Government Technology

Wireless Watchdog

August 31, 2005 By

The steel and brick walls of Seattle's Franklin High School were constructed in 1911, making Franklin High a landmark in its community.

Unfortunately it also has the distinction of being among the highest-rated Seattle area schools for incidences of trespassing, vandalism and violence, according to school administrators.

It's a lot to ask of three security guards and two school administrators to keep tabs on all 1,500 students, and keep others off campus. When school starts this fall, however, a wireless network will be in place to make that task a lot easier.

The network will provide better observation of the student population through eight strategically placed cameras -- five outside and three inside the building. The outside cameras will be placed at entrances to monitor who comes and goes. The inside cameras will be located in areas with high rates of incidents over the last three years.

The wireless network will allow administrators and security guards to communicate through handheld computers. They will, for example, be able to spot an incident from a camera, communicate with one another about it and continue to assess the situation as they move in.

Franklin was chosen for the pilot because of its structure -- the brick and steel building presents a challenge for wireless technology -- and because of its propensity for incidents.

"We thought it was a great technical challenge, as well as a great educational environment challenge," said Mark Tucker, CEO of CoCo Communications. "We felt if it could work here, it could work anywhere."

The company hopes the pilot will lead to a string of similar projects connecting schools with law enforcement -- a project CoCo calls the National School Protection Network.

Dual Challenges

Franklin High's assistant principal, Bruce Bivins, said it is a necessary partnership.

"Our focus is to create a safe campus for our kids who are doing the right thing," Bivins said. "We had a high incidence of vandalism, assaults and trespassing. They wanted to take that on."

Talks between CoCo Communications, Franklin High School representatives, the school district and the PTA took place in the spring to make sure everyone was onboard, and the project was approved.

The building is now equipped with 26 wireless communication nodes. A node can consist of a sensor, a camera or a wireless hub on which software is loaded. The nodes make real-time video transmission possible, and are connected to the school's computer system and the land mobile radio system administrators use.

Franklin High's five stories and its brick and steel walls posed a challenge, said Tucker. The building, like other old high-school buildings, doesn't have Category 5 (CAT5) cable in its walls to hook PCs up to a LAN like a modern office building.

"If you walked into a Starbucks, flipped open your laptop and started using their [wireless] access, their wireless point is plugged into the wall using CAT5 cable," Tucker said. "The big breakthrough here is there's no cable. All the routing and networking happens in the air so you don't have the added costs of wiring anything." Without using wireless technology, the school would have to connect each one of those 26 nodes to a CAT5 cable."

In this instance, the nodes make up the network, creating a wireless security blanket around the school. It is hoped that law enforcement will tap into the network as they approach the school.

In fact, plans are already under way to involve law enforcement in the project, according to Bivins.

"We're looking at them taking the software onto their laptops in their cruisers so that when they pull into a certain perimeter they'll have access," he explained.

When phase I, which includes deploying the wireless network

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