This wireless instant messaging system will accomplish what the services' radio communications cannot, and that's the means to communicate seamlessly with police, fire, medical and other agencies that may be responding to an emergency. It will also give rescue workers access to multiple state and federal databases.
The project, called the Capital Wireless Integrated Network, or CapWIN, was envisioned before 11 September and grew out of frustration over the communication problems that Washington, Virginia and Maryland agencies have had in co-ordinating responses to traffic problems.
However, after the terrorist attacks last year, the US Congress approved $20m (£13.3m) for CapWIN. IBM was selected this month to undertake the project.
"We had to provide a very open-standards-based approach. The customer did not want a proprietary solution; they did not want to be vendor-dependent," said Kent Blossom, IBM's director of safety and security services for IBM Public Sector.
The system will be based on Web standards, XML and Java and will use IBM's MQ messaging technology. It will support up to 10,000 users from some 40 agencies.
The Center for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Maryland will provide the communications bridge for the system.
Fred Davis, deputy director of the CapWIN project, said that as far as he knows, the project is unique. "This has never been approached before, that I'm aware of, in this large of a scale," he said.