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Missouri State Highway Patrol transforms citizen services statewide

Written by PSIT Staff

The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) is an internationally accredited law enforcement organization with 1,200 sworn officers, including officers from the Gaming and Drug and Crime Control divisions, and over 1,200 uniformed civilians and support staff. MSHP is responsible for enforcing traffic laws on Missouri’s 33,000 miles of state-maintained highways, as well as motor vehicle inspections, commercial vehicle enforcement, driver’s license examination, criminal investigations, criminal laboratory analysis and research, public education, gaming enforcement, law enforcement training and more. MSHP works in conjunction with state, county, local and federal agencies in the coordination of emergency and non-emergency communications.

“Ensuring interoperability and data exchange between law enforcement agencies within a state, especially during a crisis situation, is the biggest challenge for law enforcement agencies today,” said Captain Kim Hull, director of the MSHP communications division. “Interoperability is critical for public safety success.” MSHP identified several statewide events and natural disasters where communication had been a problem. Due to disparate communication technologies, especially over the radio between state and local agencies, MSHP recognized a need for change.

To overcome this challenge, MSHP, Missouri Department of Public Safety, Regional Homeland Security, and the City of Sikeston Department of Public Safety joined forces to collaborate and secure the necessary funding. Together they spearheaded a comprehensive review to assess the need of the state to pave the way for an integrated public safety unified communications platform.

Network Solution

Based on extensive research, the group selected Cisco to improve their interdepartment communications based on the company’s industry leadership and ability to provide a solution that would change the way its public safety agencies operate, communicate and collaborate.

“When we looked at different vendors, everybody seemed to be relying on Cisco for their communications solutions,” said Chief Drew Juden, director of public safety for the Sikeston Department of Police Safety. “Everything that we saw and all of our research led us back to Cisco, as being the number-one provider of the type of communications we needed.”

The joint group worked with Front Line Communications, a communications vehicle fabricator, and ICS, a Cisco partner, on the creation of the new Network Emergency Response Vehicles (NERVs). The vehicles act as a command center for on-the-ground disaster management, as well as a central processing center for communications. The vehicles all feature TelePresence, video surveillance, Wi-Fi, satellite communications and IP telephony on-board. Through the Cisco® IP Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS), MSHP is able to communicate with state and federal agencies, from local sheriff’s departments and fire departments to the U.S. National Guard.

Missouri now utilizes a fleet of five Emergency Response Vehicles, the first effort of its kind in the state. The fleet includes two larger trucks and three rapid response Chevrolet Suburban vehicles. “These vehicles provide satellite communication for telephone, video conferencing, and microwave feeds from a helicopter to the truck, back to the State Emergency Management Agency and other state and federal agencies,” Hull explained. “Each department is able to communicate seamlessly with one another through an integrated platform.”

Business Results

Through the implementation of the Cisco NERV, MSHP has made a significant impact on the citizens of Missouri and the emergency response community. Today, various law enforcement agencies are able to communicate their individual needs and data to each other to provide the appropriate assistance to citizens quickly, as well as supply situational awareness capabilities for state and local emergency management officials, and the Governor’s office.

In January 2009, the emergency response vehicles were put to the test when Missouri was hit with one of the most devastating ice storms in decades. More than 2500 utility poles and 400 lines were damaged, disabling all power and telephone service in southeast Missouri for over a month in some areas. MSHP moved the NERV trucks to a staging area where critical supplies, such as food and water, were distributed to citizens. These same vehicles were used to provide radio communications and video data across satellites to the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency in Jefferson City in real time, which assisted in the mitigation process.

“While many communications platforms can provide day-to-day functionalities, we needed an overall network strategy that worked for emergency responders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” Juden said. “I can say without a doubt, that this last event that we had with the ice storm, communications was not an issue. It was not even considered. Everything worked flawlessly from IPICS to the Cisco phone system.”

In addition to emergency response, the vehicles are utilized at other large government and community non-emergency events throughout Missouri. At the 2009 Governor’s inauguration, all five Emergency Response Vehicles were brought together for the first time, enabling a communications mesh network to be created. MSHP communicated with all the public safety agencies, including the National Guard, at the event on a single net platform. This level of interoperability and increased situational awareness helped ensure the safest environment for the citizens and government officials of Missouri.

“Situational awareness allows on-scene commanders and commanders at the headquarters level, state emergency management level, and the Governor’s office level to analyze the circumstances at the event and allocate the appropriate recourses needed to manage the scene,” Hull stated. “This project has provided vehicles that have communication assets that are above anything that we’ve had before.”

Next Steps

MSHP continues to expand their unified communication, collaboration and emergency response capabilities throughout the state, from their headquarters to district offices. They are also upgrading the vehicles with a wireless video platform, which enables MSHP to set up wireless video cameras as far as a quarter of a mile away from the vehicle and receive real-time video feedback to the vehicle. “Missouri State Highway Patrol is now able to provide better service and security throughout the state,” Hull noted. “The citizens can rest assured that during their time of need, we have the assets that will benefit the community and their lives.”

In addition, the MSHP announced that it will work with Niche Technology on a major IT systems modernization project. The project will see MHSP undertake five major system upgrades simultaneously, including implementation of Niche’s Records Management System (RMS). The contract with Missouri is equally historic for Winnipeg-based Niche, as Missouri is the company’s first U.S. customer. Niche is a global leader in police records management, supplying eight of the world’s largest 25 agencies.

“We are especially pleased with our selection by Missouri given that their focus was selecting best of breed solutions to support this technology program,” said John James, Director of Business Development for Niche. “The extensive market research they conducted and intensive evaluation with an open and objective mindset led them to include consideration of how our international customers are using RMS to support operational policing.”

Three other successful bidders join Niche for the upgrade, tagged the “Missouri Criminal Justice Modernization Project” (MCJMP): mobile client application FATPOT® Technologies; CAD providers Xwave; and CPI, for the Computerized Criminal History system and a statewide message switch also known as the MULES network.

“Throughout the evaluation and bid process, we sought out systems that would not only serve the needs of Patrol, but systems that brought value to the table for any public safety agency in the state that could benefit from our contract,” said Major Bob Bloomberg of Missouri’s Technical Services Bureau. “We have selected products that are in use today, working in a variety of environments and agencies, which have already proven their value to law enforcement.”

Missouri specifically sought “commercial off the shelf” products so that participants in the statewide upgrade could be confident they would be appropriate for each agency without a great deal of customization.

The combined upgrade will bring a wide variety of benefits. According to Bloomberg, “Any one of these upgrades would represent a major step forward for our agency. To be able to do all of them at once represents a real opportunity for the vendors to work together in the rollout, and minimize any interoperability issues before we go live with the systems.”

MSHP said the RMS will improve the ability to link related information and information retrieval, reporting and analytical functions. It will handle an annual volume workload of 383,000 uniform traffic citations, 175,000 accident reports, and 27,000 arrest/incident/ investigation reports. A wide variety of Patrol employees were involved in the evaluation and selection of the new systems, as were representatives from the State’s other DPS agencies, including the Water Patrol and Capitol Police. The State’s Office of Administration also assisted in the search for products that best met the Patrol’s needs.

The successful bidders, including Niche Technology, expect to work closely with the Patrol’s implementation committees and each other during the implementation and rollout phases of the MSHP project.

Photos courtesy of Cisco and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2010

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