JOURNAL

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An article about NCRnet - CTC Technology & Energy

®JOURNALPROMOTING COMMUNITY INTERESTS IN COMMUNICATIONS • WINTER 2007 • VOLUME 15, ISSUE 4Our NewCommunityBroadbandAwardsProgramPAGE 3IN THIS ISSUEConnected Urban Development:Innovation for Sustainability | 5The SEATTLE CHANNELArt Zone | 10Get Ready for Digital TV: $40Coupons to Help Consumers withTransition | 13NCRnet: How the National CapitalRegion is Building a 21st CenturyRegional Public SafetyCommunications Network | 16


NCRnet: How the NationalCapital Region is Building a21st Century Regional PublicSafety CommunicationsNetworkBy Chris Willey and Ziggy Rivkin-FishIn the post-9/11 world, all the local jurisdictions in theNational Capital Area (NCR) have come together to deploya region-wide public safety communications network.NATOA chose to recognize this network with the 2007Community Broadband Network of the Year Award.The network, known as NCRnet,is the collaborative work of 21jurisdictions in three states in andaround Washington, D.C. The NCRInteroperability Program (NCRIP) isintended to establish digital networksand systems interoperability for publicsafety and emergency response.Through NCRIP, the region appliedfor funding from the FederalDepartment of Homeland Security(DHS) to use fiber optics to enhancepublic safety and promote emergencycommunications.NCRnet’s Goal Is Public SafetyInteroperabilityThe goal of NCRnet is to create agovernment-controlled fiber opticnetwork that local governmentagencies and organizations can use toshare critical data and informationduring emergencies and during day-todayoperations. NCRnet willinterconnect public safety databases,communications, and functions inorder to manage regional incidentsand emergencies. As part of an effortto build and improve interoperabilityof Emergency Support Functions(ESFs) in the region, NCRnet willconnect the existing NCRjurisdictional networks (many of themInstitutional Networks or “I-Nets”) toform a secure and reliable crossjurisdictionalinstitutional networkand minimize dependence on carrierand service provider networks.16 NATOA JOURNAL WINTER 2007


The Network Was Planned forSecurity, Reliability, and HighBandwidthIn 2005, NCRIP assigned a team(known as the “I-Nets Team”) toassess requirements for the networkand to pilot an initial interconnectionbetween the District of Columbia andMontgomery County, MD. The needsassessment demonstrated conclusivelythat local first responders andemergency support personnel need asecure, reliable, regionalcommunications infrastructure; inparticular, regional video streamingand videoconferencing, applicationsthat can best be supported over fiberoptics.The I-Nets team established anumber of design principles inconsultation with stakeholders and onthe basis of the needs assessmentresults. Among these:■ The ability to support a diversecommunity of potential users (firstresponders, public health, local,state, federal government, education)without conflict between the users.■ A robust, scalable, survivablenetwork infrastructure that connectswith each participant’s own fibernetwork.■ The need to operate independentlyof leased carrier infrastructure, theInternet, the public switchedtelephone network, and the I-Netelectronics of individualjurisdictions.■ A platform for real-timeinteroperable data exchange betweendifferent users regardless of nativeapplications and formats.These design principles ensurednot only that the developing networkfulfilled regional needs, but that thiswould be achieved in a cost-effectivemanner.The Network Was Built UsingLocal I-NetsLocal government I-Nets andFranchise agreements are enormouslyvaluable resources in designing a costeffective,inter-jurisdictional,fiber-optic network. The Franchiseagreements typically define acceptableuse in a manner consistent with publicsafety usage.I-Nets are well suited to publicsafety communications. Theirindependence from commercial carrierlines assures a survivable networkwhen commercial options aresaturated. In addition, localgovernment control allows flexiblenetwork design, and end-to-end riskand security management.I-Nets also serve as a strong basefor NCRnet due to spare fibers inexisting I-Net plants and provisionsfor rack space at potential hub sites,which allow NCRnet to re-use existingassets. In addition, the NCRjurisdictions’ franchise agreementstypically have provisions for buildingout and extending I-Net footprint atadvantageous cost – often to themutual benefit of government andcable providers.The Network Was Designed forFlexibility and Local ControlNCRnet was designed for maximumflexibility to reduce the need for futureredesign or complicated networkgovernance. The currentimplementation treats NCRnet as a“semi-trusted cloud” – something likea private internet. Jurisdictions protectthemselves with a firewall and managecommunications into their ownnetworks with an extranet router. Onthe NCRnet side of the demarcationsits an Edge Router that handles trafficwithin the NCRnet cloud. NCRnetmonitors only the equipment on itsside of the “demarc,” while thejurisdictions are responsible for theequipment that controls access withintheir own networks.This design provides scalability asapplication needs expand; allowsmaximum jurisdictional control andrisk management; and ensures theintegrity of NCRnet, furthersimplifying governance.What Has Been Achieved?After only two years of effort, NCRnetalready connects the District ofColumbia, Montgomery County, MD,Prince George’s County, MD,Rockville, MD, Fairfax County, VA,the City of Fairfax, VA, Falls Church,VA, Prince William County, VA, andthe Metropolitan Washington Councilof Governments (MWCOG).Assuming anticipated funding, all theremaining jurisdictions in the regionwill be connected within two years.Of course, a network is only asgood as the applications that providebenefits to the end-users. The needsassessment demonstrated the need forroutine (as well as emergency) use toensure effective interoperability in theevent of emergency. Indeed, day-to-dayuse allows users to learn systems andapplications and allows planners tospot issues and resolve problems innon-critical times.With that in mind, the region hasalready developed one key applicationfor NCRnet: a regional EmergencyManagement video conferencingsystem. This program interconnectsEmergency Operations Centers (EOCs)in 19 jurisdictions and provides asecure, robust solution independent ofcommercial networks.Planned Applications EnableRoutine & EmergencyCommunicationsCurrent plans call for adding thefollowing applications:■ Web-based incidentmanagement and alertingsystem: Delivers customizablemessaging boards to emergencyNATOA JOURNAL WINTER 2007 17


managers and first responders withalerts, reports, graphics, and maps.■ Data Exchange Hub (DEH):Facilitates the rapid exchange of keyemergency resource data using anEnterprise Service Bus. DEH will listdefined data elements fromcontributing data owners and pushthem to authorized users andapplications. A key focus of theDEH is CAD-to-CADinteroperability.■ Regional AutomatedFingerprinting IdentificationSystem: Enables NCR lawenforcement officials to sharefingerprints and mug shots.■ Geographic InformationSystems: Maps and tracksgeospatial data. Map elements arestored in a variety of formats withdifferent degrees of security attachedto different layers.■ Computer Aided Dispatching:Facilitates dispatch and response forfirst responders. CAD is integratedwith GIS to exchange informationon resources and assets, personnel,calls for service, hospitalstatus/availability, transportationresources, and alert notification.■ Voice Hotline: Interconnectsemergency managers and firstresponders independently of thepublic switched telephone networkfor emergency coordination androutine conferences.■ Training: Facilitates secure jointtraining across jurisdictions withouttravel or use of public networkresources.■ IT Backup and Recovery:Enables jurisdictions to mirror, save,and restore IT resources at facilitiesoutside the jurisdictions.■ General Government andEducation Applications■ Transportation data: Shares fullmotion,high-quality traffic camerafeeds and intelligent transportationsystem resources regionally.What Has This ProjectDemonstrated?NCRnet demonstrates the utility ofusing existing governmental andintergovernmental assets at thephysical as well as institutional level.The cable franchise agreements haveproved a powerful tool to meet criticalpublic needs in ways that would beeither too expensive or inflexible ifapproached by other means.Perhaps most importantly,NCRnet helps meet government’s needfor high-bandwidth networks; notonly to support current applications,but also to support the applications ofthe future. These networks can help usprevent the kinds of emergencies we’vewitnessed and prepare us for those wehaven’t yet experienced. ■Chris Willey is Chief TechnologyOfficer for the MetropolitanWashington Council of Governments(MWCOG), a regional association of21 local governments in theWashington, D.C. area. In addition tomanaging IT service delivery forMWCOG, Chris works with the CIOsof the member jurisdictions to envisionand develop regional technology-basedprojects. Chris is currently enrolled inthe Robert H. Smith School ofBusiness as an MBA candidate,anticipating graduation in Spring2008. Chris lives with his wife insoutheast D.C.Ziggy Rivkin-Fish is a SeniorCommunications Analyst withColumbia Telecommunications Corp.specializing in needs assessments andplanning processes with particularattention to issues of inter-sectoral andpublic-private collaborations. He alsospecializes in advising localgovernments, large consortia, andgroups regarding the governance issuesraised by inter- and intra-jurisdictionalcommunications projects andnetworks. Ziggy is highly experiencedin a full range of research methods—quantitative and qualitative. As aPh.D. candidate and researcher atPrinceton University, he has developedexpertise in needs assessments,planning, and governance withparticular attention to the cultural,institutional, and sectoral factors insuccessful collaborative planningprocesses.18 NATOA JOURNAL WINTER 2007

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