April 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Powerful New Laptops Prove Their Versatility

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A Post Falls party house had become a problem.

Loud, rowdy parties every other night were disturbing and scaring the neighbors. But police scanners in the house squawked warnings of the police’s arrival.

“By the time we’d get there, it’d be all quiet and peaceful,” said Sgt. Pat Kenner of the Post Falls Police Dept.

The answer? Laptop computers.

E-mail messages sent to laptops installed in patrol cars alerted officers quietly when there was a problem and allowed them to sneak up on, and finally close down, the party house.

Dispatching police officers via laptops is just one of the many new uses for portable computers in the Inland Northwest. Advances in technology have made portable computers appealing to a multitude of professions.

“They’re taking over everywhere,” said Roy Mortlock, an account executive at Connecting Point Computer Centers in East Spokane.

“It used to be you gave up a lot when you went portable,” Mortlock said. “Now we have full-motion, full-video at the portable level. It’s just incredible what you can do on a portable now.”

Ken Dean has known that for years.

As supervisor of substation support for Washington Water Power Co., Dean makes sure all his technicians have laptops in the field. They can hook up to equipment that monitors activity and detects potential problems on relays and generators.

WWP has used laptops to detect equipment failures for 10 years, Dean said, but the new Pentium processors gather more information and have more precise control than the 386s and 486s that preceded them.

WWP also is considering equipping its linemen with laptops, which could reduce response time, said Warren Clark, Spokane distribution engineer.

Linemen could access information via modems from centralized computers about their next job while traveling from site to site.

A laptop helps David Trimble, the Wichita, Kan., architect responsible for the Spokane Valley Mall’s design, to keep an eye on the mall project no matter where he is. The portable computer contains a history of the mall job, complete with drawings and copies of all related memos.

If Trimble gets a call questioning a design element, a full view of the mall is at his fingertips.

“I’ve had layovers at the Denver airport and I call and answer questions. I pull up drawings right on the computer and resolve problems,” Trimble said.

Police departments throughout the region also use portable computers in a variety of ways.

The Spokane Police Department is considering equipping patrol cars with them so officers can more quickly access license information, criminal history and car registrations, said spokesman Dick Cottam.

That information ordinarily is accessed by calling someone who researches it on a centralized computer. When dispatchers are swamped with such requests, responses are delayed. Accessing that information quickly on a laptop could increase officer safety, Cottam said.

“It’s nice to know what the history of a house is before you go up to it,” Cottam said. “There are a lot of officer safety factors.”

Post Falls police also use laptops to access driver’s license information and car registrations. Kootenai County deputy sheriffs take portable computers into the field to enter arrest reports. Coeur d’Alene police use them to help reduce accidents and catch speeders.

Laptops also have helped Post Falls officers surprise lawbreakers who have scanners, like the party house they recently busted.

“We knew they were running scanners,” Kenner said. “We started doing the laptop thing and we were able to pull up and see for ourselves. We finally got rid of that house.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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