BALTIMORE (November 16, 2009) During emergencies, such as snow or ice storms and hurricanes, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) works 24-7 to keep highways open for traffic, particularly emergency responders. SHAs on-road crews are very visible, but the backbone of the team is a much-less noticeable group who manage communication, logistics and supplies. SHAs everyday ability to communicate internally, as well as externally with other agencies such as police or fire and rescue, can be the difference between life and death during crashes and emergencies.
SHA recently completed a multi-year upgrade of its telephone communication system to Voice Over the Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, replacing aging infrastructure that was increasingly more expensive and difficult to maintain. The new system saved SHA nearly $600,000 in the first 18 months of test deployment and should save the state approximately $400,000 annually. The key to the savings is eliminating long-distance charges between SHAs 35 facilities, with added reliability.
SHA selected Black Box Network Services and Cisco Technologies through a Department of Information Technology statewide contract. The team developed a solution that leverages existing enterprise data network and maintains security. It converts voice data into a digital signal that travels over the enterprise network. When calling a regular phone number the digital signal is converted back to a standard signal before reaching the destination.
SHA will also be able to call directly from computers using new IP phones or traditional phones connected to an adapter. The VoIP system allows employees to communicate in groups (i.e. conferencing calling) and use disparate radio systems during emergencies. The solution greatly increased SHAs Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) by providing a high level of service, sustaining internal communications and responding quickly to citizen service requests.
In early February 2009, the new network was put to the test. A 28-inch water main ruptured north of SHA headquarters in Baltimore, flooding the buildings basement and first floor. The existing system, which is located on the first floor, had to be shut down and employees were evacuated. Repair and restoration efforts from the water damage to the building were estimated to take several weeks, however, SHA was under critical deadlines relating to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Transportation projects. Any displacement or relocation of SHA employees working on those projects would cause a high risk in failing to meet federal deadlines and a loss of transportation infrastructure investments for the state. Full network and communication services needed to be established immediately in order to avoid any further loss of productivity.
At 4:40 pm the afternoon of the flooding, 70 SHA employees and their computers were relocated to an adjacent building. The staff needed to access their normal extensions in this temporary area in order to communicate with external customers, contractors, and consultants. Fortunately, based on the recently installed system, the switches in the temporary facility were linked back to the SHA enterprise network. The response team was also able to relocate computers as well as install new phones. The complete network infrastructure and phone system changes were implemented and functional within 13-hours, a scenario only possible due to the flexibility provided by the Cisco VoIP infrastructure.
Source: Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA)