D.C.," said Ake. "People have put in mobile data systems and they are like stovepipes -- they can't talk to anybody else. Think of CapWIN as a bridge between those disparate systems."

The technology behind CapWIN includes a regional mobile data switch to provide mobile data technology to agencies currently without those capabilities -- generally state police, transportation agencies and some local fire departments. CapWIN also includes a middleware gateway designed to connect existing mobile data systems throughout the region. This will give public safety and emergency response agencies the ability to exchange messages and access information regardless of the type of mobile data system they use.

Ake said the project, which should be operational in about a year, surmounted several challenges peculiar to initiatives spanning numerous jurisdictions. Foremost among them: How to govern a technology undertaking that includes state police from Maryland and Virginia, the U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Park Police, Virginia Department of Transportation, Maryland State Highway Administration, and a number of local police and fire agencies.

CapWIN's 29-member executive board has been fundamental to guiding the initiative and giving all participants a voice in project decisions. The board comprises representatives of nearly all organizations involved in the project, and it promotes a spirit of partnership that may have been missing in past multi-jurisdictional initiatives, according to Ake.

"Board members set the direction, so each agency that's involved has input into where this thing is going," he said. "If you don't have the buy in and involvement of all of the agencies, and they don't all have some input on how things are going, then the project is not going to be a success."

The organization, which took about 8 months to assemble, acts as CapWIN's board of directors, Ake said. "We just try to do what they want done."

A best practices study conducted for CapWIN by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that high-level involvement would be crucial to overcoming individual and institutional barriers to the project. CapWIN's executive board reflects that philosophy; it's stacked with elected officials, area police and fire chiefs, state police colonels and agency directors.

The high-powered group is key to maintaining support for the project and eliminating potential sticking points, Ake said. "That board is the lynch pin; this project won't work without it."

Where to locate CapWIN's technology hardware posed one such test. The project originally intended to house the mobile data switch and other equipment at facilities operated by the Washington/Baltimore High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDA) program. Now, CapWIN plans to locate the hardware at a neutral location.

"When you put it at a particular agency, the tendency is for everyone to think that it's owned by that particular police department of fire unit," Ake said. "It's no reflection on anybody; it's just perception. Our executive board wants us to be neutral."

With those issues behind it, the project now confronts the task of covering the system's ongoing operation and maintenance costs. Federal grants have paid those bills so far, but CapWIN is developing a long-term business plan to handle continuing expenses.

Ake envisions a strategy where participating state and local agencies pay user fees to access the system based on their size. Federal agencies would pay for access on a per-transaction basis. Again, Ake expects the executive board to play a vital role in building acceptance for the plan once it is complete.

"Operational cost is a bridge we will have to cross, and the executive board is very aware of that," he said. "They're very comfortable that they can cross it without a problem."

One Mississippi ...

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Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  |  Editor

Steve Towns is editor of Government Technology, and executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology,Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market.