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Assembly plant shooting proves turning point for regional interoperability

OakWIN consists of 47 tower sites and features high-quality, digital trunking capabilities for more than 5,000 police, fire, and EMS personnel

A tragic 1996 shooting at Ford Motor Company’s Wixom Vehicle Assembly Plant proved to be a major turning point for local public safety officials in Oakland County, Michigan. The gunman — who had dated a plant employee — entered the facility and opened fire, killing a manager and wounding several others, including two sheriff’s deputies.

In a scenario not unlike many about which I’ve previously written, officers and other first responders from multiple jurisdictions responding to the scene were unable to coordinate their efforts because they could not talk to each other via radio.

Stand-alone radio systems were considered sufficient for many decades, and in 1996 very few people had the imagination to envision the lessons we’d learn on 9/11. Back then, every area of the nation was saddled with public safety communications infrastructure that was essentially a web of disparate systems servicing individual cities, villages, and townships.

Cutting-Edge Communications
But in southeastern Michigan following that “small scale” incident in 1996, local leaders were spurred to understand the necessary change toward truly interoperable communications. 

After the Wixom plant episode, CLEMIS (Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System), a consortium serving five counties in southeastern Michigan, led the way in securing funding and frequencies, and developing specifications for a countywide, interoperable public safety radio system.

The system, serving of more than 100 public safety agencies, would come to be known as the Oakland County Wireless Integrated Network (OakWIN).

Designed and deployed by Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications (PSPC), OakWIN is based on Harris OpenSky technology. OpenSky delivers digital voice and packet data communications over an integrated, high-performance IP network, which fully interoperates with other analog, digital, and P25 (Project 25) systems.

Not to get too deep into the weeds on it, but some additional clarification on OpenSky is probably necessary before we move on here. 

OpenSky an IP-based, high-performance integrated digital voice and data network providing cost-effective solutions ranging from a single-agency network to a multi-agency, regional, or statewide communications network.

Importantly, OpenSky is scalable to meet increasing public safety communication needs which may — almost certainly will — emerge in the future, 

OakWIN consists of 47 tower sites and features high-quality, digital trunking capabilities for more than 5,000 police, fire, and EMS personnel. OakWIN provides digital voice and data coverage across more than 900-square miles and allows Oakland County first responders, surrounding agencies, and the Michigan State Police to reliably communicate with each other.

10 Million Calls and Counting
In May 2011, the system marked a major milestone.  Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson was joined by Novi Public Safety Director and CLEMIS Chair David Molloy, Oakland County Commissioner William Dwyer, and Harris PSPC President Stephen Marschilok to celebrate the 10 millionth call earlier that year. 

“OakWIN provides our first responders with features, functionality and communication capabilities never before available to them,” said Patterson of the digital radio system. “Oakland County prides itself on the use of technology to better serve the public while promoting cost savings and efficiencies across our community. We are extremely proud of it.”

How have Oakland County LEOs responded to OakWIN? Novi and Farmington Hills — two cities in the southern area of the county — learned just how important OakWIN could be last June when an alleged robber was on the loose after approaching an elderly man in his garage and stealing his keys.

The suspect fled the scene in a nearby vehicle, but an eyewitness was able to get the vehicle’s license plate number. Police from both departments set up a perimeter using OakWIN and quickly apprehended the suspect without incident. Under the previous system, police would communicate with one another through their department dispatchers.

“Our previous way of communicating was inefficient and more important, not very safe,” said Novi Chief of Police David Molloy.

At the time of that incident, Novi Lieutenant Jerrod Hart said in a press release, “For the first time in my 19 years, we were able to communicate directly with another department on a critical operation which afforded all involved the benefit of real-time information and contributed to a seamless operation.”

I think we can all agree that this system is not the end of the line in the evolution of interoperable communications in America — this type of technology will forever be evolving into the future — but it’s a whole lot more effective than myriad other systems still in use today. More than 10 years after the tragic events of 9/11 taught us just how badly in need public safety professionals have been, too many first responders are still at risk because of antiquated communications systems. 

And that is not acceptable.


As public safety communications systems continue to develop to meet 21st Century challenges, many regional planners would do well to look at the OakWIN solution for inspiration and ideas which would meet their own specific needs. 

Oh, and giving the guys and gals at Harris a call wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  

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