Free tech help for state and local government

Individual volunteers, nonprofits and companies are offering free and discounted services to governments on the front lines of the coronavirus battle.

The U.S. Digital Response for COVID-19 site offers a platform designed specifically to help state and local governments get tech help for managing pandemic response from volunteers. Started by three former U.S. deputy CTOs and a former Facebook executive, the site says it has more than 500 qualified volunteers skilled in technology, data, design and operations, many of whom have worked at all levels of government, including the U.S. Digital Service, 18F and Code for America.

Governments fill out a form describing the problem they’re trying to solve and the support they think they need, and the response team will assess the needs, review available volunteers and identify matches. State and local governments have been asking for help gathering test result data from public and private testing facilities; keeping websites -- like benefit-application sites unaccustomed to providing broad digital services -- stable and update;, tracking hospital data on bed and ventilator capacity; and modeling and mapping infection data.

The organization is asking for volunteers with expertise in data science, front- and back-end engineering, user research, logistics, procurement, product management and disaster relief and response.

“We know government, we know tech, and we know the power of government services to help the people in our communities. We operate from both experience and respect,” tweeted Jennifer Pahlka, the founder and former executive director of Code for America and a member of the  U.S. Digital Response for COVID-19 launch team.

The group helped Concord, Calif., stand up an online tool to coordinate volunteers to address needs of homebound seniors.  The platform also volunteers to sign up to deliver groceries, meals or other assistance. Concord residents over the age of 60 who request a delivery get a call to confirm the order and the contact information of their local volunteer who will drop off food at the door. U.S. Digital Response for COVID-19 next plans to scale the platform so other cities and counties can use it.

State and county-level data

The New York Times released the state- and county-level data it is collecting on GitHub for broad, noncommercial public use so governments, researchers and scientists can get a better handle of the spread of the virus.

The release of the .csv files, according to the Times, is “a response to a fragmented American public health system in which overwhelmed public servants at the state, county and territorial level have sometimes struggled to report information accurately, consistently and speedily,” though it acknowledged it had to make choices on how to count and interpret reported cases.  The data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes only state-level data and is updated at noon on weekdays.

Help wanted

The just-launched Project N95 initiative, which connects health care providers with medical equipment suppliers, is working with governments to identity local points of contact for mass distribution of personal protective equipment. The nonprofit wants government partners that can “aggregate funding into single purchase orders of over 100K units, serve as a shipping destination, and/or distribute [equipment].” In return Project N95 will share the data it collects from local health care institutions and suppliers.

Vendor support

Esri is providing its ArcGIS Hub Coronavirus Response template -- including examples, materials and configurations -- at no cost through a complimentary six-month ArcGIS Online subscription with ArcGIS Hub. It also hosts a resources page where it updates available maps, datasets, applications. Tableau has created a downloadable workbook with a starter dashboard that has an embedded connection to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus data stream. 

Facebook announced it is working with its developer community to provide free services to government health organizations to help them use Messenger to scale their response to pandemic and is launching a global program to connect government health organizations with developers that can help them use Messenger to effectively to quickly share accurate information, and speed responses to concerned citizens. Facebook said its developer partners would provide their services free of charge during the crisis to help with automating responses to commonly asked questions, sharing updates with constituents and transitioning from automated conversations to chatting with a live person when necessary.

Qualified state- and territorial-level public health agencies using Conduet’s Maven cloud-based disease surveillance and outbreak management platform will have their software license fees waived through June 30, 2020,   as a means to enable the agencies in the fight against COVID-19.

Maven runs on the Amazon Web Services cloud and automates the integration of disparate information sources, including test results from labs and reports from the patients themselves. It can securely speed and scale contact tracing and allow for real-time analytical collaboration between healthcare organizations and experts.

Nintex, a process management and automation company, is offering its expertise to any state and local government to help it solve process-related challenges, such as building out online forms with e-signatures, supporting remote workers,  automating workflows, streamlining COVID-19 reporting or leveraging robotic process automation. Interested state, local or provincial government can fill out a form to get started.

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