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January 31, 2005
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Plan Sees a Wireless Wichita

Officials are studying a proposal that would link the city and county, city schools and Westar Energy in a high-tech communications network.

A new technology plan for the Wichita area is in the works that would allow police to view warrants and mug shots from laptops in their vehicles, firefighters to retrieve building blueprints at the scene of a blaze and emergency medical workers to instantly access patient information.

The plan outlines a $3 million wireless network for the city. It is being discussed by the city of Wichita, Sedgwick County, the Wichita school district and Westar Energy.

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The city''s information technology department is spearheading the project.

Representatives from the four organizations unveiled the plan last week at a Wichita City Council workshop. The council was asked to spend $300,000 on a feasibility study, which would include information on how to design and implement the network.

Council members expressed concerns about the study''s price tag, the cost of maintaining and updating the wireless network and the possibility of displacing workers.

"That''s not the goal," said Mitch Blackburn, a systems analyst in the city''s information technology office. "What I see us trying to do is not replace people but instead allow people that are filling out paperwork or redoing paperwork to shift to higher-value activity."

He added that costs for the study later would be split among the four partners should the group agree to go ahead with the wireless network.

The network has been studied by city and county officials since December 2002.

Westar and school district officials later joined the project in part to limit costs and explore benefits for the state-of-the-art technology.

Efficiency and cost savings also are goals of the city.

The new technology would equip 330 transit, police and fire vehicles with computers.

High-tech surveillance equipment placed at banks and convenience stores could help police deter and solve crimes.

The city also would have automated water meter readings, with information provided to customers through the Internet.

Building inspectors would have online blueprints. Fire crews would have real-time information about hazardous materials and building blueprints.

The county could eliminate as much as $60,000 annually in fees from 40 existing cable connections that transmit data, said Richard Vogt, Sedgwick County''s chief technology officer.

Wireless communication also would benefit county workers in the field, including employees who work in emergency medical and social services.

"They need real-time information while they''re on the route," Vogt said. "And if they can stay on the network the entire time that would be a time saver and make operations more efficient."

Cathy Barbieri, chief information officer for USD 259, said the school district would like to "piggy back" on the new technology.

"Employees can use laptops to communicate through e-mails.. from a vehicle in the parking lot," she said. "They can close work orders on the fly."

Blackbird said that although wireless communication is state of the art, the new technology is being used by local governments elsewhere including Corpus Christi, Texas, and Pratt County, Kan.



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