"The mayor took the leadership role by announcing that she wanted to see Atlanta become an all Wi-Fi city," he said. "You need to have the executive and public policy-makers supporting this for it to really work, and as good as emergency management professionals are, it requires key people in the executive branch to step forward and pull people together."
From there, someone has to take the mayor's vision and make it happen, and Simama is that someone.
Simama pulled together a broad group of stakeholders, including the superintendent of Atlanta public schools, a university system president, the district attorney and City Council members. "It's got to be both policy-makers and the people on the executive side who can make decisions, along with the technical people and the public safety and health people," he said. "By no way was it just law enforcement."
He said the initial meeting for developing the wireless network attracted more than 40 people representing more than two-dozen agencies. "This was in some ways precedent-setting, if not revolutionary, just having all these public-sector people in the room at the same time," he said.
Only one person -- a representative from an emergency management agency in Atlanta -- felt threatened by the proposal, according to Simama. "I'm not sure if the perception was that in just having the meeting and pulling people together we were suggesting he was not doing a good job. That was not our intent."
The next task is to develop a pilot to demonstrate that wireless interoperability could work between a city and a county, and key agencies within those jurisdictions. "If you could show it working there, then you could show it could work in a broader area," Simama said.
The pilot may consist of a system that allows agencies to share surveillance video. "Right now, there's not an ability for the Atlanta police or the county police to, in real time, get access to a network that's under control of DeKalb County or Georgia State University," Simama said. "This is what we mean when we say interoperable."
Such a network would let city and county police receive signals from university police in the event of an incident on campus, allowing the city and county command centers to monitor the situation. It also could let police responding to a bank robbery observe video from inside of the bank as they travel to the scene.
"That can happen only if there is political agreement for this to work, but also technologically, if the systems are interoperable," Simama said.
The city experimented with the concept during last year's NBA All-Star Game, when an Atlanta helicopter took aerial photos of congested areas of the city and sent them to Fulton County and Atlanta Police command centers in real time. It worked well, and the city has high hopes for its wireless interoperable network.
"The question is the politics and the culture that hoards information, and hoards networks and the culture that existed in the past that didn't support collaboration and interoperability and cooperation," Simama said.
And part of the solution is getting the CIO to the table.