RealTime IT News

Mississippi, IBM Centralize Public Safety


Mississippi officials announced at a press conference Wednesday the launch of phase two of the state's three-phase project to centralize the databases of three counties' fire departments, police stations and emergency-response offices.

Officials said the Automated System Project is a pilot program and the first of a planned nationwide system to link all sheriff's offices, police departments, fire departments and EMS offices across the nation into a unified system. In the process, it will provide the computing backbone for the next generation of US homeland security, they said.

The Mississippi Automated System Project (ASP) connects the criminal records, arrest warrants, hazardous materials data and other public-safety records for Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

Thanks to a $14 million federal grant by the U.S. Department of Justice, procured by the efforts of Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the state began work on the project with IBM , which won the project bid back in 2002.

Mark Melenovsky, an analyst with research firm IDC, said the project has the potential to become the testbed for a national rollout, though given the classified nature of many government security initiatives, it's hard to determine whether other projects are in the works.

"I'm assuming that not too many of these Homeland Security and government deals can be made public, but this one was with the University of Southern Mississippi and some of the local law enforcement and fire departments in southern Mississippi," he said. "If it works out, and it seems to be a cost-effective solution for that grouping of three counties, it has the potential to be rolled out on a broader scale."

The first phase, completed in February, provided a single point of access to the existing jail management system of the three county jails. Phase three, which begins in October, will make remote access via laptops, BlackBerry's and other mobile devices a reality for personnel in the field.

Before the state implemented the project, requesting inter-county records required a phone call and manually transferring data. With the Mississippi ASP, the information is now only a mouse-click away.

"It is critical that all of our first responders have instant access to the critical information that can save lives, speed arrests and ensure public safety," ASP Director Julian Allen said in a statement.

Officials involved in the project hope a successful deployment in Mississippi will herald a nationwide deployment of the system, tying all public-safety records into either one database or a cluster of databases. "It's establishing one heck of a template to go statewide, nationwide with. We feel we are proving that this is the way to go. Mississippi has the strong potential to be the first [state] that has all local public agencies on the same system, and we're just waiting for the other 49 states to plug into us."

That's music to the ears of IBM. For its part, the company supplies the eServer iSeries 825 server, running Tarantella's Secure Global Desktop Enterprise Edition. The server, capable of storing up to 58 terabytes of data on a 64-bit RISC POWER4 processor, can also store linkups to a possible 320 communications lines and two eServer xSeries 445 4U rack-mounted systems to handle transactions.

Playing the back-up role is a second iSeries 825 located 60 miles away running MIMIX, a high-speed failover to prevent any downtime that occurs on the main system.

"When you have that kind of data and that type of client, you want to make sure your systems don't go down," said Jay Bretzmann, IBM director of eServer xSeries.

For the project, the server was broken down into three partitions to run OS400, Novell SuSE Linux and Windows operating systems. The Windows OS is used only because the counties use an existing database to store their mug shots and wanted the GUI front end. For the long haul, most of the application power will come from the Linux partition, "for more reliable access and extensible access, as well as data-broker capabilities," Bretzmann said.

Melenovsky said the design of the project's platform was something common in many of today's corporate networks -- a mix of application integration focusing on synchronous information that's found in many heterogeneous environments and the basis for IBM's POWER architecture.

"The interesting part of it was on the different platform integration that came together to create a solution these customers wanted," he said. "The iSeries is pretty reliable and a kind of low-management cost solution. And then to be able to integrate that with the Web-based front end with Linux and then the Windows system. I thought it was interesting from an IBM perspective of being able to integrate a lot of their different products -- xSeries, iSeries, DB2, WebSphere and others -- all together and make this work."