smart cities

Snow sensors, Wi-Fi on Chicago trains, better child abuse tracking and more

Local governments across the country are stepping up their data-centric efforts, both internal and citizen-facing, as they creep toward “smart city” status.  Here's how some of the recent efforts are progressing:

Snow sensors to help predict avalanches

Snow sensors are being installed in Turnagain Pass in southcentral Alaska. Designed to measure snow depth and temperature, the sensors will give officials more accurate and timely information about current conditions so they can better evaluate avalanche conditions.

The sensors are part of an experiment by Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, which hopes they can withstand the harsh conditions on the mountain. More information will be available through the CNFAIC website after the installation is complete.

Wi-Fi on Chicago Metra trains

In a test program, Chicago’s Metra commuter railroad will be installing Wi-Fi hotspots on 10 rail cars to provide free, onboard Wi-Fi to customers.

The test program, which officials hope will start in January, is similar to one recently launched by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District on its South Shore Line. Like the NICTD program, Metra's Wi-Fi service would be on a car-by-car basis instead of a full train, and require only onboard communications technology instead of a capital investment along the railroad right-of-way.

To further enhance the agency’s customer connectivity options, Metra is also completing installation of charging stations at all five downtown stations and plans to install free Wi-Fi in the waiting areas. The agency anticipates having all of the waiting area hot spots live within 45 days.

Child abuse tracking

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services upgraded its Child Abuse Reporting and Tracking application. Approximately 4,200 incidents have been reported through the application since it launched in April, and it is currently averaging 4,500 tracking requests per month.

This version streamlines the reporting and tracking process for child abuse cases by guiding someone who reports abuse through the data input process, helping to build the case into a narrative for DCS to review. All of the information is then automatically placed into DCS’s case management system. Abuse reporters receive a “Referral ID” when the information is submitted so they can track the status of their report online.

The online tracking feature has significantly reduced call volume, the agency said. The guided approach for reporting an incident ensures more accurate information is gathered for DCS, allowing case managers to quickly assign field workers to investigate.

City Performance Tool

The Siemens City Performance Tool that helps cities calculate the environmental and economic impacts of building, transport and energy technologies.

Specifically, the tool measures greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants (like particulate matter and nitrogen oxides) and identifies new local jobs that can be created to boost impact-reducing initiatives. 

City planners can use the tool to determine where to distribute resources, find new technologies to improve sustainability, assess and react to the environmental impact of daily activities. It can measure and compare technologies that provide win-win solutions for unique urban challenges, and works on pre-existing infrastructure.

So far, New Bedford, Mass.; Riverside, Calif.; Minneapolis; San Francisco; and Mexico City are either using or testing the City Performance Tool.


Little Rock, Ark., recently transitioned to streamlined paperless e-notification system for businesses that will send reminders to business owners when license fees are due. 

Businesses can securely log onto the system or use a mobile device to pay fees, get a license and access accounts. The digital approach is expected to save the city about 1,040 hours of staff time and nearly $4,450 in printing and mailing costs.

E-payment system for transferring unclaimed property

In Mississippi, holders of unclaimed property -- utility deposits, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, and unclaimed inheritances – can securely transfer funds online directly to the Mississippi State Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Division using the new Holder ePayment System.

According to Mississippi law, any unclaimed property must be turned over to the state after a five-year dormancy. By making it easier for businesses to report and transfer money to the treasurer, Mississippi citizens will be able to find and claim their property quickly online.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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