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New Orleans Uses Tech to Consolidate 911 and 311 Systems

By embracing a digital low-code application development platform, the city has been able to combine 911 and 311 in a way that offers public servants more efficiency and citizens more functionality.

New Orleans and the Orleans Parish Communication District have recently consolidated their 911 and 311 systems, leading to major increases in both efficiency and functionality, officials said.

The government in New Orleans did this largely through the use of something called a digital low-code application development platform. This is essentially a single program that enables public servants with little software development experience to create programs to help digitize their daily tasks. Use of this platform in New Orleans is championed by Tyrell Morris, the executive director of Orleans Parish Communication District, who first used the software while working for the Parks and Recreation Department in Washington, D.C.

Morris discussed the improvements, how they were made, and what comes next during a recent phone conversation with Government Technology. To understand the recent changes, Morris points to when he first started working in New Orleans. At that time, local government had recently consolidated 911 services in the area.

Prior to the consolidation, 911 calls went to an employee of the police department, who often had to transfer them to fire or EMT, depending on what was going on. The consolidation changed that. Then, with the use of the low-code application development platform, Morris and his team were able to build upon the improvements, doing so by digitizing more processess with the help of Quick Base Inc., which was formerly a division of Intuit.

“As you know with paper-based processes, things move slow,” Morris said. “Well, 911 and slow don’t mix well.”

They were also able to put more information in the hands of dispatchers and enable them to instantly transfer caller information to other departments. The end result was what Morris described as a “one-stop-shop to report an emergency.”

The project was so successful that local government leadership in the area went on to ask Morris to use the platform to also consolidate 311 and 911 processes. This move was mostly aimed at modernizing 311, which Morris said was using a server-based legacy system that did not afford public servants much flexibility to add new capabilities.

By instead basing 311 off of the same low-code application development platform that had helped improve 911, Morris and the team were able to make much faster changes. They ultimately developed a complete platform that hosted the 311 process from the time a resident called right through to the city department or agency that responded to the request, adding real-time alerts whenever the status of the request changed.

For example, if a citizen complained about a pothole in the past, their best way to check if it had been fixed was to drive to the pothole and see for themselves. Now, a citizen who makes that complaint can give the city an email address and get real-time status updates. It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive.

“We are no longer an emergency gateway,” Morris said. “We are the gateway to the government.”

Jay Jamison, the chief product officer for Quick Base, said the platform is used by many in the private sector as well as some larger public health systems. With Washington, D.C., and the more recent addition of New Orleans, local government use of it is also on the rise.

This type of work to modernize legacy systems is a somewhat perpetual goal of governments across the country, with cost and efficiency being principle drivers. For his part, Morris said he expects New Orleans to use this same method to improve other governmental services, and he has already gotten interest from the city council and other jurisdictions interested in similar upgrades. 

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.