Cities double as labs for mobile innovation

Some of the most original and innovative mobile software development is often found in the ranks of local government. Take the foray into mobile applications by the Fire and Rescue Department in Lincoln, Neb.
 
City officials thought it would be beneficial to have three-dimensional information about the location of a fire — a building plan, for instance — available to firefighters as they sped toward an emergency. But although they were able to sketch out the scenario in theory, in practice officials found that Lincoln does not have fully uniform communications.
 
Emergency responders discovered they couldn’t transmit the information as quickly as they would have liked. “We found we don’t have the best combination of equipment or the right kind of GIS data” to enable fire rigs to share information as they are heading to a fire, Lincoln’s CIO Steve Henderson said.

“We’re still working on this,” he said, adding that the officials remain intrigued with having more sophisticated information available to workers en route to an emergency.


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The city of Corpus Christi, Texas, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to make sure it has connectivity available everywhere in the city, according to its CIO, Michael Armstrong.
 
Corpus Christi is a multi-threat city, Armstrong said, with much more water than land area. The city has the seventh  busiest port in the country, military installations and oil refineries. It is also very flat, which means it floods often. Most of the applications are consequently tailored for emergency preparedness.
 
The city has deployed both mature and new wireless technology, Armstrong said, including Wi-Fi and WiMAX networks, and will soon deploy a Long Term Evolution Network. The city has 147 square miles of mesh Wi-Fi networks.
 
“We are at the point where we can provide connectivity anywhere in the city,” whether the areas have electricity or not, Armstrong said. It also helps that the city has close to 200 linear miles of fiber-optic cable, he added.
 
Video is a driving force. The city is running 62 wireless observation cameras and has requested 40 more. Most are aimed at enhancing public safety, but they are also being used for neighborhood services, code enforcement and even birdwatching.

Wireless innovation lab
 
The city is also collaborating with the University of Texas, Corpus Christi, on a wireless innovation lab where students can write applications for the city and test them on the city’s network.
 
CCMobile, the first mobile app developed by the city, can be used to report potholes. But it is much more than that,  Armstrong said. It helps turn the citizen into a sensor, expanding the workforce by putting more eyes on the community, he added.
 
The app can also be used to do to damage assessment after a disaster, helping crews and citizens report on downed trees and washed-out roads. It is also useful for doing neighborhood surveys. If a neighborhood needs a lot of work, pictures can be taken and geocoded and resources can be concentrated in those areas.
 
What has made this application so successful is its integration with the city’s customer relationship management system. CCMobile is tied into one work order system, “so within two minutes of someone pushing a submit button, that request is in someone’s work queue,” Armstrong said.


About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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