Iowa Plans Dedicated Wi-Fi Network for School Emergencies

Law enforcement, technology providers and schools are working together on a pilot project designed to keep students safe.

by Rod Boshart, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa / July 26, 2016 0

(TNS) — DES MOINES, Iowa — Law enforcement officials are launching a pilot project with three school districts that would allow them to use the Iowa Communications Network to tap into security cameras and conduct secure radio communications to deal with emergency situations inside school buildings.

Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan joined Gov. Terry Branstad at his weekly news conference Monday to highlight a new pilot project at three Iowa schools designed to assist public safety officials using secure, high-speed wireless capabilities via the Iowa Communications Network.

The new WISE School — Wi-Fi Internet for School Emergencies — project involves a dedicated, private and safe system for public safety agencies and emergency responders to use when they are responding to incidents at schools, Ryan said.

First responders will be able to access critical information technology assets and be able to upload and download information from the school while in their vehicles or patrol cars. The WISE School system will allow first responders to connect to an access point and be able to view surveillance cameras — at school districts that have IP-based surveillance systems — before they arrive at the scene, she noted.

"The safety of our children and educators in the state is a top priority, and the WISE School pilot project is just one more way our state is working together with local and county officials to strengthen and ensure that our schools are safe," Ryan told reporters.

Having access to those surveillance cameras in situations like an active shooter in a school building would be extremely important, she said. "It's going to be able to tell us where the individual is. For the first responders, if they are able to tell where the danger is, they can stay safer and keep the children safer as well."

The experimental network will be implemented for testing by the end of the summer at Marshalltown Community School District, Norwalk Community School District and Martensdale Community School District. ICN officials will be working with three Wi-Fi vendors — Aruba, Cisco and Fortinet — or this project. They are initially providing equipment and expertise at no cost.

"When we have that fast download and upload capability we're going to be able to communicate far better in emergencies as a result of that good connection," according to the DPS commissioner, who added that having law officers stopping by schools also will have a deterrent effect. "It benefits us, it benefits the children and it benefits the public to have this," she said.

Under the plan, the existing ICN backbone structure already in place at all school districts across the state will allow for the WISE system to connect to the broadband fiber, said Ryan. The system is secure and will be made available only to those authorized to access it.

If the field testing of these pilot projects is successful throughout the next year, Branstad said state officials hope to expand the project to other schools across the state at a yet-to-be-determined cost.

"Any violence occurring at schools creates concern for our children, their parents, the teachers and the communities," the governor said. "Our public safety officials want to take steps that will protect the lives of our children, teachers and school staff."

Jacque Wyant, principal at Marshalltown High School where 80 cameras monitor inside buildings as well as outside at athletic fields and other facilities, said her district is very excited to have their cameras online and within the system. "This opportunity will allow us to access information quickly," noted Wyant, who participated in Monday's news conference at the state Capitol building.

©2016 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.