OR, San Diego, CA, and Burlington, VT, have their own networks and are demonstrating that city-owned networks can provide valuable infrastructures for the economic, social, and cultural development of their communities.
What makes the district’s system unique is that it is the first system with an intensive focus on intergovern-mental communications for safety, education, and cost savings.
To overcome the technical and financial challenges, OCTO first had to develop a business case that reflects traditional private-sector thinking. OCTO started by creating a sound business, engineering, and operations plan that was used to educate other DC agencies and the public and to reach an agreement that DC-NET will be the district’s primary wireline communications system.
Activating the Plan
DC-NET was conceived in 1999 when the district began negotiations with Comcast Cable on a cable TV “franchise” agreement, wherein Comcast agreed to provide the backbone for a private fiber-optic communications network. From this starting point, the district began developing a citywide voice and data communications system.
To help build the infrastructure, the district negotiated a contract with private cable television providers for free network fiber installation in exchange for coveted access to the city’s public space (i.e., access to roads and sidewalks for building the cable TV system).
Taking another step outside the box, DC-NET chose to use private contractors with specific qualifications in telecommunications to build, maintain, and operate the system.
OCTO recognized the traditional limitations of government business competencies. Through a competitive bid process OCTO selected the specific expertise needed. Cisco Systems, Inc., San Jose, CA, is providing the SONET and IP equipment foundation, and Avaya, Inc., Basking Ridge, NJ, is supplying the PBX (private branch exchange) equipment for voice communications. OCTO also has competed carrier services and physical-layer services with excellent results.
Under New Management
To oversee DC-NET after it is fully functional, OCTO is proposing the establishment of a new, legally independent entrepreneurial entity that will be able to contract with independent and other DC agencies to produce revenue to offset the city’s investments. This entrepreneurial entity also will retain revenue to perform upgrades to avoid obsolescence and maintain reliability, and handle support functions such as marketing, customer service, and invoicing.
DC-NET will bring Washington, DC, more reliable communications while saving millions of dollars annually, making it a winning proposition for the district. What makes DC-NET unique is its exclusive focus on intergovernmental communications for safety, education, and cost savings, all tremendous benefits to every DC resident.
Editor’s Note: Peter R. Roy is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SONET software, from Cisco Systems, Inc., San Jose, CA. Visit: www.ciscosystems.com, or call 800-553-6387.
Communications networks from Avaya, Inc., Basking Ridge, NJ. Visit: www.avaya.com, or call 800-784-6104.
Future Emergency Networks Will Use Tiny Automated Sensors to Map Disaster Recovery
Atrain has derailed at the edge of a city, spreading toxic chemicals and fumes over a wide area. Before rescue workers can enter the danger zone, they need more information: How widespread is the contamination? Where are the hotspots? Where and how are toxic gases moving?
A helicopter swoops over the area, releasing a flurry of dime-sized devices. They contain sensors that sample the air for toxins and tiny radio transceivers that allow them to communicate with one another and report to a van outside the disaster area. Inside the van, a screen shows where and how the contamination is spreading.
Such a system is the goal of a new research project at Cornell University that brings together molecular biologists, device physicists, telecommunications engineers, information and game theorists, and civil engineers to develop “self-configuring” sensor networks for disaster recovery. The project, involving researchers from Cornell and the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health, is funded by a $2.5 million, five-year Information Technology Research (ITR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
While initial research will focus on the detection of biohazards, future applications could include searches for earthquake victims (using audio and body-heat sensors) and monitoring municipal water systems for leaks or contamination, according to Stephen Wicker, Cornell professor of electrical and computer engineering, who heads the research team.
In the aftermath of a devasting emergency, the most pressing need is for information, Wicker explains. Because it can be dangerous or even impossible to collect data manually, the plan is to create an automated, self-configuring, remote sensor network. The idea grew out of studies of how such networks could be used on the battlefield, Wicker notes, but the NSF project focuses on civilian applications.
The project will operate on several levels simultaneously: Biosensors are being developed to detect a variety of agents, including toxins and bacteria, using biological material incorporated into silicon microcircuits. The small devices will communicate using very-low-power radio signals relayed from one sensor to another then to a human operator, a low-flying aircraft, or even a satellite. Engineers will draw on game theory—how a group of individuals interacts and competes for resources—to program the devices to work together; for example, the order and direction in which messages should be relayed to avoid redundancy. The researchers also will analyze case histories of earthquake effects, accidents in crowded urban environments, and the World Trade Center attack, and draw from a database developed by the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the University of Buffalo, to develop prototype applications, which in turn will determine the design of the sensors and networks.