GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT Horizon

by / January 29, 2003
New Number, New Headaches

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Social Security numbers are causing trouble in Clay County. It started when the county created an information center -- a group of computers in the county administration building -- where public records could be viewed.

The new facility drew attention from title company representatives, real estate appraisers and mortgage attorneys, who used it to look up records, said Sandra Reeves, Clay County collector. But sensitive personal information often is attached to public documents, and controversy broke out when a county commissioner mentioned in a public meeting -- with local media present -- that some Social Security numbers could be viewed using the information center PCs. Ultimately, county commissioners decided to remove the numbers from the records.

Although widespread use of Social Security numbers as de facto identification numbers for all levels of government will probably change over the coming years, the transition won?t be easy.

?Our software system pulls up the information so much faster if somebody walks up to our counter -- particularly if it has to do with personal property -- and says, ?My Social Security number is ?? Boom! We can pull it up so fast,? Reeves said.

Now, Clay County taxpayers who own land have been issued a 15-digit parcel-identification number, Reeves said. She added that Dec. 31 is the deadline for tax payments, and Social Security numbers play an important role in the process.

?We get between $6,000 and $10,000 per month in bad checks, and the prosecuting attorney can?t prosecute unless I have the Social Security numbers,? she said. ?There?s $120,000 per year lost. Then, I would be writing off $1 million in delinquent taxpayers who leave the state without paying their personal property tax.?

Reeves said she locates delinquent taxpayers through a major credit bureau, which uses Social Security numbers to track them down. ?Without that Social Security number, I have absolutely no way of finding these people,? she said. ?The school districts I represent do not want me writing off $1 million per year.?

Analyze This ?
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) now uses Web analytics to understand how visitors use its Web site.

The WSDOT Web site receives more than 30 million page views every month from visitors seeking information on traffic, roadway construction and other transportation activities. The site?s most popular feature is traveler information, which provides images of current traffic and weather conditions via hundreds of cameras installed on highways throughout the state.

The analytics tool will help WSDOT understand and interpret how thousands of people use these real-time images. The data will help officials better deploy Web-based traffic information to reduce the impacts of roadway incidents and accidents.

WSDOT Web data will be integrated into a custom-built data warehouse to provide daily analytic reports via the Web. Agency managers will use the customized reports to identify site usage patterns, determine how well content and processes are performing, and measure which site areas are drawing the most attention.

WSDOT officials said the analytics tool already reveals how effectively the site is processing sales of passes for the state?s ferry system, the largest in the nation.

The state is working with digiMine Inc., a Washington-based data mining solutions company, to implement the analytics tool.

?Traffic congestion and commuting are important issues for people in Washington state,? said Doug MacDonald, secretary of transportation. ?We know commuters and others value access to the highway cameras for route planning and scheduling. DigiMine enables us to capture and analyze how people use the Web so we can improve and refine our online traveler communications. Then we can apply this new understanding to our overall efforts to reduce traffic and help commuters better plan their trips.?

A Dragon for Every Home
TOKYO -- SANYO Electric and tmsuk Co., a small robotics firm, unveiled an improved version of their home robot, Banryu, in November.

Though the new Banryu, which means guard-dragon, looks like an ancient reptile, it?s outfitted with sufficient high-tech twists to make homeowners sleep a little easier. The companies started work on the robot in 2001, and the new Banryu offers significant improvements over the prototype shown at the March ROBODEX-2002 in Yokohama, Japan, according to the manufacturers.

Banryu?s speed has increased from three meters per minute to 15 meters per minute, which the companies said is an adequate velocity for a home robot designed to travel in confined cluttered spaces.

Banryu also negotiates gaps more than 10 centimeters wide and calculates distances with sensors located on its legs. The robot also is equipped with voice/sound recognition software. Perhaps its biggest selling point is an on-board ?odor-sensor,? which was developed jointly by tmsuk, Kanazawa Institute of Technology and New Cosmos Electric Co.

The developers said Banryu is one of the first devices to sense a particular odor with practical accuracy. It could detect burn scents that precede a fire, for example.

The robot?s main use is home security, according to its makers. Fifty of the Banryu robots will be provided to interested customers in Japan for pilot testing. The companies intend to finalize Banryu?s design and begin marketing to the general public in 2003.

New Jersey to Test Homeland Security Cooperation
TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey will serve as a testing ground for a program in which government and businesses jointly prepare public-private responses to terrorist attacks, said Gov. James McGreevey after a meeting with General Charles Boyd, president of Business Executives for National Security (BENS).

BENS, a national nonpartisan organization, created the New Jersey Business Force (NJBF) to develop and implement the pilot program. McGreevey said the NJBF began its work by identifying three areas in which the public and private sectors can work together:

-- The state Office of Emergency Management and New Jersey businesses will create a Web-based information system -- the Business Response Network -- that connects emergency management personnel to needed resources -- including goods, equipment, volunteers and facilities -- quickly and effectively during a catastrophic event.

-- The Department of Health and Senior Services and the Office of Emergency Management will provide businesses with volunteer training in areas such as collecting health-care data and performing damage assessment.

-- The National Guard, state agencies and private-sector companies must develop an effective distribution plan for National Pharmaceutical Stockpile ?push packs.? Each organization will play a role in transporting and repackaging the bulk pharmaceutical supplies for quick distribution to health-care sites.

?The New Jersey Business Force will implement three new programs each year,? McGreevey said. ?It will also manage all programs it has implemented in prior years.?

The NJBF will work closely with government and business leaders to select programs of both high priority and feasible implementation. NJBF staff will work with the Department of Law and Public Safety -- including the Office of Counter-Terrorism, the Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force and the Office of Emergency Management -- the Department of Health and Senior Services, and other relevant state agencies.

The organization also will seek input from FEMA, the Red Cross and other federal agencies and first responder organizations.
Shane Peterson Associate Editor