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Forward-thinking advances public safety in Kane County, Ill.

Written by Sarah Blajek

By now it is common knowledge that technology can help public safety agencies overcome the never-ending challenges of serving and protecting their communities. Growing data sharing requirements, increasing citizen expectations and drastically reduced funding are just a few of the obstacles that the right software, built on state-of-the-art technology, can defeat with seamless integration, ease-of-use and advanced workflow. Often, the size of the agency, proximity to a large metropolitan area and service population can compound these challenges, making efficiency through technology even more important. This is why, when Kane County, Ill. launched a county-wide initiative to improve public safety and services to constituents, updating its technology was the backbone of the overall project.

“The integration of technology in all facets of public safety is really what creates a more efficient system, and that is what we strive for here in Kane County,” Kane County Board Chair Karen McConnaughay said. “Especially in a time when it is economically more challenging for government entities—trying to find this efficiency through a better system requires an investment in technology.”

Considerations for a Sizeable Agency

Neighboring metropolitan Chicago, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office polices more than 520 square miles and has a service population of more than 500,000 people. Additionally, Kane County’s 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center dispatches for 16 agencies, and the County Jail houses on average more than 600 inmates at any given time. Several years ago, the County launched an ongoing effort, spearheaded by McConnaughay and Kane County Sheriff Patrick Perez, to improve public safety and make the Sheriff’s Office, Jail and 9-1-1 Communications Center better equipped to handle the ever-growing multi- jurisdictional needs of their large community. At the time, communication and efficiency were limited by older technology, inadequate buildings and disparate legacy software applications.

“Any large public safety agency like the Kane County Sheriff’s Office needs to have access to accurate information and be able to quickly communicate across all departments,” said Roger Fahnestock, Executive Director of IT for Kane County. “We lacked that seamless integration, and that is what we set out to fix.”

Connecting the County

To drastically improve communication across Kane County, the first step was to install an advanced network to connect the entire County. With the help of Cisco Systems, Kane County installed an advanced fiber network that included a wireless solution to tie in distant facilities.

With the new infrastructure in place, the Sheriff’s Office was positioned to comply with the State of Illinois regulations for enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1), and was equipped to quickly connect decision-makers throughout the County during an emergency. In 2007 their hard work paid off when Kane County was honored by Computerworld with its Best Practices in Infrastructure Management Award for the advanced network they constructed.

The next step in modernizing operations was to consolidate their technology direction and software on a single platform that would work for the entire County well into the future. Having applications on multiple platforms was draining resources and costing the County precious funds. Kane County’s progressive Information Technology department successfully eliminated all IBM iSeries DB400, mainframe databases and applications, and established a Microsoft SQL Server environment. With virtualization, Kane County’s IT staff was able to dramatically improve redundancy and data recovery and created parallel environments for testing, training and production. One of the initiatives in platform consolidation was to prepare the County for a future of easy-to-use and maintain applications through Microsoft.NET architecture.

One of the most important projects during this time was the selection of new public safety software to replace a legacy solution and different software applications that were holding the County back. The new solution had to fit into the County’s new technology and platform plans, handle the volume and multi-jurisdictional needs of the Sheriff’s Office and 9-1-1 Center, and truly be an industry-leading public safety solution. In addition to meeting Kane County’s current requirements, Kane County officials wanted to ensure they were making a 15- to 20-year investment that would stay up-to-date with future trends in technology.

While the Kane County Sheriff’s Office is large, some jurisdictions within the County are small rural villages, forest preserves and medium-sized communities that need access to the County’s public safety solutions as well. It was important, especially for the 9-1-1 Center, for the County’s new solution to work with each agency to make this project a complete success.

“Dispatching for as many agencies of varying size as we do, we face certain challenges that smaller agencies may not,” said Jennifer Baustian, 9-1-1 Director for Kane County. “The trend in 9-1-1 right now is consolidation to save money without sacrificing service. It was very important that our new solution operate flawlessly in any environment.”

After conducting a thorough Request for Proposal (RFP), viewing demonstrations and performing a comprehensive analysis of company stability and references, Kane County officials found New World Systems to be a perfect technology and vision match for where the Sheriff’s Office and County were headed. According to Fahnestock, New World’s single database and integration/ workflow and reporting tools were very appealing to the Sheriff’s Office. And, New World’s use of ESRI technology and tools embedded directly into their solutions would allow the County to leverage its current investment in mapping technology.

“There were so many things that were important to us in our new public safety software,” Fahnestock explained. “Our new solution had to fit into our model, .NET direction, SQL Server, virtual environment, etc. But the final straw came when our review panel of Sheriff’s deputies test-drove New World’s products. The users loved the look, feel and functionality of New World Systems’ solutions, and it fit our technology requirements—because the company is so financially strong and sound, the decision to partner with them was easy.”

Kane County also commissioned the building of a new Sheriff’s Office and 640-bed Adult Correctional Facility that offers room to grow. It contains the latest safety and security features. After moving the Sheriff’s Office and Jail, the County relocated its 9-1-1 Communications Center and Office of Emergency Management to a renovated building in the County Government Center complex with updated safety and backup measures. Leveraging their solid infrastructure and New World Systems’ solutions, the 9-1-1 Center was able to make a seamless transition to the new building, without interruption in 9-1-1 service, over the course of three days.

Since completing the relocations and an on-time and on-budget implementation of New World’s Aegis/MSP® Computer Aided Dispatch, Mobile Computing, Records Management and Corrections solutions in Kane County has been able to overhaul and streamline many processes from call taking and dispatching to booking inmates. With complete integration between departments, information entered into one application is accessible from anywhere throughout the system. This has eliminated many of the frustrations the Sheriff’s Office struggled with by having to enter the same data into multiple systems multiple times.

“Better integration equates to better time management,” Sheriff Perez stated. “Instead of navigating through screens, and exiting software programs, our officers are retrieving information much faster. And obviously when we better manage our time, we are more productive and provide better service to the community.”

The Right Technology for Interoperability

Each piece of the Kane County project was critical to the overall success of improving integration and interoperability through a single software solution. The fiber network and new structural designs positioned Kane County to take full advantage of the scalability, integration and the technology behind the new public safety software. The improvements have made it easier for Kane County 9-1-1 dispatchers to quickly respond to calls and transfer the most accurate information to first responders at any of the police and fire agencies the County dispatches for.

“As a dispatcher, everything is time sensitive,” Baustian said. “The interoperability and ease of use of New World’s software has eliminated redundant data entry and dramatically improved organization for our dispatchers, especially during mutual aid responses. We now have much more information available for officer safety and assistance in coordinating a faster response time during an emergency than we ever had before.”

Even billing the agencies for dispatch services has improved with the help of better statistical analysis and reporting in the software. “In this case, the cleanliness of our data equates to dollars,” Baustian noted. “We’re not only saving time, but saving money and allowing other agencies to identify where their money is going.”

But the true test of the improved public safety system came when the County relocated its 9-1-1 Communications Center in August 2009. The County IT and Communications teams used the redundant fiber network to run CAD from two separate locations, two miles away from the Government Complex, six miles away at a neighboring dispatch center and on a mobile laptop. County officials met their goal of achieving uninterrupted service during the move. According to Baustian, such a flawless relocation would not have been possible if they were still on the legacy system, or with any technology other than New World’s.

The Sheriff’s Office is also positioned to benefit from information sharing with other municipalities in and out of Kane County. Because the agencies within Kane County are able to use the new software, and many surrounding agencies are also implementing the same solution, the County is no longer limited to radio communication between agencies. Information can now be shared electronically in a faster and more reliable way. Criminals do not obey jurisdictional lines, and now the Sheriff’s Department is better equipped to combat crime and aid other agencies.

“Lack of information sharing has hindered us for years,” Sheriff Perez said. “As police agencies, if we cannot easily share information and multiple agencies are not all on the exact same page, the criminals win. One of the biggest advantages in utilizing New World’s solutions is the integration and interoperability; not just within our agency, but with the State’s Attorney, Judiciary offices and the many surrounding municipalities.”

Positioned for the Future

The benefits of upgrading its infrastructure and finding the right technology match in Kane County continue to mount. The County has been able to aid in FBI investigations for gang and drug sweeps by providing more crime data, officers have increased awareness in the field with instant access to in-house booking photos from their vehicles, and dispatchers and first responders are leveraging advanced mapping and oblique aerial imagery for greater situational awareness. Kane County has even seen savings and improved jail programs at its new Adult Correctional Facility.

“We needed to physically relocate some of our facilities to make them safer and more efficient, but the integration of technology through New World’s software has really been a critical component to the long-term increased efficiency of our entire public safety organization,” McConnaughay said.

All of the public safety improvements Kane County has worked hard to achieve in the last six years are impressive. Thanks to a dedicated and progressive IT Department and County Executives with a vision for moving the County forward, they are one of few agencies of such a large size in the country that have met the integration needs of their organization, improved interoperability, and positioned themselves on the forefront of technology.

Kane County’s Investment is Paying Off

When Kane County began its public safety improvement projects, County officials knew that the improvements would eventually deliver long-term savings, but they never imagined such a fast return on their investment. Combined with savings from smart spending, the new technology and infrastructure in place in Kane County is paying off.

• Among other advantages, the new network and infrastructure has helped the County reduce phone and conferencing bills by more than $150,000 per year.

• By eliminating older technology and moving to SQL Server and virtual environments, Kane County saves significantly each year in maintenance fees and new equipment costs.

• In August 2008, the County completed the construction of the new Adult Corrections Facility and Sheriff’s Office on time and under budget saving more than $2 million.

• With the help of more flexible reporting from New World Systems’ Aegis/MSP Corrections software, Kane County has implemented a special bond program to combat growing inmate population and is saving close to $2 million a year.

• In August 2009, by adaptively reusing a facility in their Government Center Complex, Kane County saved $150,000 on the relocation of their 9-1-1 Communications Center.

Sarah Bajek is the Marketing Specialist at New World Systems. Bajek is responsible for researching and communicating about new public safety industry trends. She can be reached at sbajek@newworldsystems.com. Photos courtesy of New World Systems.

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2010

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