Calvert County is building a wireless network that will soon connect the county's government buildings, libraries, schools and sheriff's office.
Among its promised features, the wireless system will give deputies the ability to look up criminal histories and file paperwork from their patrol cars, and it will allow teachers to bring online lesson plans and videos into their classrooms. The network also will boost the Internet connection speed of county computers.
The network is projected to cost about $1.5 million, but a third of that will be paid through a federal grant secured by the sheriff's office. Officials hope to have the system up and running by the end of January.
"It's a real win-win situation," said Joe Klausner, the county's technology services director. He praised the county commissioners "for their support of getting the county up to speed technologically."
County computers have been running on a patchwork of connections, including fiber optics at the courthouse offices and the occasional dial-up modem. For many county computers, the wireless system will bring an Internet connection 20 times faster than current operating speeds.
The wireless system will rely on a backbone of five existing signal towers positioned from north to south along the length of the county. New equipment mounted on the towers will link county government buildings, schools and other agencies.
Still, the technology will provide connection speeds slower than those in government offices in Charles and St. Mary's counties, which run mostly on fiber optics.
"We would have loved to do fiber optics," said Rick Lippert, technology supervisor for the Calvert County public school system. "But the price tag was just way out of our ballpark."
For county schools alone, hooking up fiber-optic connections would have cost $3.2 million, according to a recent presentation given to the county Board of Education.
One of the biggest advantages of the wireless system, county officials said, is the ability to connect county patrol cars.
The sheriff's office has secured a $500,000 grant to install digital cameras and computers in squad cars.
The systems will allow deputies to write reports from their vehicles instead of trekking back to the office. Officers also will be able to check the criminal histories and driving records of motorists from a console in the cruiser. Officers must now call a dispatcher every time they need such information.
"I think everybody's pretty excited about it," said Maj. Thomas C. Hejl of the Calvert County Sheriff's Office. "You can drive through a parking lot, run some tags and find stolen vehicles. You can capture a crime in action on camera, which helps a huge amount with prosecution."
"It's technology -- it's what we should be heading towards," he added.
At a meeting last month, the Board of Education approved a loan that includes $384,000 for the wireless system, clearing the last of the funding for the system. And officials from the county government, the sheriff's office, libraries and schools were scheduled to meet yesterday to finalize plans for installing the wireless equipment on the towers.