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Released September 11, 2003

By Christopher Mapp

LONG BEACH - Law enforcement officials on the Mississippi Gulf Coast have a new weapon in their fight against crime. The Department of Justice has awarded an $844,475 grant to The University of Southern Mississippi that will establish a multilocation help-desk system to benefit the Tri-County Regional Information Sharing System.

Replacing antiquated data-processing equipment and even hand-written records, this system allows Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties to share criminal information via computer, which should enhance public safety.

The help desk will be a 24-hour service in each county designed to train first responders to become proficient with the new information-sharing technology, which was spearheaded by Harrison County Sheriff George Payne, Hancock County Sheriff Steve Garber and Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd.

This crime identification equipment and its supporting infrastructure are long overdue, said Dr. Julian Allen, director of the Public Safety Technology and Training Office at Southern Miss Gulf Coast. "We've got 13 local law enforcement agencies and 15 fire departments. But there is very little information technology between them. In some instances, their only means of information sharing is by picking up the telephone," Dr. Allen said.

Dr. Allen said the help desk will act as a support structure for law enforcement and fire personnel who are learning to implement new technologies. While in the field, first responders - including emergency medical service and civil defense personnel - will use laptop computers to tie into a main information database. "Now firemen and police on the streets will have laptops with access to this information immediately," Dr. Allen said. "If someone's out there on the streets at midnight and they have a technical problem, he or she can call someone 24 hours a day for help (with the equipment)."

Under a training program funded by the Automated System Project, approximately 3,000 end users of the system will learn basic computer skills and job-oriented software applications. But the support doesn't stop there, Dr. Allen said. Once the users are back at their workstations, they will have around the clock access to skilled troubleshooters who can provide real-time response to technical problems.

Allen added: "Regardless of how great a technology solution is developed and deployed, if the end users are not trained and supported through a type of help-desk system, then the overall automated system project will be a failure."

Three help desks - one in each county - will be manned on a 24-hour basis by Southern Miss students versed in computer science or management information systems.

Dr. Allen said: "A tremendous number of problems encountered by end users of during implementation of new systems are created by their lack of understanding computer software. The problems are usually easy to fix by the help desk workers, allowing the end user to quickly become effective again."

Congressman Gene Taylor thanked Southern Miss for "helping to make our home and families safer.

"By taking advantage of the technology available and through proper training, we can make it a lot harder to be a criminal on the coast," Taylor said. "Our first responders put their lives on the line to protect us; they deserve any resource that will help them more accurately and quickly identify danger."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM