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September 08, 2004
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Wireless Vital in Florida

County sheriff stakes mission on Wi-Fi

Many government officials have been slow to buy wireless technology because of reliability and security concerns, but it''s a different story at the Sheriff''s Office in Pinellas County, Fla.

County officials have installed 60 wireless access points throughout the office buildings and jails, giving users access to a wired network and voice-over-IP services.

Wireless was a matter of necessity because traditional data and voice networks couldn''t reach everywhere officers traveled, said Tom Baumgartner, network administrator for the Sheriff''s Office.

"It''s hard to wire in every area," he said. "Even when you think you''ve covered everything, you''ve missed something.…That becomes an officer safety issue."

Landline networks and phones were not the only technology causing problems. Securing buildings often required making them impervious to wireless phone signals, creating areas where officers could not communicate wirelessly.

The deputies use handheld devices, tablet computers, laptops and Web-enabled phones to link to the network. This connectivity gives them access to mission-critical information, such as real-time updates of inmate records, and basic applications, such as e-mail.

Sixty wireless access points are a lot to manage, however, and officials will add 84 more when a new medical building opens. The doctors, nurses and technicians will use a wireless network to access inmate medical records and other hospital systems.

Each access point must get user, application and security updates, which previously required having someone go out to fix each point. Power failures compounded the problem because the access points reset after a failure, which frequently occurs in storm-ridden Pinellas County, Baumgartner said.

To control the management problem, officials turned to Wavelink Corp.''s Mobile Manager and Avalanche. The products allow administrators to set up devices and profiles that also serve as the basis for automatic resets, monitoring usage to reposition access points to high-traffic areas and overseeing the security protocols.

"The data is both sensitive and critical…so the network has to be maintained and managed and up and running," said Eric Hermelee, Wavelink''s vice president of marketing.

Security is a fundamental part of Wavelink''s management solution. In addition to encrypting signals, Mobile Manager integrates with existing security measures, including the access and authentication controls in the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directory, Hermelee said.

In addition to preparing for the new building, Sheriff''s Office officials are also evaluating other applications they can use on the wireless network. Video over IP is in the works, and officials are building hot spots countywide so that deputies can synchronize their in-car laptops with the network, Baumgarter said.

"This gives us the long-range infrastructure for the future," he said.

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