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How DOE lab secured campus with wireless

Energy Dept.’s Pacific Northwest National Lab deploys Cisco Airnet technology

By , Network World
June 12, 2007 02:05 PM ET

Network World - The terms ``wireless’’ and ``security’’ don’t always go hand-in-hand. But the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is proving that these concepts are compatible with an innovative system that uses cutting-edge wireless technology to improve campus security.

PNNL’s new Campus Camera and Emergency Call Station system uses Cisco’s Aironet wireless mesh technology for security cameras and access point interactions. By using this wireless technology, the lab says it was able to keep the cost of the system down to $2.8 million.

Not only is the self-healing mesh network less expensive than a traditional wired system, it also offers greater redundancy, lab officials say. An added bonus is that the mesh network provides continuous wireless coverage across the outdoors of the campus and integrates with existing in-building wireless coverage.

``It’s fairly young technology. We really had excellent support from Cisco in working out some of the bugs,’’ says Jerry Johnson, CIO of PNNL. ``Overall, the whole system has turned out to be very solid, and I think it’s going to become more important and attractive to us in the future.’’

The lab’s public safety camera system was so successful that it recently won an excellence award from the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium, a collaboration of universities, research organizations and nonprofit groups in the Pacific Northwest. The system won in the technology infrastructure category.

PNNL is one of 10 Energy Department national labs, where critical military, energy and environmental research is conducted. The lab employs 4,200 staff in 35 buildings that are spread across a one-square-mile campus north of Richland, Wash.

``The laboratory here has an open campus. It looks very similar to a university,’’ Johnson says. ``At the same time, we are a federal facility. If you think back to the response from the Oklahoma City bombings and other terrorist attacks, federal facilities tend to be fenced in and barricaded. That was a bit contrary to the kind of aesthetic environment we wanted here.’’

Instead of a big fence, PNNL decided to install a public safety camera system that would allow the lab’s security staff to survey the campus and look for suspicious activity. PNNL also installed emergency call stations for people who were lost or in trouble.

``The idea was to establish the ability to do surveillance of the entire campus and establish kiosks for individuals who might have an emergency occurring or simply are in need of information,’’ Johnson says.

Prior to the roll-out of the new system, PNNL had a few security cameras installed at the entrance to the campus and the entrances to buildings. But it didn’t have coverage of the entire campus, including parking facilities.

PNNL started working on the campus camera system two years ago, and quickly discovered that wireless technology would be the most cost-effective.

``When you start thinking about stringing wires to all of those cameras and the proposition of drilling holes in buildings, trenching wires through concrete, it becomes cost-prohibitive for this type of system,’’ Johnson says. ``That’s why we chose wireless.’’

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