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Find Out How Special Districts are Becoming Faster, Smarter and Safer


Happy holidays! Thanks for joining us this year for news and insights on the future of special districts. We'll see you again in 2020.

News Staff / December 18, 2019

Districts Making a Difference

Over the course of the year, we met hundreds of leaders from nearly 200 districts through the five Special Districts regional summits, and stories of innovation as told by district leaders, and recognized through the national awards program. Early next year we'll release our 2019 Annual Publication, which takes a deep dive into how these districts are using new technologies and taking innovative approaches to become faster, smarter and safer. Here's a preview of what some top districts are doing: 

Faster: Making Every Minute Count

Port Houston, one of the nation's largest and busiest seaports, uses automation and data-driven insights to speed up cargo loading and unloading at the port's container facilities. Today, truck drivers can check out of the port automatically once they pick up their loads. Using video images and other data, the port verifies the right shipping container is on the right truck with the right driver without human interaction. In the future, the port intends to eliminate the traditional check-in process by using multiple forms of data to automatically authenticate trucks and drivers as they enter the container terminals, shaving even more time from these activities. "If you take off a few minutes from every transaction, we can move more cargo through our existing facilities," says Port Houston CIO Charles Thompson. "So there's real money tied to that."

Smarter: Moving from Reactive to Proactive

The Great Lakes Water Authority – which provides wholesale drinking water and wastewater service to more than 70 Michigan communities – is combining expertise on asset management, GIS and business intelligence to improve infrastructure maintenance. A New Enterprise Asset Management Team collects and analyzes data from treatment plants, pumping stations and thousands of miles of underground pipe, and uses the information to detect early signs of equipment failure and improve maintenance strategies. "As an organization, we're trying to become more proactive instead of reactive," says Jeffrey Small, CIO of the authority.

Safer: Forming Powerful Partnerships

The Greater Naples Fire Rescue District, Florida's largest independent fire district, is improving safety for more than 160,000 state residents through innovative partnerships. For instance, the district shares an incident reporting system with Collier County, reducing technology costs. It also standardized on the county's technology for defibrillators and cardiac monitors, which maximizes the district's buying power and simplifies user training. Partnerships like these save "hundreds of thousands of dollars," says Chief Kingman Schuldt, giving the district the advanced capabilities it needs in spite of tight budgets. "We have a very defined and limited funding source," he says, "and that's a significant challenge for us."

District Spotlight

The CEO of Metrolink, the sprawling commuter rail service that spans six Los Angeles-area counties and 530 route miles, says improving customer experience and convenience are key to boosting ridership. 

Speaking at a regional transportation conference in November, Metrolink CEO Stephanie Wiggins said integration with emerging transportation options such as scooter-sharing services could give Metrolink riders a convenient way to finish their trips – an issue transit agencies refer to as closing the last mile. "Seeing the micromobility – the scooters – and the diversity of opportunities there, really gets me excited about finally having a solution to close that gap," Wiggins said at the CoMotion LA conference. 

Nearly 10.7 million riders boarded Metrolink trains in 2018, according to American Public Transportation Association statistics, up 0.6 percent from the year before. The commuter rail line eliminated more than 300 million vehicle miles from Southern California's notoriously congested highways last year, officials say.

Growing those numbers further will hinge on the adoption of new customer-centric technologies and services, says Wiggins. "We have prioritized the customer experience … first and foremost in all of our decision-making. And I believe that automation and simplification is the key." 

Read the full story.

More Articles Worth a Read

Transportation planners appear to be taking a serious look at hyperloop technology, Elon Musk's ambitious concept to transport passengers in pods that would travel though pneumatic tubes at speeds reaching more than 600 mph. Officials at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission will finalize a feasibility study and environmental impact report on possible hyperloop routes in early 2020. Routes under consideration would link Ohio's capital city of Columbus to Chicago or Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the North Texas Council of Governments is looking at hyperloop as one option for relieving congestion in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. And state of West Virginia officials are teaming with West Virginia University in an attempt to lure a hyperloop certification and testing center to the state. 

More than a dozen U.S utilities were targeted in a wave of cyber attacks over the past year. The attacks, originally reported by the Wall Street Journal, appeared to target relatively small utilities, some of them situated near dams, locks and other critical infrastructure. In all, electric utility providers operating in 18 states were hit by attackers attempting to use phishing emails to introduce malware into computer systems. 

Kentucky's Green River Area Development District will participate in a state/federal pilot project to identify vulnerabilities in regional critical infrastructure such as water utilities, power companies, communications and transportation. The district will partner with state officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to create a framework for protecting essential services.

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