Low-code platform helps New Orleans 911 deliver fast, coordinated response
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Jun 06, 2019
The executive director of the Orleans Parish Communications District (OPCD) is writing applications to make the agency more effective and efficient despite having no software development training. What’s more, the apps are producing data that can help policymakers make better decisions.
One of the apps that Tyrell Morris created using software-as-a-service tools from low-code vendor Quick Base allows the agency’s 178 staff members to request time off. Now, managers can see up to four months out where shortfalls might occur rather than dealing with them on the fly, as they’d been doing.
In low-code development, business users rely on graphic interfaces to design apps from common features and components that connect to back-end services. By relying on templates, prebuilt elements, forms and objects, users can put together a simple app with much less time and trouble than with true programming.
OPCD, the administrative and operational office for New Orleans 911, uses the technology for its human resources portal. Every staff member has a profile that helps Morris and other leaders document their certifications and expiration dates, ensuring that there are no lapses. Quick Base also generates OCPD’s major-offense log every morning -- a process that used to take staff three hours every day and now happens “in the click of a button,” he said. The department publishes the information onto its website to support openness and transparency.
OCPD has also integrated some emergency functions into Quick Base using Open API calls to connect with external resources. Now, when someone calls in to report a suicidal friend, call takers plug the friend’s phone number into Quick Base, which in seconds shows what carrier the friend is using. The department can ask the carrier to ping the person’s location, and police officers can respond to his precise location.
Similarly, OCPD, which is a consolidated response center that dispatches fire, police and EMS responders, has recently started integrating Quick Base into Everbridge's emergency notifications service. If there’s a shooting in New Orleans, Quick Base sends a coded message to Everbridge to send an alert to responders who need it. If that shooting is a homicide, Quick Base sends another alert instructing Everbridge to text detectives.
Before, “everything was paper, from how we manage our staff, how we document training, how we request time off," Morris said. "Of course in 911, paper-based systems are slow and in our world, slow systems equal loss of life,” he added. Now, 90% of those paper-based processes are automated.
In 2016, the city and OCPD agreed to merge 311 and 911 services under the department. The 311 call center was open only during regular business hours and provided no updates about requests after they were made. Morris built an app using Quick Base that city residents can use to enter service requests online. It sends notifications to those who need to do the work -- such as repair a pothole -- and to requesters to keep them up to date on the job's status.
Besides making the service available around the clock, the app provides OCPD and other departments with usable data and more operational visibility. “For example, how long is it really taking a department to close these tickets? Well, before, the departments were sending weekly updates. I’ve lost a lot of good data in that week by not using it in real time,” Morris said.
Other city agencies in New Orleans are building applications using Quick Base, and because they are all on the same platform, they can be linked together. For instance, if a constituent reports a problem via the City Council’s app, Quick Base can pull up all the 311 tickets for that person’s address.
It may be a “totally different application, but because it’s on the same platform, the data is there,” Morris said. “If the data never gets in front of the decision-maker, you can’t really make a good data-driven decision. My goal within the organization or any of the city departments that we service through 311 is to get the data in front of them in a format that is easy to interpret, easy to query and easy to manage so they are inclined to make those really, really good data-driven, intentional decisions.”
Much of software development relies on savvy developers, said Jay Jamison, chief product officer at Quick Base. “What we’re trying to do is [similar to] WordPress or Medium or Twitter -- make it a lot easier for people to publish information and get it out there over the internet and have it distributed without having to know how to be a web developer,” he said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.