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Seeing Shootings, Murders Decline, Chicago to Double Down on Predictive Analytics Tools, Body Cameras

October 18, 2017 - 08:00

Having seen shootings and murders decline this year with new technology partly in place, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) will double down on its use of predictive and analytics tools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during his 2018 Annual Budget Address.

The city is also hiring nearly 1,000 additional police officers, Emanuel said during remarks on Tuesday, Oct. 18, and will equip every patrol officer with a body camera by year’s end — deploying what’s believed to be a record number of the devices one year ahead of schedule.

The Chicago City Council approved publishing the budget and scheduled hearings on it, but not before a briefing on what CPD officials have said twice earlier this month: that monitoring criminals with data-driven technology; and police and residents with video cameras is reducing the amount of violence in the city.

Emanuel praised CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who returned to work following a kidney transplant, for challenging the department to think differently “and shift from reactive policing towards proactive, predictive policing.”

Establishing Strategic Decision Support Center rooms has decreased shootings 23 percent in six southern and western police districts, “outpacing the citywide reduction,” the mayor said at Chicago City Hall.

“In Englewood, in the 7th District, shootings are down 43 percent. Homicides are down 40 percent,” Emanuel said, adding: “We all agree the level of violence in some of our neighborhoods is totally unacceptable. That is why we are infusing our police department with the manpower, technology and training to meet this challenge head on.”

The implementation of Strategic Decision Support Centers — rooms at district police stations with technology including gunshot detection systems, expanded pod video cameras and predictive crime software; and mobile phones to field officers — has enabled CPD to make “sustained reductions in gun violence” this year, a police official said on Sunday, Oct. 1.

Gun violence declined in September for the seventh straight month and the city saw 15 percent fewer shootings and 10 percent fewer murders compared to September 2016, CPD First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro said during a press conference published on Facebook.

“The investments we’ve made to install district-based intelligence centers in some of the most active areas of the city have made us more predictive in our deployments and more proactive in our engagement. It has helped us to completely change the way we police in Chicago,” Navarro said then, announcing that six additional districts would receive support centers.

On Monday, Oct. 17 in Englewood, the city announced 82 new officers had graduated field training and were being deployed citywide. By year’s end, they’ll be joined by an additional 171 new officers; and by April 30, 2018, to a total of 701 citywide.

The deployment of body cameras with data storage in the cloud is about half complete; to date CPD has deployed cameras to officers in 12 districts with another 10 to go: four in October and three each in November and December.

CPD currently fields more than 4,000 body-worn cameras and has recorded more than 1 million video segments, which by law are preserved for 90 days, or for a minimum of two years if footage is needed for a case or investigation. Completing the rollout will equip 8,157 CPD officers with cameras.

“When we’re done this year, this will be the largest body-worn camera deployment. No other department in the U.S. will have more body-worn cameras,” Jonathan Lewin, CPD’s chief of technical services, said during a press conference on Facebook on Friday, Oct. 13.

An additional 868 cameras for “other patrol units” will be funded through a Bureau of Justice assistance grant, Lewin said.

Preliminary results from CPD’s research partner, the University of Illinois, mirror national findings showing “significant reductions in officer uses of force,” the chief of technical services added.

Asked by a reporter at the press conference whether that is the result of how officers react while wearing the cameras or how people they interact with behave, Lewin said: “I think it could be a combination of both.”

Code for Philadelphia Hosts Hackathon Aimed at Reducing Recidivism

October 18, 2017 - 07:15

Civic technologists in Philadelphia are working with public servants, journalists and recently-paroled residents, among others, to collaborate on a hackathon that aims to reduce recidivism rates in the city by fostering the creation of related tech projects.

The event, dubbed PowerUp Reentry: A Digital Solutions Day is set to begin Friday, Oct. 20 and run through Saturday, Oct. 21, with many of those involved saying they expect to continue developing projects from the hackathon in the months to come.

While civic tech events with a hyper-specific focus like this one are not uncommon, this event stands out for two reasons: Rarely has a hackathon brought together so many disparate groups of participants, and recidivism is a major challenge for Philadelphia. As of 2014, the recidivism rate there was 65 percent with a three-year incarceration rate of 41.1 percent.

“It’s important because it’s a problem of such scale, and it affects so many people,” said Aviva Tevah from Philadelphia’s Office of Criminal Justice. “About 30,000 people come back to Philadelphia every year from different correctional systems, and what we know from data in different places is that recidivism rates are much higher than they should be.”

Tevah said one challenge that the city government faces in addressing recidivism is that there are often many different agencies working toward the same goal — from city departments to nonprofit organizations — and it’s difficult to coordinate efforts and share valuable data. A tech project could facilitate better cooperation.

This thinking is what gave birth to the hackathon, which was first conceptualized by The Reentry Project, a journalism collective with representatives from 15 media outlets throughout Philadelphia. Described by organizers as a “sustained community-oriented reporting project,” the group started its work in November 2016, and the hackathon will mark one of its last major initiatives.

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, a project editor with The Reentry Project, described it as “getting a lot of different people in a room together who could find connections and ways to work with each other we never could have dreamed of.”

While there has been excitement for the possibilities within city government and the civic tech community, Friedman-Rudovsky said the most eager participants are those they aim to help: formerly incarcerated individuals. She recounted an anecdote in which one man told her he’d long had an idea for a mobile platform similar to Uber or Lyft, but instead of ride sharing, formerly incarcerated people would use it to reach mentors for help navigating life after corrections.

To coordinate the event, The Reentry Project has contracted Code for Philly, the city’s Code for America brigade. Dawn McDougall, executive director of Code for Philly, said this hackathon, with its inclusion of such a broad group of participants, reflects a shift the group has made over the past five years toward incorporating both service providers and end-users into development processes.

With recidivism, for example, that means the brigade works to build tech that social workers might use to more efficiently serve formerly incarcerated individuals, rather than solely focusing on projects for the individuals themselves.

In addition to the wide range of collaborators, McDougall said another quality that sets the event apart is that organizers surveyed potential users in order to get ideas. The reporting work that members of The Reentry Project did over the past year has also been an asset.

As such, technologists have gleaned valuable insights, one being that there’s no consistent way to track parolees once they re-enter society. While predicting work at a hackathon is tricky, McDougall was reasonably sure some projects would focus on collecting better data and “getting a sense of what’s really happening when someone leaves the system.”

“The goal of this hackathon is to produce a groundwork for future collaborations,” said McDougall. “It’s all about bringing people together, creating relationships so people can work together after the hackathon.”

The event in Philadelphia is one of country’s first to bring together civic technologists and stakeholders for projects aimed at recidivism, with efforts having also taken place in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Kistine Carolan, data services manager in open data and digital transformation with Philadelphia, said this is a chance to combine technological expertise with the perspectives of city workers and those they serve.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for everyone in the room to learn more and think about what the next steps are to make things a little better and easier,” Carolan said.

Washington, D.C.'s Bike-Sharing Goes Dockless and Electric

October 18, 2017 - 06:01

In Washington, D.C., you now have the option of renting a bicycle that can be picked up and dropped off anywhere. There's no need to try and find a docking station. And the bike you rent might be powered by an electric motor, saving you the exertion of pedaling to your destination.   The nation's capital is one of several cities that are embracing the next generation in bike-sharing, in which those clumsy-looking and expensive docking stations have been eliminated, replaced by bikes that riders can find and unlock using a phone app. At least one company that offers dockless biking is renting out electric bikes as well. 
In cities across the United States where biking infrastructure continues to improve with more miles of dedicated bike lanes, bike-share companies are taking note and are renting bikes that give riders options when it comes to location and mobility, thanks to better technology.   “Obviously, the biking culture here in America has grown in the last decade,” said Jillian Irvin, U.S. head of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Mobike, a Beijing-based bike-sharing company that is expanding in the United States. “Cities are putting more money into infrastructure. And we think that by working with government and sharing some of the data that we’re collecting, we can help improve the American markets with regard to their transportation and biking infrastructure.”   Mobike – along with other companies – has opted for the dockless system, where riders use their smartphone to locate an available bike, which is GPS enabled. Rides are generally about $1 for 30 minutes. The companies also tend to charge a refundable deposit when you sign up, usually $50 to $100.   Supporters of dockless bike-sharing talk about the convenience it offers, and how it may open the door to a new option for urban commuting.   “You don’t have to bike 10 blocks, only then to have to walk three blocks to get to your destination,” said Nick Foley, vice-president for industrial design at Social Bicycle, another bike-sharing company. SoBi, as it is commonly known, has been involved with developing and deploying dockless bike-share systems for about six years.   Officials stress it's imperative that bicycles, including bike-sharing systems, become an active and engaging part of any city's transportation strategy.    "First and foremost to me is better bike infrastructure," said Becky Katz, chief bicycle officer for the city of Atlanta. "A protected bike lane all-ages-network is the way to get people to ride. Bike sharing is an amazing public transportation option and the expansion of systems and size of systems recently has felt exponential. But you can't achieve high bike-share ridership if people don't feel safe riding."   In 2016 some 1.4 percent of workers in Atlanta commuted via bicycle, up from only 0.7 percent the year before, according the U.S. Census American Community Survey.    City officials say dockless systems could eliminate some of their concerns about bike-sharing programs, such as finding space for the docking sites and properly maintaining them.    "One of the biggest issues for a town of our size — about 66,000 inhabitants — is how and who will maintain the system and how to monitor and balance bike share inventory in the community," said Bill Bowden, public relations manager for Davis, Calif., which is home to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame and has a long history of bike-friendliness. In 2016, about 17 percent of workers in Davis arrived at work on a bicycle, according to the American Community Survey.   Davis is also a stop on Amtrak's Capitol Corridor, a popular commuter rail route, making the city ripe for bike-sharing as commuters disembark from trains and then seamlessly hop onto a bike.     SoBi operates bike-shares in about 40 cities globally. In most of these cases SoBi is the technology provider and the implementation partner, with day-to-day operations taken on by other companies.   SoBi recently launched electric bicycles in the Washington D.C. metro area. The motorized bikes give riders another option for moving around the District, one that might possibly be more attractive compared with navigating the crowded D.C. Metro system or even using a ride-hailing service like Uber.   “The user preference for an e-bike is tremendous,” said Foley, saying e-bikes are rented twice as much as conventional bikes.   Roughly 4.6 percent of commuters in the Washington D.C. area traveled via bicycle in 2016, according to the American Community Survey, up slightly from 4.1 percent the year before. Nationwide, 0.6 percent of workers commuted by bike in 2016.      “We’ve never really operated a mixed fleet of e-bikes and non-e-bikes, but when you see the data from those systems, it’s sometimes a 4X utilization of e-bikes verses the regular bikes,” Foley added.   “Our e-bike product is going to be cheaper than any competing dock-based product that is not an e-bike,” said Foley, adding the electric bike-sharing cost riders $2 for 30 minutes. Riders can use the bikes for any amount of time as long as they finish their trip within the service area, which covers all of the District's wards. First time riders will receive a $10 credit to try out the system.   “Our core product advantage is we’ve been doing this for a long time," said Foley. "This ‘dockless’ boom is new, but we’ve been building this dockless e-bike product for three years at this point, and have an extremely mature supply-chain, and have a set of designs that allow us to deploy these e-bikes at a very low cost."   At last count, five bike-share companies have their sites on Washington, D.C., The New York Times recently reported. And two cities just outside Boston — Revere and Worcester — recently announced plans to partner with the Chinese company Ofo, to introduce dockless bike-sharing.   “I am confident that all of these dockless companies that we’re competing against, they’re only saying they aren’t doing e-bikes because they’re very new companies who haven’t had enough time to really figure it all out,” said Foley. “And two to three years from now, dockless e-bikes are going to be the only thing people talk about or expect. And by that time we’ll have deployed quite a large number of them in all the major cities.”  

What New Tech Holds the Most Promise for Colorado?

October 18, 2017 - 06:00

Colorado Chief Technology Officer David McCurdy wishes he’d had the foresight to invest in bitcoin in the early days. Speaking with Government Technology at the NASCIO conference in Austin earlier this month, he added, “I think we’re all wishing that right now.” Today, one bitcoin is worth more than $5,000. 

But despite bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies' reliance on underlying blockchain technology, McCurdy doesn't anticipate a lot of uptick for blockchain in government, at least not yet. Instead, he’s more interested in the potential of artificial intelligence technology, and he’s got a couple of use cases in mind. 

There are two areas in particular where the applications for AI in government are clear to McCurdy – and he’s not alone. Grappling with an ever-growing threat landscape, he sees AI as an important component of the way large organizations like Colorado can effectively secure their data and assets. 

In addition, McCurdy acknowledges that AI can help automate responses to frequently asked citizen questions using chatbot technology. “If I can take eighty percent of our tier one calls off of those phones, then I could provide better customer service for the people that do call in,” he said.

CivicPlus Acquires BoardSync, Launches Agenda Management Solution

October 17, 2017 - 15:30

After buying up another company, CivicPlus is getting into agenda and meeting management.

CivicPlus has acquired BoardSync and is fitting its technology into a new product it calls CivicClerk. The product will allow users to collaborate on agenda creation, put those agendas online and then record actions and events during meetings.

The move adds a fifth product to CivicPlus’ stable, which has been expanding lately. The company, which has been around since the 1990s, already offered website design and hosting, notifications, human resources and parks and recreation software.

“CivicPlus’ clients will be able to integrate our existing agenda management, meeting minutes, board portal and public engagement solutions into their CivicEngage websites,” BoardSync Co-Founder Doug Shumway said in a press release.

The launch of CivicRec, CivicPlus’ parks and recreation management solution, followed a similar path. The company released the product after acquiring Rec1 in January.

The foray into agendas also puts CivicPlus into a similar space as Granicus, which merged with GovDelivery in 2016.

CivicPlus has more than 2,500 local government customers, and BoardSync had a wide reach as well — according to the company’s website, it was already operating in roughly half of the states before the acquisition.

Transportation in Tempe: How One Arizona City Is Going All-In on Autonomous Vehicles

October 17, 2017 - 15:00

For two officials in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, Ariz., which is taking the lead on new technologies, collaboration and sustainable systems are key.

Mayor Mark Mitchell was elected in May 2012, and is a third-generation Arizonan with deep roots in the community. Before becoming mayor, he was elected to the City Council in March of 2000 and served three four-year terms. Mitchell also is on the Board of Directors of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and serves as Tempe’s representative on the Maricopa Association of Government’s Regional Council, Regional Council Executive Committee, and Transportation Policy Committee.

Dr. Braden Kay is the city's sustainability program manager — he works with departments on reaching sustainability targets in energy, transportation, waste, water, land use, local food, housing and social issues. He received a Ph.D. from Arizona State's School of Sustainability for his dissertation work on stakeholder engagement and strategy building within the city of Phoenix, and was recently the sustainability project manager for the city of Orlando, Fla., where he led sustainability implementation in waste diversion, urban forestry and urban agriculture.

In this interview with Government Technology's FutureStructure, Mitchell and Kay talk multi-modal transportation systems, being a test hub for autonomous vehicles and the importance of being a resilient city.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Would you give an overview of Tempe's current transportation environment?

Mitchell: We're very fortunate to work on a regional public policy transportation basis with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), our local municipal planning organization. I'm on the executive committee, and we do all of our public transportation planning through this regional cooperative. From this has evolved a truly multi-modal system for the center of the Phoenix metro area of the Valley, between Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix. Tempe has a goal of becoming a "20-minute" city. (Editor's note: A 20-minute city is characterized by a vibrant mix of commercial, recreational, civic and residential establishments within a 1-mile walking distance, 4-mile bicycle ride, or a 20-minute transit ride.)

For example, we have a neighborhood circulator that is free to our residents all powered by natural gas as part of a sales tax that the residents passed in 1996 that does not sunset. We look at the quality of life of our community in terms of mobility and transportation networks with bike lanes. It's a true combination and working regionally to help all the communities because we're all interconnected. It's really been efficient.

Another example, we're doing a streetcar. It's initially starting out with just the city of Tempe, but the future proposed plan is to connect to Mesa. We'll also link to the light rail system, which connects Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix, and eventually out to Glendale.

So we're very lucky in terms of having a regional approach to it to help solve the issues. In Tempe, we offer free bus passes and transit passes to our youth so that we can help educate the next generation to understand what public transportation is. I think, to date, we're the only city in the valley doing this, but we're starting to see it take root in other cities as well.

It's not going to happen overnight. The Phoenix metro area is like a mini L.A. in terms of freeway systems and cars.

So do you feel you're future-proofing your transportation system by these actions?

Mitchell: I don't know if we're future-proofing it, but I think everything we do helps. We always look at all the options. Always look at what's going to happen 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years down the road, and as an elected official, that's what I have to do because we have to have it sustainable for the next generation. We think regionally, because providing connectivity via transit also helps with economic development. It brings everybody closer together.

Businesses want to be where transit is. Tempe is physically located at the center of the valley, the metropolitan area. We're the only city surrounded by five freeways. We have truly border-to-border light rail, that goes from east to west. We're in the process of getting a streetcar and we have a neighborhood circulator.

Now, fast forward even further to the future, we're a test hub for autonomous vehicles, Uber.

That reminds me of the National League of Cities report on transportation planning. Among its findings it stated that cities were not taking into account the potential impacts of new mobility solutions like car- and ride-sharing as well autonomous vehicles. Are you taking this into account? How are you planning to deal with these types of impacts?

Mitchell: We're definitely taking a lead on these new technologies — including serving as a testing site for autonomous vehicles. For example, Arizona Gov. Ducey said to Uber, "We'll take you in Arizona." They now have an office in Tempe, and then next thing you know Google — Waymo cars — are also driving all throughout the city and valley as well.

Kay: There is an ASU professor, Thad Miller, who is going to be doing a course this fall just on the potential impact of autonomous vehicles in Tempe. He's going to be working with MAG, city planners and our elected officials to make sure that we are future-proofing for autonomous vehicles. We also are doing a new urban core plan to make sure we're doing transit-oriented urban development and we're making sure autonomous vehicles are being considered in that planning. So we're still at the beginning of figuring what autonomous vehicles are going to do in our city, but it's definitely on the mayor's radar and is part of the way we're thinking about our future investments.

Mitchell: Think about how it's going to change the trucking industry. There's a lot of stuff you could do. It's a matter of time. We're very fortunate in the Tempe and the Phoenix metro area that we work well collaboratively and to have a sustainable transportation system in place for generations to come.

What do you see relative to re-use of parking spaces in your community when autonomous vehicles arrive? Do you have any thoughts, plans about that?

Mitchell: We have a transportation overlay district around certain transit areas where we try to reduce the number of parking spaces. As part of the project, we're encouraging people to use multi-modal transportation. But, like I mentioned earlier, we're the land of many, many freeways, so it's going to take education. With the heat in Arizona, there are also some challenges in terms of making sure we have enough shade structures and walkability so that people are able to use transportation other than vehicles. Maybe in the future this works so that autonomous vehicles can come into play too.

That is fascinating about the local conditions that you have to overcome. It's not rain, it's heat, and if you're going to get people out of their cars, they have to be willing to be out in the environment for some period of time. Waiting, transferring, that type of thing. Trees for shade and other shade structures.

Kay: Valley Metro has been putting a lot of resources into shade structures and figuring out how to make cooling stations at every streetcar stop. We're making sure that artists are engaged in trying to figure out how you make those stations feel cooler. There's been a few different attempts to figure out how to do more of that.

Mitchell: You know we're very innovative as a city and as a region. I think that the more you look for opportunities, the more resilient you'll be. So this is an opportunity. You don't know until you try.

Cubic Overhauls Transit Information Software, Embracing the Cloud and Multi-Modal Transportation

October 17, 2017 - 06:00

Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS), an international transit software maker, is moving its real-time passenger information system to the cloud and working in machine learning capabilities.

Cubic’s NextBus product is essentially a platform for those agencies to show workers and customers how far away buses are from their next stop. The product has been around for 17 years and is used by more than 135 transit agencies in North America and Australia, but the next generation version Cubic is rolling out now is very different.

The new release integrates NextBus into Cubic’s NextCity product, which supports single-account, digital payment for multiple means of travel. It also sets up ways for passengers to better plan multi-modal trips, where one might hop from a bus to a train to another bus.

And it is also embracing artificial intelligence to help bolster its prediction capabilities, which will feed into information passengers can access through multiple means. NextBus already had ways to guess at when the next bus might arrive at any given stop, but machine learning algorithms are increasingly used in the technology industry to make predictions like those more accurate.

That’s because machine learning algorithms are capable of ingesting massive amounts of data and finding relationships where humans might not think to look. In the future, NextBus might pull together bus locations and speeds, weather conditions, traffic jam reports and more to create a history-adjusted prediction of when a bus will get where it’s going. It might even be able to predict accidents, a concept gaining steam among transportation companies.

“When we train the predictor (algorithm), obviously we can allow it to train almost an infinite number of models to get the best fit, which a human could never do,” said Tony Gale, CTS’ general manager for NextBus.

The product also includes back-end analytics for transit agencies, using anonymized passenger data, to give them resources to answer questions. Gale described it as operational intelligence.

“It gives the ability of the transit operator to provide a much better service because they have a much higher visibility into their operation,” he said.

As it moves the product to the cloud, CTS plans on embracing application programming interfaces (APIs) and a modular approach to developing NextBus in the future. Though it offers some APIs now, Gale said he wants to build up a partner ecosystem feeding off the NextBus platform to power different services.

Gale said CTS is taking a phased approach to rolling out the overhauled NextBus, beginning with a few customers and then fixing any issues before offering it to others. Though he didn’t say what specific modules the company is looking to develop next for the product, that process should give CTS some insights into what customers want to see in it.

“We’ll learn as we go and perhaps make some refinements,” Gale said.

A Harbinger of Fire and Flood, Hydromet Helps Residents, First Responders

October 16, 2017 - 15:30

When Hurricane Harvey locked its sights on Texas in late August, residents and authorities along the lower Colorado River found the information they might need to make life-or-death decisions online.

The Hydromet monitoring system, a network of more than 275 gauges that continuously update an online map, isn’t new. Its parent agency, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), has managed it since the 1980s — decades before the term "Internet of Things" (IoT) had even been coined.

It’s also not a flood warning system. Rather, the hydrological data generated by measuring river stages, lake levels and streamflows along with meteorological changes in rainfall, air temperature and humidity, prepares county judges, first responders and residents to make vital decisions.

Improvements to its radio system in 2014 and to its telemetry network in 2016 refresh its map layers — screening data by everything from gauge to region and from streamflow to rainfall — every 15 minutes.

As a result, Hydromet has become indispensable to residents along 600 miles of the Texas Colorado River.

“We were always known as ‘flashflood alley.’ That’s kind of our history here on the lower Colorado River over the past 100-plus years. And so, knowing how much water you’ve got, how fast it’s going and where it’s going really allows us to help with public safety as we inform county judges about their emergency operations,” Phil Wilson, LCRA general manager, said.

What's Telemetry?

Telemetry is the process of collecting and sending data and measurements from remote locations to receivers elsewhere. In Hydromet’s case, its system transmits information on weather, streamflows, water levels and rainfall to repopulate its interactive map every 15 minutes.

The system also provides radar information, and drought and historic data, and lets LCRA coordinate the release of water from its six dams with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Its expansive reach isn’t cheap; each station of gauges can cost anywhere from around $25,000 to $60,000, and, if built from from scratch today, the entire system would cost around $19 million.

But Hydromet has proven its value. From Aug. 23 to 30, during Hurricane Harvey, pageviews rose by 945 percent compared to Aug. 23-30, 2016. That’s an increase in pageviews from around 50,000 to 475,000. The average time spent on the Hydromet page was 13 minutes, which Wilson characterized as “huge.”

Mindful of its crucial role, the agency is exploring delivering targeted alerts as a possible next step. Earlier this year, LCRA received $650,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to identify better sensor technologies and software.

Building Hydromet

LCRA staff determine where the system needs additional gauges based on experience, while taking into account reliability, accuracy and timeliness concerns, and phasing during rain events.

The agency buys items including gauge houses, sensors, and telemetry systems from “a variety of vendors,” it said via email.

LCRA staff then fabricate antenna masts, build the actual gauging stations and install the purchased equipment. LCRA spends around $700,000 annually to operate and maintain Hydromet, and nearly $1 million a year for IT support.

“I think it is also the drive to continue to look at the technology as the means and not the end. We’re always looking for a better way to do this,” said John Hofmann, LCRA’s executive vice president of water.


Two Texas hill country counties largely escaped Harvey’s devastation, but, nevertheless, representatives praised Hydromet for keeping them well-informed to plan responses to fires as well as hurricanes.

Justin McInnis, emergency management coordinator in the office of emergency management in Hays County, which covers 680 square miles south of Austin, said Hydromet provides the agency with valuable “situational awareness.”

“It paints the picture for us better because we can see how quickly the streams are rising. Whatever happens on the west part of the county, at some point is going to get to the I-35 corridor,” McInnis said, noting that Hays County “kind of lucked out” because Harvey’s rains stayed mainly in the east where absorbent clay soils were better equipped to soak them up.

Lower Colorado River Authority

LCRA, which was created in 1934 by the Texas Legislature, has been the primary wholesale electricity provider to the central part of the state since the mid-1930s and is nearly entirely self-funded.

Its duties include operating six dams, providing water to more than 1 million; and managing 600 miles of the Colorado River between San Saba and the Gulf Coast including the Highland Lakes northwest of Austin.

Ron Anderson, emergency management coordinator for Llano County, which spans 966 square miles and, stretches east to three members of the state’s Highland Lakes chain, said his region hasn’t had a largescale flood since 1997 and received “really no impact” from Harvey — but likewise praised Hydromet for helping his agency better position resources.

“It’s a tool that we can use on its own, but it’s also something that we use just in concert with the other types of resources at our disposal,” Anderson said, adding: “If we have wildfires going on, we can go into Hydromet and look at relative humidity going on and wind speeds. That’s something that aids us greatly.”

Both officials agreed offering targeted alerts would be a major advancement.

“A lot of times, 15 to 20 minutes of prior knowledge can mean the difference between having to do swift water rescues, having property damage or, God forbid, loss of life, and being able to close off roads to prevent those things from happening,” McInnis said. 

Exclusive: New York City Hires Quiessence Phillips as Deputy CISO to Help Lead New Cyber Command

October 16, 2017 - 12:30

New York City’s effort to consolidate its cybersecurity operations into one enterprisewide command center has just taken a major step forward with the appointment of Quiessence Phillips as deputy chief information security officer.

The move puts Phillips in a position to help lead the agency, which is still in the building stages after Mayor Bill de Blasio willed it into existence with an executive order in July. Cyber Command will take a previously decentralized cybersecurity operation and bring it all under one roof, where Phillips and Chief Information Security Officer Geoffrey Brown will oversee a 24/7 team dedicated to keeping the city’s IT systems safe.

In fact, the launch of Cyber Command is a big part of what drew Phillips in after spending the majority of her career working on information security in the financial industry.

“One thing that drew me toward going public, and I never thought I would, is the importance of protecting the city and the public and the launch of the New York Cyber Command,” she said.

Phillips said cybersecurity isn’t so different between the public and private sectors, at least in some ways. Many of the technology-specific concerns remain the same.

The big difference is in the risk profile. A bank might have a person’s name, address and financial information, maybe a Social Security number. A public agency could have those things and more.

“From a public perspective, it goes so much deeper,” she said. “If you look at people who are on benefits or welfare, or people waiting for checks … you have this increased level of risk.”

Phillips brings a packed résumé to the task of protecting that sensitive information. After earning a computer science degree from the City University of New York, she landed an internship with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s information security team. She would spend six years there before heading for the private sector, eventually becoming Barclays’ vice president of cybersecurity operations for incident response. She also has three active certifications through the Global Information Assurance Certification program, with another pending.

It doesn’t end there. Phillips has also put time into educational and professional nonprofits like Black Girls Code, and has been on the founding teams for two others: JOURNi and Securing Your Path.

All told, she’s spent a full decade in information security.

That’s a long time in the world of technology, and Phillips has been there to watch cybersecurity evolve. When she was first entering the field, iPhones were just beginning to hit the market. Microsoft’s hot new operating system was Vista. Google Chrome had yet to be released.

And cybersecurity was not nearly the major public concern it was today. In recent years, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Democratic National Committee and Dyn were all victims of major hacking attacks. In recent months, breaches at Equifax and Deloitte have been making headlines. Back when she graduated from college, Philipps said, many people didn't understand the importance her field would come to claim on the national stage.

“The importance was always there, it just wasn’t seen by as many people, companies or organizations,” she said. “So I would just say that cybersecurity is just applied to many more verticals than it was previously.”

Phillips has reason to think the threats will grow larger. Between connected mobile devices, an increasing number of “smart” devices enjoining the Internet of Things and an ever-expanding array of websites signing up users for new accounts, the cybersecurity broadside is getting bigger.

“It’s a no-brainer that (cybersecurity) has expanded the way it has over the years,” she said.

The strength of New York’s approach with the Cyber Command initiative, she said, is that it gives the city better visibility as those threats evolve. The command center will oversee more than 100 agencies service the largest single population of any U.S. city. A decentralized operation might be able to monitor and react to threats, but it makes communication harder.

Having everything in one place will mean people like Phillips will be able to see trends more quickly, if, for example, hackers were to target three of the city’s agencies at once.

“Just having that info under one cybercommand lets you see the breadth and the depth of the threats and the risk profile,” she said.

And as the worldwide threat landscape changes, Phillips thinks New York City will be in a better position to keep up.

“If our people are not attuned, they become the weakest link,” she said.

Census Data Reveals Where State Government Employment Is Shrinking

October 16, 2017 - 06:00

Even as the total number of people working in state government inches upward, a few state workforces and specific employment sectors are shrinking.

That’s according to new 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Though total state government employment rose by about 22,000 nationwide (measured in full-time equivalence) from 2015 to 2016, several states saw their figures drop.

The states that saw the largest declines were Alaska, which cut its workforce 4.8 percent, Hawaii (3 percent cut), Maryland (2.7 percent), Montana (2.7 percent) and Illinois (2.6 percent).

The data also shows a decrease in some types of jobs from 2009 to 2016, while other sectors grew. Most notably, higher education and public transit employment increased by 6.6 and 2.3 percent respectively.

Meanwhile, social insurance administration jobs fell away faster than any other category, dropping 12.5 percent from 2009 to 2016. Highways, corrections and miscellaneous government administration jobs all fell by more than 9 percent each.

Wyoming's Approach to Cybersecurity

October 16, 2017 - 06:00

At the annual NASCIO conference in Austin earlier this month, Wyoming Chief Information Officer Tony Young addressed the most pressing issue on his mind and on the minds of his peers. Recent breaches in the news, most notably Equifax, have helped make the case for more focused efforts around cybersecurity. 

"We're also going to ask for some additional funding for training and some tools to help us in that area," Young said, "but it [the Equifax breach] definitely stresses the fact that we need to remain on top of this at all times, particularly for the data of our constituents, the data for agencies and personal data throughout the state."

Fletcher named new state CISO

Part of the state's cybersecurity plans, as Young alludes to in the video, include the recent hire of a new chief information security officer. Incoming CISO Arlen Fletcher, former director of information security and compliance with Gonzaga University, will assume the role on Nov. 1. He will work with Young in the Wyoming Department of Enterprise Technology Services.

Fletcher comes to state government following a nearly five-year stint at Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash. Fletcher brings almost two decades of experience in information security to the role, with stints in both higher education and the private sector. In addition to his time at Gonzaga, Fletcher has previously helmed information security for the University of Denver.

NASCIO Demonstrates Public-Sector Technology Best Practices

October 15, 2017 - 05:00

As I travel around the country and the world, I am often asked where government technology professionals and business leaders can turn to find current best practices demonstrating projects that solve hard problems. What solutions really work in an ongoing manner?

Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, government executives and project leaders are constantly looking for case studies, white papers, projects and related materials that are presented with an articulated return on investment (ROI), citizen benefits, and lasting infrastructure enhancements that are repeatable across multiple jurisdictions.  

In my 30-plus-year career working within federal and state governments, as well as working with local and private-sector partners supporting the same, I believe that the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) resources (which are available for free) continue to provide the most compelling examples.

Representative Application, Award and Finalist Database Resources

Viewing the government best practices in the context of other NASCIO resources, as well as related data series from the Public Technology Institute (PTI), the Center for Digital Government (CDG) and others, provides robust and dynamic insights into current best practices as well as helps identify opportunities to transition to emerging solution management platforms. This approach offers alignment with public policy, gubernatorial and NASCIO priorities.

Some of these excellent resources include:

State IT Recognition Awards, including Archives NASCIO Best Practices Annual Series — See Resource Center State CIO Top Ten Priorities: Two types of priorities, Strategies, Management Processes and Solutions and Technologies, Applications Tools. — See Resource Center NASCIO/Grant Thornton/CompTIA State CIO Survey Series — See Resource Center NASCIO Resource Center Technology Forecast 2017: What State and Local Government Technology Officials Can Expect State of the States 2017: Presented by Doug Robinson, NASCIO Executive Director What's In and What’s Out for Cities and Counties: Presented by Alan Shark, PTI Executive Director

NASCIO Custom Search search and related links: to other associations and centers.

NASCIO Community and Group (Member-only libraries) 2017-2018 Charters and Work Plans and by joining and participation in the communities and groups.

NASCIO Corporate Leadership Council members provide a wide range of service, solution and analytic information and perspectives.”

A New Engine: Driving Innovation in State Technology, published jointly by NASCIO, Grant Thornton LLP and CompTIA, surveyed state CIOs on a range of issues, from cybersecurity and cloud migration plans to data management and the delivery of digital government services. 

Here’s an excerpt on the 2017 NASCIO summary for this document: "The nature of the state CIO role continues to evolve, with broker models becoming the norm and CIOs having to address the workforce, vendor and financial management challenges this brings," said Graeme Finley, principal with Grant Thornton's Public Sector practice. "The emergence of technologies such as the Internet of Things, drones and autonomous vehicles are also challenging the very definition of what should be considered 'IT' under the purview of the CIO."

2017 NASCIO Award Winners

The NASCIO Award press release highlighted the winners and process used this year:

Recipients were announced this evening during the NASCIO Annual Conference in Austin. This marks the 29th consecutive year NASCIO has honored outstanding information technology achievements in the public sector through the awards program. Recipients were selected by the NASCIO Awards Committee from a field of more than 100 nominees.

“It has been a great privilege to co-chair the NASCIO Awards Committee,” said Delaware Chief Information Officer James Collins. “The recipients honored tonight, as well as all nominated projects, demonstrate the integral and transformative nature information technology can have on state government and the experiences of citizens.”    

The 2017 Award Recipients are:

Cross-Boundary Collaboration and Partnerships
State of California, Virtual Integrated Mobile Office

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Risk-Based Multi-Factor Authentication

Digital Government: Government to Business 
State of Minnesota, Tempo Go Live

Digital Government: Government to Citizen 
State of Georgia, Division of Child Support Services Mobile App

Disaster Recovery/Security & Business Continuity Readiness
State of Michigan, Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps

Emerging and Innovative Technologies
State of Utah, Utah Driver License Appointment Reminder and Public Meeting Notice Reminders

Enterprise IT Management Initiatives
State of Wisconsin, Star Project, The Blueprint for Efficient State Government

Improving State Operations
Commonwealth of Michigan, Michigan Forest Inventory System

Information Communications Technology (ICT) Innovations
State of Minnesota, Minnesota Geospatial Commons

Open Government and Data, Information and Knowledge Management
State of Oregon, MAGI Medicaid System Transfer Project

State CIO Office Special Recognition    
State of Colorado, Strategy of Success: Playbook and Five-Year IT Plans

2015–2017 Award Program Participation Rate, Representatives and Accessibility

The 2017 award and finalist database, when supplemented by 2015–2016 NASCIO and related resources: (1) demonstrates a strong and effective alignment with gubernatorial and NGA policy and service priorities; (2) provides examples, documentation of the full range of engagement with CIO and NASCIO priorities; (3) illustrates and documents use of virtually all priority, best practice solutions, and discusses transitioning to emerging solutions; and (4) provides examples of solutions developed by highly mature as well as more broadly representative states, providing more accessible, adaptable best practice solutions.

Award Nominations: There were 347 nominations from 2015 to 2017, 104 in 2015, 138 in 2016 and 105 in in 2017. In 2018, this program will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the awards.

“The volume of quality submissions demonstrates the integral role information technology plays in delivering government services. Citizens are the ultimate beneficiaries of the impressive innovations occurring across the country.”

Award Categories: There currently are 11 award categories, with the greatest participation in the more broadly defined and flexible eligibility categories. Two programs have narrower, more explicitly defined service and solution parameters: Cybersecurity and the related Disaster Recovery category.

Award Submissions: For 2017 the greater participation was in Government to Citizen, 18; Improving State Operations, 13; and the high profile Cross-Boundary Collaboration and Partnerships for 2015–2017 Improving State Operations had 52; Government to Citizen had  51 and Cross-Boundary Collaboration and Partnerships had 35. The others were between mid 30’s to mid 20’s. The high priority, explicitly defined Cybersecurity category had 24, and may increase in 2018 due to record setting, diverse range of disasters and disruptions in 2017.

State Representatives: While a number of states are consistently included among award recipients and finalists, due to the broad, flexible definition of categories the representatives among states is fairly broad, more than 60 percent. In 2015, when there were a larger number of finalists, 23 distinct states and the District of Columbia received ether an award or were finalists, In 2016, a high participation year, there were 21 and in 2017 with reduced participation form the prior year, it was 17. For 2015–2017 32 distinct states and D.C. had received recognition.

Award Alignment with NASCIO Priorities

One of the strongest and most relevant features of the NASCIO Recognition Awards is the scoring criteria of alignment with gubernatorial and NASCIO goals and priorities. While not always cited explicitly, some are embedded in the award categories while others are inherently a part of the issue resolution.

There are two sets of NASCIO priorities — (1) Strategies, Management Processes and Solutions and (2) Technologies, Applications and Tools.

The first is the more familiar, driving one.

“For 2017, the State CIO Top Ten shows information technology (IT) security strategies and tools are at the top of the list across the states, with security topping the list of priority strategies for the third consecutive year. Cloud services and consolidation/optimization remain at the top as second- and third-rated priorities.”

One of more of the award recipients included virtually all of the strategic priorities, with most programs having more than one. Illustrative examples, citing a leading priority for the program or project include:

Enterprise IT Governance and others

Cross-Boundary Collaboration and Partnerships: Virtual Integrated Mobile Office

Information Communications Technology (ICT) Innovations
Geospatial Commons

Security and Risk Management and others (By 2017, 95 percent of state programs have adapted a cybersecurity framework based on national standards and guidelines; 83 percent have adapted a cybersecurity plan)

Cybersecurity: Risk-Based Multi-Factor Authentication

Disaster Recovery/Security & Business Continuity Readiness: Cyber Civilian Corps

Legacy Modernization and others

Digital Government: Government to Business: Tempo Go Live

Digital Government: Government to Citizen: Division of Child Support Services Mobile App

Improving State Operations: Forest Inventory System

Data Management and Analytics and others — Emerging and Innovative Technologies: Driver License Appointment Reminder and Public Meeting Notice Reminders

Consolidation/Optimization and others

Open Government and data, Information and Knowledge : Medicaid System Transfer Project

Enterprise IT Management Initiatives: Star Project, the Blueprint for Efficient State Government (Also Legacy Modernization, Data Management and Analytics)

Enterprise Vision and Roadmap for IT - State CIO Office Special Recognition: Strategy of Success: Playbook and Five-Year IT Plans

Emerging Issues and Solutions

Some of the emerging issues and solutions are reflected in some of the Award Categories such as Emerging and Innovative Technologies, Improving State Operations, ICT Innovations and more, as well as being incorporated in the NASCIO committee and work group 2017–2018 charters and work plans.

For example: EA and G Committee Charter PY 2017 2018 20170918 APPROVED...pdf.

Issues and opportunities include:

Governor Awareness of IT role on the rise, e.g., NGA Future, new NGA technology-centered Office A greater recognition that a formal strategy can lead to more resources, with the NGA Awards representing one component of such an approach. Cybersecurity becoming a part of the fabric of government operations. Continued reduction in state-owned-and-operated data centers, infrastructure and increased use of outsourcing. Greater adoption of partnered new business models (Shared, managed and outsources services including Enterprise Portfolio Management (EPM), IT Service Management (ITSM) and the Managed Services Integrator. Broader definition of digital government, including policy setting. Accelerated engagement with workforce issues. A range of emerging technologies including but not limited to IOT, artificial intelligence, blockchain, drones, autonomous vehicles.

Benefits of Participating in NASCIO State IT Recognition Award Program

The rigorous standards and consistent format, addressing basic issue, problem, solution, benefit questions, supported by a 29-year database provides unique development opportunities both to the state participants and the wider ICT community.

State Participant Benefits include:

Staff training and development, team building State portfolio of accomplishments and best practices for decision-makers, including legislature Assists in periodic performance assessments and prioritization Help define state brand Staff, team, program and partner recognition and collaboration opportunity Applied analytic, data and performance metrics based exercise Enterprise, cross-program and cross-jurisdictional development opportunity Opportunity for ICT Plan update Best practice and emerging solution alignment opportunity

ICT Community benefits

Systematic best practice inventory with associated complementary information and appropriate other state contacts Identifies collaborative, cross jurisdictional opportunities, including with counties, cities and the private sector Resource base for identifying transition opportunities for transition from best practices to emerging solutions Aid in aligning existing state ICT, best practice and emerging solutions with state public policy issues, state gubernatorial and NASCIO priorities

Final Thoughts

I have been attending NASCIO (formerly NASIRE) meetings and workgroup discussions as a public- and private-sector professional for more than 15 years, and I always get much more out of the interactions and best practice products than I put in. The relationship building aspects are well-known benefit, but these awards and other deliverables continue to be much more.

During my years as Michigan CISO, CTO and CSO, NASCIO provided a helpful set of relationships and guidance to benchmark security and technology team progress against others. We learned from other states, along with the MS-ISAC, to both engage in cutting edge topics and showcase what we were doing to assist others.

At a time when citizen trust in government is low, when data breaches are commonplace, when overall public-sector morale is waning – NASCIO continues to be an enduring organization that brings solutions that work and are repeatable.

The 2018 NASCIO priorities will be released very soon. Given the number of recent data breaches, I expect cybersecurity to again be the top priority for state CIOs.

I urge readers to take the time to invest in a deeper understanding and commitment to excellence by engaging with the National Association of State CIOs in new ways.

You can see the NASCIO best practice summaries here for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Hackers May Have Breached System Containing Government Email; Deloitte Says None Were "Impacted"

October 13, 2017 - 13:00

It appears that hackers who targeted Deloitte breached systems containing emails from four U.S. government agencies, though the consultancy is maintaining that no public-sector clients were “impacted” in the incident.

Citing anonymous sources, The Guardian reported Oct. 10 that the hack was more widespread than Deloitte is letting on, and that the company isn’t yet sure of what the attackers gained access to. Deloitte denied the story, calling it “speculative and inaccurate.”

“We dispute in the strongest terms that Deloitte is ‘downplaying’ the breach,” Deloitte spokesperson Jonathan Gandal wrote in an email to Government Technology. “We take any attack on our systems very seriously. We are confident that we know what information was targeted and what the hacker actually did. Very few clients were impacted, although we want to stress that even when one client is impacted, that is one client too many. We have concluded that the attacker is no longer in Deloitte's systems and haven't seen any signs of any subsequent activities. Our review determined what the hacker actually did, and it did not show that material ‘disappeared’ into a server in London.”

Gandal did not respond to requests to define how Deloitte is using the term “impacted.” The company has put up a fact sheet on its website asserting that its review of the incident has been completed and that “very few” clients were impacted.

The document says that the hackers gained access to a cloud-based email server, and that the company was in the midst of rolling out multi-factor authentication at the time of the incident. It has since completed the implementation.

It also says the hackers' motive was likely to steal active credentials.

The New York attorney general is also looking into the breach, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Deloitte has a wide-ranging technology consultancy business that has seen it work with federal, state and local governments on IT systems and cybersecurity across the U.S.

FirstNet 90-Day Window Ups Ante for Undecided States

October 13, 2017 - 04:00

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) recently took another step forward toward the creation of the nation’s dedicated broadband first responder network.

FirstNet has delivered official notice of State Plans to governors, opening a 90-day window for states to decide whether to opt in to the joint FirstNet/AT&T plan for rolling out a public safety network. States may also decline and take on the responsibility for building their own networks, which would have to be interoperable with FirstNet.

“We’ve hit a major decision point,” said FirstNet Director of State Plans Brian Hobson.

At least 25 states had already opted in to FirstNet even before the release of the state-specific plans, which address a range of detailed questions surrounding the eventual network buildout. That number has increased since late September to 27 states and territories.

Plans include a history section summing up four years’ worth of conversations between the state and FirstNet, as well as a decision-making guide for governors. Each plan lays out technical details surrounding the network architecture, as well as coverage details.

“That’s the heart of the wireless system, the coverage maps, which are very similar to what you would see with a commercial carrier,” Hobson said. The maps give not just geographic details of the network but also timelines for projected deployment. “They can see what will be operating in their state and when that is going to happen.”

The state plans don’t say how much FirstNet service will cost, but rather lay out a structure of major contracts through which states will be able to buy services. When it comes to specific rates, “they will continue to work those out, looking at competition and pre-existing agreements. There are a multitude of factors that might be taken into account,” Hobson said.

While the state plans are largely similar, each has been customized to take in factors such as geography, which can impact the timeline and equipment needs for a wireless rollout, as well as population. In rural states, for example, FirstNet has adjusted plans to include cooperative agreements with partners who could help extend the network.

Experts in public safety communications say the release of the state plans marks yet another milestone for FirstNet, adding new momentum to the building nationwide interest among first responder agencies.

“It's another great step forward for FirstNet,” said Ray Lehr, former assistant chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department and Maryland’s former designated FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC).

He noted in particular FirstNet’s apparent willingness to take under advisement recommendations made to earlier drafts of the state plans. “I think it shows FirstNet and their teammate AT&T’s willingness to work with the states to try and fine tune the plans to meet their specific needs,” he said. Virginia serves as an example of this. “Even though Virginia was the first state to opt in, AT&T is still discussing ways to enhance local coverage and provide support for public safety needs.”

FirstNet officials say they have consulted extensively with the states over the last four years, conversations that drove the initial RFP, the selection of AT&T and the present state plans, Hobson said. He noted that those conversations will be ongoing as the governors make their decisions.

“There has been a tremendous amount of engagement leading up to this and that engagement continues. Our goal is to make sure the governors have all the information they need to make an informed decision,” he said.


In addition to the recent release of the state plans, FirstNet has taken another step toward realizing its vision with the launch of the first developer program geared toward America’s first responders.

“This program will tap in to the expertise and creativity of the developer community to drive innovation for public safety,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said in press release. “It will also connect first responders with developers to create apps that will help them stay safe and save lives.”

FirstNet planners say the program will encourage developers to help build an app store of tools aimed at public safety communications. They describe it as an open-standards ecosystem for cost-effective, interoperable solutions.

The program offers developers a specialized portal stocked with tools to help them build, test, deploy and maintain public safety applications. Apps may ultimately address such needs as situational awareness, field reporting, records management and forensic intelligence.

The program gives developers the chance to have their apps evaluated and recognized as either “certified” or “reviewed” by FirstNet, based on the application’s uptime availability, resiliency and scalability for simultaneous users.

“The FirstNet app store will combine the convenience of a public app store with the security of a private app store,” Poth said in the release. “We look forward to working with companies, individual developers and first responders to stock the store’s virtual shelves with fully vetted and highly secure apps to help public safety personnel achieve their mission.”

Atlanta's Smart Corridor to Serve as "Living Lab" for Smart Transportation

October 13, 2017 - 04:00

In the second installment of MetroLab's Innovation of the Month series (read last month's here), we recognize the city of Atlanta and Georgia Institute of Technology, who recently launched their North Avenue Smart Corridor in mid-September. The corridor will serve as a public demonstration and “living lab” for Internet of Things (IoT) deployment, data collection and analytics, connected and autonomous vehicles, and unique partnerships to fundamentally transform how Atlanta plans for, designs and operates its transportation infrastructure.

MetroLab's Executive Director Ben Levine sat down with Renew Atlanta's General Manager Fay DiMassimo and Georgia Tech's Managing Director for Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation Debra Lam to discuss the project.

Ben Levine: Could you please describe what the North Avenue Smart Corridor Project is and who's been involved?

Faye DiMassimo: The city of Atlanta has embarked on a journey of resurgence to improve the look, feel and experience of the city for its citizens, visitors and businesses. The city’s SMARTAtl program’s mission is to enable the city, citizens and businesses to improve the livability of the city and foster economic growth by leveraging IoT and big data analytics. Renew Atlanta — an infrastructure improvement program established through a transportation bond — took on the development and deployment of the state’s first Smart Corridor demonstration project.

Working in coordination with the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT), Renew Atlanta selected North Avenue for this demonstration, partly because its crash rate is almost three times higher than the statewide average for similar corridors. North Avenue is a key east-west arterial in Atlanta serving numerous destinations, institutions, employment and neighborhoods of single-family homes. The corridor is also served by numerous transit operators and routes, intersects with key bicycle routes, and includes 18 signalized intersections between Northside Drive and Freedom Parkway. In addition to the Georgia DOT, the city has enlisted two key partners: Together for Safer Roads, a cross-industry coalition of global companies that collaborate to improve road safety; and the Georgia Institute of Technology, which will research, test and validate the smart technology that has been deployed along North Avenue.

Debra Lam: Georgia Tech has been closely involved in the North Avenue Smart Corridor and Atlanta’s broader smart cities plans. Specifically, we have been helping to develop, deploy and evaluate smart technologies aimed at improving public safety, environmental health and traffic congestion along the North Avenue corridor pilot. Our goal with Atlanta is to institutionalize research and development into city operations — where the university benefits from real-world applications of research and the city can utilize the most advanced research to benefit the community at large. 

Map highlighting the North Avenue Smart Corridor intersection locations. Courtesy of Renew Atlanta. See also an interactive map detailing the Corridor’s location in Atlanta and proximity to major institutions in the region.

Levine: Can you describe what this project focused on and what motivated you to address this particular challenge?

DiMassimo: The design includes the installation and use of over 100 IoT sensors at 18 signalized intersections, an adaptive signal timing system, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, and reconfiguration of the existing roadway through restriping to support crash reduction and future acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

The adaptive signal technology combines artificial intelligence with traffic theory. The system is designed for an urban setting, which takes into consideration non-vehicular modes, including pedestrians, bicyclists and transit. It responds in real time to these mobility types through advanced video detection systems that identify vehicle types, speed, volumes and queues. Thermal imaging and video cameras provide pedestrian and bicycle detection for adaptive control of the traffic signals, relieving these roadway users from having to push a button. 

The “everything connected to everything” vehicle-to-infrastructure concept connects all mobility users to each other and to the infrastructure in the street. The technology provides emergency vehicle pre-emption through traffic signalized corridors (where signals change to green for faster response times), provides drivers with signal phasing and timing data to their phones and cars, alerts drivers when they are speeding through a school zone or sharp curve, and alerts cyclists and pedestrians of vehicles approaching too fast or too close. All of the communication from the infrastructure and different mobility users is disseminated to a smartphone app called Travel Safely that improves safety for the overall traveling public.

These improvements and technology deployments are being driven by the mobility demands on the corridor, a previous lack of traffic management and a real need for safety improvements. 

Lam: I think Georgia Tech Professor Mike Hunter, said it best: “For me it’s about quality of life. Can I make the environment, the systems and the operations of transportation work better? Can I improve the efficiency? Can I make the corridor safer? What can I do to make the transportation system work better?” That’s why we’re involved, to help address these challenges. Prof. Hunter is in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and is calculating emissions and energy usage along the corridor.

Levine: What were some of the advantages of the partnership between Renew Atlanta and Georgia Tech?

DiMassimo: Because of Georgia Tech’s physical proximity to the North Avenue corridor, many professors and students have a familiarity with and interest in the corridor that will provide added benefit to Renew Atlanta’s project. They understand the issues and potential opportunities and can bring advanced research capabilities that a local government doesn’t have. Georgia Tech will be conducting research to help test and validate the many technologies that have been deployed in the corridor to see if they are truly beneficial to multimodal safety, congestion and the environment.

Lam: This partnership is really critical to making these sorts of projects work because each group is bringing something different to the table. The city is the one that owns and operates the corridor and the infrastructure. At Georgia Tech, we are modelling these types of corridors to better understand the connection between emissions, energy consumption, traffic congestion and public safety. We share our findings with the city, who can then make the appropriate adjustments to improve the corridor for everyone who uses it. No one entity can make smart cities successful or owns smart cities. It is important that we all work together. 

Levine: Where will this project go from here? 

DiMassimo: The North Avenue Smart Corridor demonstration project includes a second phase that will include major upgrades to the traffic signals along the corridor and installation of fiber communications. We will be exploring additional connected and autonomous vehicle opportunities. As we monitor and learn from the initial smart technologies and integrate the findings from our research partnership with Georgia Tech, the Renew Atlanta effort will be rolling out additional smart transportation solutions to additional corridors and activity centers throughout the city of Atlanta.

Lam: As for Georgia Tech's work along the corridor, we are hoping that access to new streams of data will allow us to more accurately model the corridor and provide useful recommendations to the city. Beyond North Avenue, we are moving strategically with the city to continue to advance Atlanta as the place for smart cities from research to action and partnership. 

For more information or to get in contact with the project leads, please contact MetroLab.

About MetroLab: MetroLab Network introduces a new model for bringing data, analytics, and innovation to local government: a network of institutionalized, cross-disciplinary partnerships between cities/counties and their universities. Its membership includes more than 35 such partnerships in the United States, ranging from mid-size cities to global metropolises. These city-university partnerships focus on the research, development, and deployment of projects that offer technologically- and analytically-based solutions to challenges facing urban areas including: inequality in income, health, mobility, security and opportunity; aging infrastructure; and environmental sustainability and resiliency. MetroLab was launched as part of the White House’s 2015 Smart Cities Initiative.

Chicago Civic Tech Group Invites Illinois Gubernatorial Candidates to Sign Open Data Pledge

October 12, 2017 - 14:59

One of Chicago’s most prominent civic tech groups, Chi Hack Night, has invited candidates in the Illinois gubernatorial race to sign a pledge to support open data in the event that they win, subsequently posting a checklist of who has done so on its Website.

The group issued the invitation in early October via Twitter, and so far, two of the 10 candidates in the race have signed, with two others indicating they will soon. Derek Eder, lead organizer of Chi Hack Night, said the invitation is part of an ongoing effort to improve open data practices at all levels of government in the state — practices that are in much need of improvement.

“We have over the years become a bigger part of the political and tech communities here in Chicago, and we’ve done things to push for more transparency here at the local level,” Eder said. “Last year, we decided to push more for open data at other government levels.”

Eder praised Chicago’s city government for making strides in the area and beginning to release new data sets on a regular basis. Chi Hack Night, which boasts a membership of thousands of designers, researchers, data journalists, activists and developers, initially focused on improving open data practices for Cook County, within which Chicago is located. To do so, they invited candidates in the 2016 state’s attorney race to sign an open data pledge similar to the one posited at those running for governor. The eventual winner, Kim Foxx, signed and has made good, creating a new chief data officer position within her office and releasing data sets that were previously unavailable to the public.

Currently, Illinois has an open data portal and some open data legislation, both of which Eder described as wanting and often ignored. On the existing site, many state agencies — including the board of elections, the commerce commission, the department of corrections, the office of the governor and the state board of education, among others — have not released any data sets. And releases from other state departments are scant. The Illinois State Police, for example, have three data sets on the portal, one of which is a list of the addresses and phone numbers of its offices throughout the state, while the two others are 10-year histories related to firearm ownership, last updated in 2011.

As a point of comparison, nearby Ohio has extensive open data on its government website, including an interactive budget tool that provides financial info at a near-granular level, detailing annual reports on the state’s rainy day fund, as well as exact payments to specific suppliers and subsidies. Indiana also has a comprehensive digital information portal, one with an accessible design that makes it easy to find the most popular sets.

The pledge that Chi Hack Night is inviting candidates to sign is largely symbolic and doesn’t legally require the eventual victor to do anything. The idea, Eder said, is to get the state’s leadership committed to open data while also spreading public awareness.

The benefits of enhancing open data at the state level are potentially wide-spanning. For technologists like Eder and the more than 100 others who regularly attend Chi Hack Night’s weekly meetup, it opens far more possibilities for them to develop projects that benefit communities.

“We see the open data that governments release as a raw resource, and the more of it there is, the more possibilities there are,” Eder said. “There are a lot of data sets that the state has that are really hard to get.”

There are also benefits for the general public and civil servants. Improved open data means government that is more transparent and accountable. It also means that state agencies would have a centralized resource to find information that is presented in a clear manner.

Illinois is a largely troubled state, one that recently concluded a two-year stretch wherein the legislature failed to agree with the governor on a budget. Concerns about whether Illinois will be able to afford government pensions have been ongoing for even longer. Illinois faces the nation’s worst budget deficit, and there have been recent reports of billions in unpaid bills. This is all to say that Illinois is, indeed, a state sorely in need of better governance.

“This is an issue some folks might think is kind of a pet issue, or, given all the other things going on in Illinois, they’re wondering why we’re spending time on this, but I think this is a system-changing pledge,” Eder said. “It has the potential of having real system-wide change, change for the better. I’ve seen it happen in Chicago and Cook County, and I want to see it happen for the state of Illinois too.”

The two candidates who have officially signed are 37-year-old Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, and State Sen. Daniel Biss, a former mathematics professor. Pawar has since announced that he is leaving the race.

The two other candidates who’ve said they will sign soon are Chris Kennedy and Alex Paterakis. The remaining six candidates have not said whether they would either way. Emails to the campaign of Gov. Bruce Rauner were not immediately returned for this story, nor were those to J.B. Pritzker, arguably Rauner’s most prominent challenger.

Oracle's Federal IT Modernization Comments Draw Fire from Tech Industry

October 12, 2017 - 14:30

If one finds themselves in a discussion about how to fix government IT, the conversation begins with the assumption that something is wrong with it.

So when the White House’s American Technology Council (ATC) asked the public for how to modernize federal IT and move past practices that have stood in the way, one of the largest, most entrenched government IT vendors responded with a bit of acid.

Oracle, well known for its government work and its database and enterprise resource planning software, drew fire from some influential voices in the world of public tech recently when it submitted its comments to the ATC.

“We respectfully suggest the government has not gone far enough in articulating a plan that will result in significant change and instead seems to be driving the government in the opposite direction,” Oracle Senior Vice President Kenneth Glueck wrote. “Many of the report’s recommendations and current modernization efforts seem out of sync with the best technology practices deployed in a Fortune 50 company today.”

Glueck went on to say that open sourcing is an unsafe, outdated and unsustainable approach to setting up government systems, that the government should be pursuing commercial-off-the-shelf software instead of custom coding, and that agencies should be focusing on program management and not on developing technological expertise.

Mainly, he called on the federal government to foster competition the traditional way — through competitive bidding.

“The (government’s) initiatives to recruit engineers from private vendors has resulted in the predictable outcome of creating favoritism for those vendors’ solutions, and seems to replace presumed technical expertise with the more complex task of procuring, implementing, maintaining, and securing systems over the long term,” Glueck wrote.

He also specifically called out 18F and the U.S. Digital Service for foisting “false narratives” and damaging practices, such as an emphasis on open source code and custom development, on the rest of the federal government.

A few on the project’s GitHub repository praised the Oracle submission, such as John Weiler of the IT Acquisition Advisory Council.

“The entire COTS industry has been under ‘anti-commercial’ attack from efforts established under the Obama administration,” he wrote in a comment.

Glueck’s comments made their way to Mike Masnick’s TechDirt blog, where he called Glueck’s submission “curmudgeonly” and suggested the company is fighting against open sourcing because it cuts against Oracle’s proprietary tech-dependent bottom line.

“Looking at historical IT implementations pre-USDS and 18F, and you see example after example of it being the outsourced, private, large government contractor companies whose work results in massive unplanned maintenance costs,” Masnick wrote. “Seriously, this entire filing by Oracle is one giant false narrative of people living in denial about how the world works these days.”

Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, published her own blog calling the company out for clinging to a status quo that has resulted in giant IT implementation failures, including Oracle’s own debacle setting up Oregon’s health-care marketplace. She took particular issue with Glueck’s thoughts on government IT hiring.

“If Oracle is coming out strong against in-house technology talent, it’s simply because so many more talented technologists with higher expectations for the technology they build or buy are coming into government, many of them through Code for America’s fellowship program or talent initiative, and ending in up places like city halls, 18F and USDS,” Pahlka wrote. “They’re having a positive impact there on behalf of taxpayers and everyone who needs to interact with government, and Oracle doesn’t like it.”

Glueck’s words were particularly striking for Luke Fretwell, who is the chief executive for a government-serving company built on open-source software: ProudCity.

“When taxpayers are paying the government money, everybody should have access to the results, and in this case it’s code,” Fretwell said.

He said Glueck was wrong about where the costs in government are coming from, too. Glueck pinned it on labor costs tied to custom code and long-tail maintenance. Fretwell put it on companies like Oracle selling proprietary technology that locks public-sector workers into dependence.

For example, he said, cities build employee teams around those proprietary solutions. In theory, they could always use the competitive bidding process to find another vendor. But in practice, doing so would mean retraining those employees, reassigning them new roles and generally disrupting the agency’s workflows.

Not to mention the expense of setting up a whole new system.

“It could be a few million to tens of millions if you’re rebuilding it,” he said. “That’s the reality, government doesn’t have the luxury of continuously investing in large-scale projects, so they just get sucked into maintaining a really bad one.”

Here are some others in the tech industry who took to Twitter in opposition to Oracle’s comments:

From Oregon v. Oracle. This is their "off the shelf" software that is so superior to "custom software using OSS"

— Yehuda Katz (@wycats) Oct. 4, 2017

Very sad to see Oracle spreading FUD about @TheASF like this. They know better; they are trying to get Trump's business though.

— Simon Phipps (@webmink) Oct. 4, 2017

There are grains of truth in what @Oracle says sometimes, but that’s lost in all their BS (and bad proprietary tech)

— Seamus Kraft (@seamuskraft) Oct. 4, 2017

1) got paid by govt to develop code.
2) Marked it proprietary.
3) Held govt hostage for decades
4) now say this is capitalism.

— Randy Hart (@Randy22401) Oct. 10, 2017

What's New in Civic Tech: FCC Proposal to Lower U.S. Broadband Standards Raises Concerns

October 12, 2017 - 07:30

In response to the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to lower the U.S. broadband standard from 25 to 10 Mbps, a group of lawmakers have sent a letter in protest.

What’s at question is the national definition of how fast Internet must be to qualify as broadband, a rate that was raised from a minimum download speed of 4 to 25 Mbps as part of the 2015 Broadband Progress Report. This rate is significant, because it determines the number of U.S. households considered to be connected to broadband, a number often central to ongoing efforts at all levels of government to foster better connectivity.

The proposal was first floated in August in an FCC request for comment titled “Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion.” The lawmakers expressed concern that reducing the rate would be a cop-out, a way for government to shirk its responsibility to bring broadband to rural areas and other underserved regions. Rural broadband has been a challenging issue for the FCC and a number of state governments. Reducing the qualifying rate by more than half is akin to switching the difficulty setting of a video game to "easy" because winning is a struggle on "hard" or "normal."

One FCC commissioner also criticized the proposal in a tweet. Jessica Rosenworcel, who was first nominated as a commissioner under President Obama before being confirmed for an additional term in August by the U.S. Senate, wrote that lowering the rate is a poor way to solve broadband deficits.

“It’s crazy for @FCC to think it can solve our #broadband problem by lowering national standard from 25 to 10 MBps,” Rosenworcel wrote.


Nashville Launches hubNashville, a One-Stop Website to Better Serve Residents

Nashville launched a Web portal this week designed to serve as a centralized location online for residents to easily find city services, from a place to report potholes to information about contacting the Tennessee State Fair.

The portal is called hubNashville, and it’s the result of 18 months of planning and consultations with both city staffers and members of the community. The launch of the portal makes Nashville the latest major city to build an online presence that resembles that of private companies like Amazon, which has a one-stop site where users can easily find or search for whatever they need.

For many years, government websites have been labyrinthine, often too much text and links to dozens of pages for the many agencies that make up a city. Finding information was difficult, especially if you didn’t know the exact department that had what you were looking for.

Sites like Nashville’s employ cleaner, more minimalistic designs that highlight functionality such as the search bar. They also give prominence to lists of the most popular topics. One feature of Nashville’s new site that is especially Amazon-esque is a tracker. Whereas a user might track a delivery of coffee filters on Amazon, a Nashville resident can track requests to have a broken streetlight repaired.

“Government exists to serve residents and make people’s lives easier whenever possible,” said Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said in a press release. “The hubNashville system gives Metro new tools to know about issues as soon as they arise and immediately start tracking and resolving them.”


As Investments Increase in Detroit, Google Moves to City’s Center

Google announced this week that it will be moving its offices from suburban Birmingham, Mich., to downtown Detroit just weeks after a $27.5 million investment was made in creating equitable housing in the city.  

Both developments play into Detroit’s ongoing aspirations to transcend its long history as a hub for automotive manufacturing and evolve into a center for tech and innovation. The Google move is a significant boost to those hopes, as the company is also expanding the size of the office that it is relocating, going from about 17,000 square feet to nearly double that size. There is also likely to be an expanded workforce for that office, which focuses on automotive advertising.

This announcement comes just weeks after out-of-town developers announced the $27.5 million housing development, which will focus on affordable housing and market-rate apartments to stem the complex gentrification challenges that have faced the city since its bankruptcy in 2014.

Another recent boost to Detroit’s tech aspirations is the development of some civic tech progress as well, specifically a portal that simplifies the process of paying water bills. This portal was built so that Detroit Water and Sewerage customers would no longer have to stand in long lines or take time off work to pay bills. This is encouraging for the city’s tech scene because it was also built by a 24-year-old University of Michigan grad student who is native to the city and has started a company that is based there and aims to make government digital.


Anchorage Innovation Team Works with City’s Treasury Department to Improve Fine Collection

Earlier this year, Bloomberg Philanthropies gave Anchorage, Alaska, a three-year, $1.5 million grant for one of its innovation teams, designed to combat long-standing civic challenges with data and tech in cities across the country.

Alaska’s team, however, recently took a paper-based approach to innovation that is netting the city  positive results when it comes to collecting unpaid traffic tickets and other fines. The city’s treasury department had long sent dense, text-heavy collection letters to those who owed, but the innovation team suggested instead sending a brief correspondence that said on the envelope, “You really need to open this.”

According to local news reports, the innovation team’s suggested changes have already made a big difference, leading to a potential revenue boost of almost $1 million over last year.

It’s been a great year for Anchorage making fast progress in terms of innovation, as the city hired a chief innovation officer as well.

L.A. Has a Streetlight That Can Charge Your Car

October 12, 2017 - 06:01

Sometimes streetlights are so much more than just a source of lighting.   The Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting — which manages some 215,000 streetlamps — is exploring a whole new generation of “smart lighting” that seeks to both declutter the street and offer more technology than has ever existed in a single pole.   The city has installed what it is calling a “smart node” on Wilshire Boulevard near the La Brea Tar Pits. The device looks a lot like a typical streetlight pole, but is packed with technology designed to support mobile cellphone service, surveillance cameras, and even electric vehicle charging.   “Streetlights were always there for lighting purposes, but in the last few years it’s been changing, because they’re becoming extremely valuable assets and infrastructure,” said Ed Ebrahimian, director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting, as he explained the particular appeal of attaching technology to already existing — and ubiquitous — urban infrastructure. “And the reason for it is they’re all over cities,” he said. “They’re in the public right of way, and they have power attached to them.”   The smart node — as of today there’s still just one — is a test pilot being explored by the city, possibly with the aim of deploying more in other parts of town. It’s not yet clear how much a project like this might cost, said Ebrahimian. “This is just the beginning of something that’s really exciting.”   The node includes an emergency beacon on top that can flash different colors. Just beneath is an LED lighting fixture. The device also includes cellphone antennas, Wi-Fi capabilities, speakers to broadcast music or announcements, video surveillance cameras, electric vehicle charging ports, and mobile phone charging ports as well as a standard 110-volt outlet.   “The beauty of this thing is there is no clutter in the public right of way. If you had to install all of this separately, then you would have different cabinets, different poles and different attachments. All of a sudden you would have 15 things next to each other. But this thing brings everything together,” he explained.   “So everything is kind of embedded inside the pole,” said Ebrahimian. “The beauty of this thing is that it’s not overpowering. It’s not imposing when you look at it. But it has all the bells and whistles.”   Future testing could also involve plugging in any number of sensors, popular among city technology officials today.   “We could have temperature, CO2, we could have gunshot detection. We could have traffic volume information. There’s not a limit,” said Ebrahimian.   Los Angeles has already been involved in a citywide streetlight updating project, phasing out its old sodium-vapor streetlights with smart LED versions that use less energy and save money. Also, existing streetlamp poles are being replaced with "smart poles," which include 4G LTE wireless technology. The city has replaced about 100 of these poles and has plans to install about 500 in the next four years. 

3 Tips for Success on Large Projects

October 11, 2017 - 15:00

The Georgia Technology Authority, led by state Chief Information Officer Calvin Rhodes, is at the helm of a highly visible, multi-agency project now under construction in Augusta. The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center will unite many agencies under one roof, with the goal of growing the state's cyberworkforce, encouraging cyber-related industry and fostering improved collaboration with all the entities involved in cybersecurity, including law enforcement and the military. 

At the annual NASCIO conference last week in Austin, Rhodes offered three pieces of advice for others with a similarly ambitious project on their to-do list:

1. Identify your risk.
Rhodes determined early on that there were aspects of the project that he hadn't confronted before, and that he'd need to rely on the expertise of others.

"Make sure you pull those partners in to help you so that you can know as much as you can about the potential pitfalls you need to be conscious of," he said.

2. Ask for help.
The project's accelerated schedule doesn't leave time for delays. If he suspects an issue could impact his ability to deliver the end product, Rhodes doesn't hesitate to enlist help from higher-ranking officials.

"We've not been afraid to ask for assistance when we needed them to help nudge something along," he said. "And that's been extremely important as well."

3. Know your deadline. 
While pressure always exists for public projects to meet the estimated timeline for completion, in this case, Rhodes points out, the stakes are higher. Gov. Nathan Deal wants the facility open at the same time the Army Cyber Command is opening at nearby Fort Gordon. Close isn't good enough.

"We have a very specific date to be complete by and in operation," he said, "so that really helps the team know that's not a target; that's a real directive from the governor."

For more on the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, see the cover story in the October/November issue of Government Technology magazine.