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Learn More About Emerging Technology and Federal Funding Opportunities

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

Supreme Court of United states columns row in Washington DC
More than 120 special district leaders joined us for a live webcast on Aug. 18 to hear how funds from the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) can be used by districts to sustain vital operations and modernize for the future. E.Republic Deputy Chief Innovation Officer Joe Morris explained how districts can access and use more than $350 billion in ARPA funding directed toward state and local governments. In addition, leaders from the San Joaquin Regional Transit District in northern California and the King County Library District in Washington State described how their districts tapped into federal relief programs to help them address vital needs.

Here are some highlights from the event:

  • Even though special districts aren’t direct recipients of ARPA fiscal relief for state and local governments, these funds are available to districts through transfers from city, county and state governments.
  • Now is the time for special districts to forge closer relationships with their cities, counties and states. In many cases, these jurisdictions are currently deciding how to spend ARPA funds they have received.
  • ARPA funds may be used by special districts to support public health, improve water and sewer infrastructure, and expand broadband internet access. ARPA also includes highly discretionary funds for replacing lost revenue that may be used for technology projects and cybersecurity upgrades.
  • The San Joaquin Regional Transit District tapped funds from ARPA and the CARES Act to replace farebox revenue, which plummeted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The funds enable the district to operate at near-normal levels while launching a series of pilot projects that will help it design new routes and service offerings to fit a post-pandemic world.
  • The King County Library System used $25,000 from the CARES Act to strengthen Wi-Fi signals at 45 of its 50 library locations. The improvements enabled county residents to access broadband internet from library parking lots while facilities were closed due to the pandemic.

Watch the full webcast or download slides from the event.

Seeing Around the Corner

Today’s special district leaders need to understand how emerging technologies will impact their organizations. Join us Sept. 16 for an in-depth look at how 5G, edge computing, artificial intelligence and other advanced tools are evolving and how they can support your district’s mission.

Our panel of experts will offer practical advice, lessons learned and important insights developed specifically for special districts. The pandemic accelerated demand for IT modernization and raised digital expectations among your executive leadership and constituents. This live, interactive webcast will help you develop a roadmap for evaluating and adopting emerging technologies. Register now for a perspective on the future that you won’t get anywhere else.

Making Sense of Unprecedented Disruption

The events of 2020 unleashed unprecedented disruption for special districts – permanently altering internal operations and citizen services. Our 2020 Annual Report looks at how successful districts responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the crisis is permanently reshaping workforce, service delivery and leadership strategies for the future. The report is packed with examples of how special districts responded to the crisis and continued to deliver critical services:

  • The Houston Airport System accelerated deployment of biometric identity systems to provide touchless security screenings
  • The San Antonio Water System in Texas is developing new performance metrics to manage a remote workforce
  • The Wilmington Public Library District in Illinois installed smart lockers to safely deliver materials to library patrons
  • The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission in Maryland instituted virtual inspections for new plumbing and gas fixtures

In all, the report includes insights, best practices and innovative ideas from 20 districts. It shows how special districts coped with unprecedented disruption and offers a roadmap for future resiliency and success. Get your copy today.

District Spotlight: Protecting Water Systems

The nation’s water systems are particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks, and keeping them safe may require new funding, more training and the creation of voluntary guidelines, experts told senators at a congressional hearing last month. Water systems on both coasts were hit by digital tampering efforts this year, in incidents that did not ultimately harm residents but which nonetheless raised alarm bells about the utilities’ cyber preparedness.

“The good news is our water systems are fragmented and scattered. In other words, it's not like the [consolidated] electric grid where an adversary could take down a whole region of the country,” said Maine Sen. Angus King, during a U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing in July. “The bad news is that, because they're so fragmented — [there’s] 70,000 of them — rarely do [water agencies] have the wherewithal or the knowledge to fully protect themselves. So they can be picked off one at a time more easily.”

Read the full story.

More Articles Worth a Read

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

Newark Liberty International Airport is testing facial recognition to verify passengers for boarding. The technology is in use at a single boarding gate now and may be expanded.

Tennessee Valley Authority announces aggressive electric vehicle goals. TVA wants all its passenger cars and half of its light-duty truck fleet to be electric by 2030.

Experts say public transit may be the real beneficiary of self-driving vehicles. Autonomous technologies could drive exponential gains in broadening transit options and reducing costs.