Government Technology

Military Mesh

September 30, 2005 By

With a unique wireless mesh networking system, the 24 officers of the Ripon, Calif., Police Department will literally watch each other's backs from anywhere in the city.

The mesh network, linked to more than 50 video cameras placed strategically around the 16,000-resident, 8-square-mile city and in all police cars, allows Chief of Police Richard Bull to monitor officers, watch a site from the office or a vehicle, and lets officers watch each other.

"I can sit here in the office, and if I want to see what an officer is doing on a traffic stop, I can call up his camera and see what's going on with the unit," Bull said.

Cameras were placed at all city parks, three truck stops and downtown commercial areas.

"Thousands of vehicles come off the freeway that hit our food establishments, service stations and truck stops," Bull said. "Because it's a transient population, we see a lot who aren't the best individuals."

The total package will cost the city approximately $554,000, and the city granted Bull a reserve account of 5 percent of that for unforeseen expenses. The initial installation, about 90 percent complete in August, will get the police department operating on the system, put GIS mapping in place and equip some fire trucks with radios. Eventually all fire trucks will be on the network.

Getting the police set up means equipping all cars with cameras and modems to connect to the system, which officers will use to request data from different city, county, state and federal crime databases.

The network, sometimes called Mesh Enabled Architecture (MEA), is a military communications radio technology that evolved from research at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The Ripon installation combines Motorola radios and modems, Sony cameras and Trango radios. Fifteen backhaul Trango connections were deployed across the city to ensure overall performance, reliability and future scalability of the network. The Ripon Public Works Department is doing the physical installation under Lockheed Martin's instruction.

Motorola has about a dozen similar citywide systems and about 100 trials around the country. The largest implementation is in Garland, Texas, the 10th largest city in the state, which comprises 63 square miles. Dan Gregory, product manager of Lockheed Martin's Business and Client Services, said an MEA network could be even larger. "As big as you want to go."

Cocoa Beach, Fla., purchased a system for its police department, which uses it to nab traffic violators. A camera is placed atop a speed trailer -- a sign flashing the speed of passing cars -- along with a modem. This allows cops to see which cars are going too fast from a hidden location. The city found other uses, including a mesh-enabled irrigation system at the municipal golf course.

Unique Application

What's distinctive about Ripon's MEA network is that it runs on a Quad-Division Multiple Access (QDMA) radio protocol platform, rather than the more common 802.11 Wi-Fi platform. The mesh system is a series of nodes, or intelligent access points, located throughout the city that transmit video feeds and communications through the radios and cameras.

There are also 51 modems that allow connectivity to the network through a regular Ethernet port, allowing multiple devices to easily connect to the network.

Ripon's mesh network relies on 15 nodes that serve as the gateway between the wired and wireless world, said Rick Rotondo, marketing director of Motorola's Mesh Networks Products Group.

"Those are typically put on buildings or water towers, but they require some sort of backhaul -- fiber, copper, something," he said, adding that there are 28 wireless routers on streetlights, light poles, traffic signals -- any place where there's power. "[Ripon] is running a computer-aided dispatch system over the network, allowing access to criminal databases and video feeds."

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