Hear how the nation’s most innovative special districts responded to COVID-19

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

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Make plans now to attend our Year-in-Review virtual summit on Dec. 15. This interactive event brings together some of the nation’s most innovative special districts to talk about their COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. We’ll share real-world examples of how these districts adapted internal operations and citizen-facing services to meet fast-changing needs driven by the pandemic. We’ll also explore effective leadership strategies and techniques for navigating current and future uncertainty.

Our 2020 Special Districts Innovation Award Program received more than 200 nominations – all focused on technology deployments and leadership related to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. This interactive virtual event will present some of the best ideas we’ve seen. Register today and learn how the pandemic is changing management strategy, technology planning and service delivery for special districts.

New District Briefs

Check out how the Lancaster Area Sewer Authority, Atlanta Housing Authority, and the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library are navigating today’s disruption and planning for the future. These districts are featured in newly published focus briefs that detail how their operational and service delivery strategies are evolving due to the pandemic.

  • Mike Kyle, executive director of the Lancaster Area Sewer Authority, describes how the authority recovered from a ransomware attack as it was responding to COVID-19. The attack impacted various administrative systems and forced the organization to revert to manual operations in its treatment plants. Read the full story.
  • Atlanta Housing Authority CIO Brian Benn talks about how the authority rapidly implemented new tools to let call center agents work from home and inspection staff conduct housing inspections using smartphones and mobile video. “We were able to keep conducting business – that’s the biggest thing,” says Benn. Read the full story.
  • Eva Jane Romaine Coombe Library Director Paula Brehm-Heeger discusses the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library’s shift toward e-books and virtual events to serve patrons during the pandemic. In some cases, new virtual services are proving surprisingly popular, she says. Read the full story.

Want more? Check out our entire library of special district focus briefs and other publications.

District Spotlight: Reviving Air Travel

Could rapid on-site COVID-19 testing be the key to reviving air travel?

Air transportation is a key driver of both the national and regional economies, and the travel slump has crushed thousands of local businesses. The No. 1 problem for airports and the airline industry is customer demand. The reluctance to travel often has more to do with fear of infection en route than contagion at the destination. From the parking-deck elevator to check-in to baggage claim to the rental car counter, the entire journey breaks every rule of social distancing.

A few domestic airlines are beginning to offer their own rapid-results COVID-19 testing, most notably for flights to Hawaii, where arrivals are otherwise quarantined. But the costs for those tests are too prohibitive for widespread roundtrip use by economy travelers.

In a new piece, Governing finance columnist Girard Miller suggests that airport authorities band together and take the lead on widespread pre-flight COVID testing for passengers, perhaps paid for by ticket surcharges.

Read the full story.

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

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter Rail system in Boston shut down some systems in October due to a cyberattack. The system’s operator says the ransomware event did not compromise safety.

New York Thruway will shift to cashless tolling this month. Thruway Authority is replacing toll collectors with new technology that scans vehicle transponders and photographs license plates.

North Dakota testbed unveils what officials are calling an interstate highway system for drones. The new network infrastructure makes it possible to operate unmanned aerial vehicles beyond the visual line of site, long considered a crucial step for commercializing the technology, according to the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.