floor makes such a long-range Wi-Fi network feasible, Helton said, and the network is reliable and secure -- but that doesn't mean the county hasn't faced a few challenges in keeping it that way.

"We were one of the first ones in the space," said Helton. "802's not licensed, so we're in the public spectrum, and wireless ISPs are cropping up everywhere. In the beginning, we coordinated with the ISPs very carefully. Now there are more than a dozen in our county, so there's a lot of competition for that air space."

An engineer was hired to address interference and related challenges, but Helton said the county has been waiting for the FCC to clear spectrum for public safety operations and will re-engineer the network to leave the public space as soon as the county can afford it.

Even though the FCC has designated spectrum for public safety networks, Helton said once the spectrum is available, it could be a while before the county can move out of the unlicensed spectrum.

"The big issue for us is that we're a very poor county. We have a $3.9 million budget shortfall this year, so we don't have money to spend on fancy systems," he said. "We're really relying on the FCC to open those frequencies up in a manner that there's a lot of competition, so a lot of vendors can compete so the price will be low."

The network has been compromised only once, said Helton.

"Nothing bad happened. I think it was just some kid," Helton said. "Once he got into it, he was just in and out. He just proved he could get in and got out. But it was enough for us to have to spend several thousand dollars to lock it down further."

Helton said the security hole was patched immediately, and the county is now installing a remote authentication dial-in user service server -- which authenticates and authorizes remote network users -- for added security.

Toppenish's Rosenow said reception for squad cars has also been a challenge at times. To remedy the problem, Rosenow said the city has committed to purchasing equipment to cover dead spots in the city when they are encountered.

Network users have shared in the costs, said Helton, and lots of improvements have been made since the original deployment.

A federal HIDTA grant paid for part of the original deployment, which was approximately $70,000, he said, and the jurisdictions that use the network pitched in to pay the remainder.

"All of the jurisdictions worked in just a wonderful manner. All the city councils agreed. The police chiefs all cooperated. Everyone cooperated -- the public works departments -- so we could build this network for very little money. If they hadn't cooperated, we couldn't have done it," Helton said. "I'm proud of the community and the county for seeing the benefit of this and making it happen."

Network Improvements

To improve network efficiency, Helton said the county is installing fiber and cutting the network into cells. He said doing so will decrease broadcast traffic, which can constitute as much as 70 percent of traffic on such a large network.

"It's overhead. It's not data," he said. "There's a certain amount of talking it has to do. It's radios communicating with radios, saying, 'I'm still here. Are you there?'"

Helton said now that the network is divided into cells, the radio-to-radio traffic that occurred because of communication between backbone sites will be reduced, minimizing broadcast traffic.

"Instead of being pointed at each other, [the nodes] will be pointed back at the fiber," he said. "It also provides us with a lot of redundancy, because if one cell goes down now, all the others stay up. It's more reliable, it moves more data, and it's quicker."

Emily Montandon  |  Staff Writer/Copy Editor