Stay informed

Special Districts Summit Southwest: Three Takeaways


Welcome to the latest issue of The Districts, where we chronicle the people, issues and activities impacting special districts across the U.S.

News Staff / September 24, 2019

Welcome to the latest issue of The Districts, where we chronicle the people, issues and activities impacting special districts across the U.S.

Special Districts Summit Southwest: Three Takeaways

Officials from more than 40 special districts attended our fourth live Special Districts Summit in Houston on Aug. 29. Speakers and panelists covered a range of critical issues facing special district leaders, including modernizing manual processes, protecting sensitive information and understanding emerging technologies. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Privacy is a new standard – The nature of privacy is evolving rapidly, and special districts need to be ready for these changes, warned Government Technology Chief Innovation Officer Dustin Haisler. The European Union’s implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) last year sparked a movement to give citizens more control over their personal data. This trend is driving new legislation in the U.S. – including broad new protections recently enacted by Colorado and California – which is changing how special districts must approach privacy, Haisler says. “Privacy is moving beyond a set of features on apps and infrastructure, or disclosure notices on websites,” he says. “It needs to be built into everything you do.” A comprehensive approach to privacy will be crucial to meet new citizen expectations for how all organizations – including public sector institutions – protect and use their personal information. “Compliance will evolve,” Haisler says, “and it will have big implications for special districts and government organizations.”

  • DIY digitization makes a big impact – The Orleans Parish Communications District – the special district that handles 911 and 311 calls in the city of New Orleans – is using a low-code application development platform to eliminate paper processes and launch new digital services. Executive Director Tyrell Morris told summit attendees the district’s modernization efforts began with digitizing the process employees use to request vacation time or pick up extra shifts. The old paper-based processes were so slow the district often denied vacation requests because it didn’t have timely information on staffing levels. Since the initial project, the district has used the low-code development tool to eliminate 90 percent of its paper processes, Morris says. In addition, the district used the tool to create a 311 website that takes pressure off its call center staff. The 311 site enables citizens to report problems like potholes and broken streetlights online anytime without picking up the phone. Morris says the new site was critical to the district’s ability to absorb the 311 function a few years ago. “The city gets about a half million 911 calls annually and an equal amount of 311 calls,” he says. “We couldn’t put all of that new load on our existing call-takers.”

  • Information technology and operational technology are coming together…slowly – The Internet of Things (IoT) is gradually bringing together traditional IT and the specialized operational systems that run water treatment plants and power generation facilities and other types of infrastructure. Technology leaders from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and San Antonio Water District both say they see future opportunities to connect a new generation of automated sensors directly to plant systems using an industrial version of the IoT, known as the IIoT. But neither of them is ready to link internet-connected IT systems to operational control systems today. “We’re not mixing IoT and [operational control] systems currently because we’re not comfortable with the security to do that,” says Sree Pulapaka, CIO of the San Antonio Water District, which maintains 10,000 miles of pipe and operates multiple water treatment plants. Todd Sander, CIO of LCRA, which generates and distributes electricity through a system of dams and transmission lines on the Colorado River, agrees, saying security for industrial use of IoT isn’t mature enough to consider such connections.

You'll find more coverage of the event here.


2019 Southwest Award Winners

The Houston Summit also included the presentation of innovation and leadership awards for the Southwest Region. In all, seven districts and two individual leaders were honored for a range of projects that improved user experience and strengthened internal operations. Meet all of the Southwest award winners here.

Last Stop: Chicago

Be sure to join us in Chicago for our final Special Districts Summit of 2019. The Midwest regional event features a full slate of sessions and panel discussions, covering critical topics like communications resiliency, infrastructure modernization, data-driven decision-making, effective cybersecurity and more. Register now to attend this important event.

District Spotlight

The Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) and the California Department of Transportation are transitioning seven San Francisco-area toll bridges to an all-electronic payment system, phasing out cash transactions entirely.

The $55 million project will start with the elimination of toll booths on the Carquinez Bridge northeast of San Francisco. Other bridges will be transitioned from there, concluding with the Bay Bridge, a major roadway that connects Oakland and San Francisco. All of the spans currently operate a mix of electronic toll collection and cash lanes.

Once the project is completed, all motorists using the bridges will pay with FasTrak, the San Francisco Bay Area’s electronic system for paying tolls, express lane fees and airport parking charges. Drivers without FasTrak accounts will receive toll invoices sent to the address on their vehicle registration.

BATA expects the project to improve commute times in the region, where traffic often slows to a crawl. “Removing toll booths/plazas allows for greater flexibility to manage congestion by enabling smart metering lights, congestion pricing, and other congestion management projects,” reads a BATA staff report.

Read the full story here.

More Articles Worth a Read

Here are the latest stories from special districts around the country. Share your own news with us for inclusion in the next newsletter.

One in four local government agencies will fall victim to ransomware, experts say. Ransomware attacks already have targeted more than 70 local and state agencies so far this year, according to a new report.

The small town of Hood River, Ore., will participate in a pilot project that will bring a plug-in electric car-share program to the rural jurisdiction. Partners in the project include Hood River Columbia Area Transit; the Port of Hood River; U.S. Department of Transportation; and Envoy, an electric vehicle car-share platform.

The publicly owned electric utility in Lakeland, Fla., is deploying new technology to improve resiliency and situational awareness during hurricane season. Lakeland Electric’s Damage Assessment Restoration Toolset will deliver real-time information that will speed up the utility’s response time to outages.

GovTech Special Districts Program Report.

Download Now

Sign-up for the newsletter.

Platforms & Programs