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Authorized users of the ICN depend on the Network to be reliable and ready for their use. Whether for education, telemedicine, telejustice, state government operations in an emergency situation, it is imperative the Network be accessible and operational at all times.
National Emergency Action agencies, Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Iowa National Guard, police departments and county sheriff’s offices through the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) have come to depend on the ICN to stay connected and communicate.
The loss of facilities needed for governmental operations can compound the effects of a natural disaster. ICN’s dedicated network allows governmental operations to be conducted nearly anywhere in the state and allowing operation centers to be moved where needed during emergencies.
Like personal data, government information must be managed to minimize the risk of exposure. The ICN, as a closed, dedicated network, is intrinsically more secure than publicly switched networks.
ICN is instrumental in the Next Generation 911 service throughout the state by providing NG 911 data connections at 120 separate facilities. When a 911 call is made, the call is routed to one of two geographically diverse data centers. The call is then transported using the private and secure Network to the local public safety answering point (PSAP) for quick help in emergencies.
The current E911 service provides the call dispatcher at the PSAP with latitude/longitude coordinates to readily locate the person who has placed the 911 call. A future step with the NG911 program is to allow text messages including photos and videos to be sent to a 911 center, which would also be transported using ICN’s data connection. This can be especially valuable when a person needs to communicate an emergency without speaking if in danger or send accident photos. Currently Black Hawk County PSAP is the only Iowa dispatch office capable of receiving text-to-911 calls.
The ICN is a key provider of telemedicine services in Iowa, providing clinical health care information to and from many locations around the state. In addition Iowa has one of the largest privately owned, not-for-profit, dedicated healthcare networks in the USA; the ICN plays a critical role by managing or providing last mile connectivity for portions of that network.
Iowa is predominantly rural, and rural hospitals face significant challenges attaining the types of connectivity needed for telemedicine applications. The ICN helps eliminate the distance barriers and has improved access to medical services often not consistently available in distant rural communities.
The ICN is also helping Iowa healthcare providers meet new federal mandates. Under current federal health care reform rules, hospitals and clinics are required to begin using electronic medical records to a "meaningful" degree by 2015. With ICN Iowans have the opportunities to experience the benefits of electronic medical records sooner (and with minimal financial burden) than residents of other states.
Since its inception the ICN has played a key role in the support of education by providing connectivity to schools and libraries. Today Iowa has an aggressive one-to-one computing movement where schools are encouraged to make mobile computing devices available to each and every student. Interest in one-to-one computing is on the rise because of its potential to improve access to online curricula, collaboration on school projects, and communication between teachers and students.
Placing computers, mobile or otherwise, in the hands of every student and teacher is more than buying the devices. It requires a significant amount of bandwidth/capacity to assure usable connectivity to all. Distance learning/online learning is part of the solution. In Iowa, because of the ICN, online learning has moved from limited offerings to rural students, to offering undergraduate and graduate programs statewide.
Traditional educational content has been limited to “hard copy” sources such as textbooks, encyclopedias and newspapers. This is rapidly changing because of the availability of almost real time network connectivity everywhere, not just in the classroom. Electronic textbooks are becoming more widely available, and these require the kind of high bandwidth connectivity provided by ICN. The result will be a much wider range of content available to teachers “on demand” and at lower costs than for hard-cover content.