Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oregon Wireless interoperability Network (OWIN)

From Bill Gallagher, Public Affairs for the OWIN Project

Before the first snows fall on Oregon’s mountains, technical crews are hustling to
pave the way for completion of an improved public safety radio system that will eventually benefit emergency responders in all 36 of the state’s counties.

Meanwhile in Salem, engineers and project managers are planning and implementing one of the most far-reaching public works projects in the state’s history.

Welcome to OWIN, the Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network. This is the ambitious project launched in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As we saw that day when firefighters were trapped in the second of the World Trade Center towers, first responders must be able to communicate with each other across jurisdictional lines. Had those FDNY firefighters only known what the NYPD knew – that Tower Two was ready to collapse – hundreds of lives might have been saved.

While here in Oregon there’s not been an incident nearly as catastrophic as what happened that day, there have been times when aging, incompatible emergency radio networks have frustrated efforts to save lives and protect property. Emergency communications systems were crippled and most contact was lost with communities in Clatsop and Columbia counties during the storms of December 2007. Top Off, a major emergency preparedness drill in Portland that same year, demonstrated weaknesses in communications among responders from different agencies responding to a simulated terrorist attack..

While OWIN has been a long time coming, with the support of Governor Ted Kulongoski the Legislature has now approved a major investment to build the microwave infrastructure for a new, trunked radio system which will eliminate the barriers to radio communication that exist between agencies. Faced with the fact that 80% of the state’s current emergency communications system has to be replaced or re-built, these leaders have made a commitment to the citizens of Oregon and the men and women who protect their lives and property.

Between now and January 1, 2013, towers and buildings on hundreds of mountaintop sites across the state will be built or re-built as the backbone of the OWIN system. Beginning in 2011, a new radio system will be built for the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Corrections. Emergency responders with cities, counties, special districts, tribal governments and the federal government will have the opportunity to become part of this enhanced radio system.

Right now, an architecture and engineering firm is conducting site surveys across the state. By next month OWIN will have hired a construction management and general contracting firm to oversee the monumental task of installing the buildings and erecting the towers that are the infrastructure of the new radio system.

To follow the progress of the OWIN Project or to learn more about OWIN, you can check out the website at http://www.oregon.gov/OSP/OWIN/. If you’d like to be included on the OWIN mailing list for regular updates on the project’s progress, e mail OWIN Public Affairs Manager Bill Gallagher at bill.j.gallagher@state.or.us

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