Local communities within a county dont often cooperate with one another, but they should, observed Gary Fiscus, management information systems administrator for Madison Heights, Mich.

Towns that share a border, for instance, would benefit from their respective police departments linking their computer-aided dispatching (CAD) systems. "I might see a car of yours a block away from a crime, and my car is a mile away," he explained. "It would be nice to be able to ask your guy for help."

For Madison Heights and other cities, villages and townships in Oakland County, Mich., cooperation of this sort is the way of the future. The ties helping to bind the countys local communities are woven with fiber-optic cable.

Oakland County is rolling out a countywide telecommunications network that will link county offices and 175 remote locations. The $7.2 million project will bring high-speed data, voice and video to nearly every local government in the county.

Known as Oaknet, the new network will allow municipalities to more efficiently tap resources the county maintains centrally, such as its geographic information system (GIS) and a new fire records management system. It will permit local agencies to exchange data easily with the county and among themselves. It will allow the county to offer secure Internet services, including Web browsing and messaging, to all government entities with Oaknet access. One day, it could also feed data to new wireless systems supporting police and fire departments and other public agencies.

Oakland County developed Oaknet to provide a better infrastructure for existing telecommunications needs and enough bandwidth for future needs. In the past, county offices linked to communities through a variety of telecommunications technologies, including dial-up, T1 lines, integrated services digital network and others. One location often had multiple lines coming in for voice, data and video, said James Taylor, supervisor of distributed computing in the countys IT department. Oaknet is replacing those with a single line that offers more throughput, he said.

Purchasing Fiber

Oakland County purchased 24 strands of optical fiber from McLeodUSA of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, through a condominium arrangement. This means the county is one of several customers that own strands within a single bundle. The 175 locations Oaknet will connect represent most of the communities in the county.

The fiber vastly expands the countys communications capacity. "Were not limited by the cost of having to increase the bandwidth every time we need to put on a new application," Taylor said.

Several communities, including Rochester Hills and Madison Heights, were scheduled to start using Oaknet under a pilot program in January. The county hopes to have the whole system up and running by mid-year.

One application the Rochester Hills fire department will help pilot is the centralized fire records management system. Currently, each communitys fire department maintains its own records of the fire calls to which it responds. Fire departments must transmit this data to the state, which in turn transmits it to the National Fire Data Center in Washington, said Dennis Andrew, deputy fire chief for Rochester Hills.

The information allows state and federal officials to analyze patterns in fire data. Analysis might reveal, for example, that a particular model of coffee pot often malfunctions and causes fires, Andrew said. Local fire departments also track and analyze their own fire and emergency medical services data.

With the new records management system, local fire departments can share information for similar analysis at the county level. This could, for example, help cities track down arsonists who move from one community to another, Andrew said.

A link to a new CAD system the county is providing for all police and fire departments within its borders will simplify data capture for fire records management. Before Oaknet, data was keyed in twice -- once

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer