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Special Annual Awards

2008 Campus Technology Innovators: Emergency Preparedness

2008 Campus Technology Innovators

BRYANT'S IPICS network connects first responders throughout a tri-state region, and helps streamline communications between public safety agencies and the campus community.

Innovator: Bryant University

Through community partnerships and a sleek IP interoperability and collaboration system, a university protects its own campus and communities across and outside the state.

Today, anyone involved in higher education knows that campus safety and security is of paramount importance. Yet, at Bryant University (RI), technologists have taken current safety and security measures to another level, leveraging their campus's new IP Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS) to enhance interoperability with local first responders, making it possible to better respond to normal day-to-day events on campus, as well as to more serious life-safety issues on campus and in surrounding communities.

These advancements are the culmination of years of work. In 2005, Bryant tech leaders turned to Cisco Systems to upgrade the campus LAN, to enable campuswide IP telephony and other voice, video, and data applications. Then, starting in 2006, the school deployed the IPICS system to improve campus operations and increase security by enabling direct radio communication between Bryant's Public Safety, Campus Management, and Residence Life departments.

One of the initial goals was to use the new IPICS network to improve public safety response time and tighten the integration between Rhode Island's public safety agencies and the campus community. But according to project lead Richard Siedzik, the university's director of computer and telecommunications services, administrators found that while the state had made progress toward first responder interoperability, lack of countywide dispatch capabilities meant that each fire dispatch center throughout the state operated its own independent radio frequency, making interoperability challenging at best.

Bryant's goal: to improve public safety response time and interoperability between the campus and state emergency services.

In 2007, Bryant began working with regional agencies in several towns throughout Rhode Island, as well as with regional dispatch centers in Connecticut and Massachusetts, to demonstrate how a virtual public safety network enabled by the university's own IPICS network could connect regional dispatch centers throughout the tri-state region and help shrink the interoperability gap. Since that initial effort, the plan has expanded throughout the Northeast. Currently, working closely with the fire departments in Smithfield and Harmony, RI, Bryant has extended IPICS to a number of public safety agencies in the Rhode Island towns of North Smithfield, Cumberland, Glocester, Foster, Woonsocket, and the Quinebaug Valley Regional Dispatch Center in Connecticut. The school also has connected with Rhode Island's statewide E-911 system and the state's chapter of the American Red Cross.

Looking ahead, Bryant is in the process of connecting to Rhode Island's Emergency Management Agency, as well as adding a community just over the state line in Massachusetts. With the assistance of OSHEAN and RINET, nonprofit organizations that provide highspeed networking to education and government agencies throughout Rhode Island, next are plans to tie in Brown University, Providence College, and Roger Williams University, to name a few.

Still, the new system has not been without its challenges. Because first responders are so accustomed to using twoway radios, many users were reluctant to embrace a new technology. Agency technical teams were hesitant, too, largely because they knew what kind of resistance they'd encounter. Bryant turned to the Smithfield Fire Department to help resolve these issues and convince other responders that the system would enhance, rather than replace, their push-to-talk two-way radios. Gradually, the strategy worked.

Today, the benefits of the plan are unmistakable. First, the system works-- an important reality given the lack of interoperability in the past. Also critical is the cost; because the technology runs over the internet protocol and not traditional phone lines or a new system entirely, Siedzik says that Bryant and all other participating organizations and institutions are able to keep operational expenses low.

"This product was seamlessly layered onto existing infrastructure and provisioned and delivered in the same fashion as a typical network service," he says. "The technology infrastructure of a university campus is a major investment that should be continually explored for better ways to leverage and capitalize on it."

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