Cook County to begin third phase of homeland security project

'Project Shield' is expected to connect county's police and fire departments
2008-03-30T00:00:00Z Cook County to begin third phase of homeland security projectMEGHAN STREIT
Times Correspondent
March 30, 2008 12:00 am  • 

On Tuesday, Cook County plans to begin the third phase of a multi-million dollar homeland security project, funded primarily by federal grants.

The so-called "Project Shield" will connect police and fire departments throughout the county via an interoperable mobile and video data network that is designed to coordinate responses to natural disasters or terrorist threats.

But while some of the first phase equipment has yet to be operated, county officials expect the latest efforts to run smoother.

"Project Shield" began in 2004, and about 40 municipalities have been outfitted with hardware and software that includes mounted surveillance cameras and mobile monitoring devices that can be installed in squad cars.

The goal of phase three is to equip the remaining 84 municipalities with cameras and monitoring devices to create a countywide surveillance system that will better enable first responders to coordinate their efforts in the event of an emergency, according to Dan Coughlin, director of the Cook County Judicial Advisory Council, which oversees the county's grant applications.

Earlier this month, the Cook County Board voted to award a $17.5 million contract to Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, which will complete implementation of the project.

"One of the things that we learned from Sept. 11 was that even New York, which has always had more resources (than other cities), was immediately overwhelmed in one situation," Coughlin said, adding the network that will be created will improve preparedness to respond to a terrorist attack or natural disasters.

Phase three also will include a "standardization and unification process" to ensure that all of the technological components are fully operable and compatible across the county, according to the county's chief information officer, Antonio Hylton, whose department is leading the implementation.

The county awarded contracts totaling more than $23 million to IBM for the first two phases of the project. However, some municipalities have complained that the equipment does not function properly.

County Club Hills Police Chief William Brown said his department received two surveillance cameras several years ago, but neither of them are operational.

"We've been waiting some time for our system to go live, it gets a little frustrating," he said. "This thing now has been going on for five years, and we're at square one."

Coughlin said there have been problems with implementation because the technology was "evolving."

Hylton and Coughlin said they do not anticipate problems.

"The type of technology used in 2004 by our prime contractor is, in some cases, not the same technology we will use in phase three," Coughlin said. "We were at the bleeding edge of technology back then."

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