4 Takeaways from the Special Districts Summit Southeast
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 Southeast: The Highlights
More than 60 special district officials attended the Special Districts Summit in Orlando, Fla. – the third of five regional summits in 2019. The event offered a full slate of sessions, covering everything from improving user experience and mobilizing workforces to strengthening resiliency and attracting talent. Here are some takeaways from the event:
- Think differently about service delivery.Third parties increasingly are the front door to government services – and forward-thinking special districts should work with them to improve citizen experience, said e.Republic Chief Innovation Officer Dustin Haisler. Haisler, in a keynote speech on future readiness, said a growing number of citizens access government services through platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Home instead of traditional public sector websites. He also pointed to the emergence of private companies like California-based YoGov, which helps citizens get expedited DMV services in more than 20 states. The firm even provides “concierges” who will wait in line for citizens at the DMV office.
“These organizations aren’t owned by government, but they’re becoming interfaces with government, whether agencies like it or not,” he said. Haisler added that special districts should work with these new entities within appropriate policy frameworks.
“Build your technology platforms and plumbing to support these third parties -- don’t see them as a threat,” he said.
- Make technology a people business. When Scott Minter joined the Lake Apopka Natural Gas District a few years ago as director of information systems, one of his first moves was to engage with staff members to understand how they worked. Riding along with field crews and chatting with warehouse staff helped Minter gain insights and build relationships that ultimately supported the launch of modernization initiatives.
He described his experiences and lessons learned during a summit panel on moving from paper to digital. For instance, he said, spending time with a warehouse supervisor revealed a time-consuming, manual inventory process. Minter worked with the supervisor to pilot and then fully implement digital inventory forms that cut the district’s volume of inventory write-offs nearly in half.
“Letting the warehouse supervisor tell me about her job was important,” he told summit attendees. “I found an opportunity to start small and prove value. We’re a mature organization and there’s resistance to change. I had to build trust with some key players.”
Those initial wins led to more projects, including integration of the district’s mapping and work-order systems. Minter now is replacing the district’s ERP technology.
- Look for innovative alternatives. The Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District found an innovative solution to a long-running challenge for firefighters: improving radio coverage inside buildings. Public safety radio systems typically struggle to provide adequate indoor coverage, making it difficult for firefighters to use portable radios once they enter a structure.
To combat the problem, the district installed radio repeaters on its fire trucks, paid for by a fee on new construction. The truck-mounted technology strengthens the radio signal inside a structure when firefighters arrive at the scene of an emergency, said district Technology Director Jim Kauffman, who spoke on the summit’s workforce mobility panel.
The repeaters aren’t only effective, said Kauffman, they’re a less expensive way for building owners to meet Florida’s Fire Prevention Code. The code requires owners to install costly fixed public safety radio enhancement systems in new buildings. As an alternative, they may make a one-time payment into the district’s radio enhancement fund, which pays for the repeaters.
“It’s much cheaper for businesses to help us fund repeaters than to install new equipment in their buildings,” said Kauffman.
- Use paper to make an impact.Many special districts are working diligently to eliminate paper, but there’s still one task where hard copy trumps digital. Two Florida fire chiefs told summit attendees that handwritten notes remain one of their most powerful tools for acknowledging good work, showing gratitude and engaging staff members.
Kingman Schuldt, chief of the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District, said he writes 10 to 20 notes a month acknowledging everything from professional accomplishments to birthdays, weddings and childbirth.
“I can send an immediate email commendation through our performance management system,” said Schuldt, “but that doesn’t eliminate the need for handwritten notes.”
Chief Matthew Love of the Ft. Meyers Beach Fire Control District takes a similar approach. He routinely pens thank you notes to firefighters who work significant amounts of overtime – and sometimes to their spouses, too, for putting up with the inconvenience.
Read more about the Southeast Summit here.
2019 Award Winners
Seven special districts and two special district leaders received Technology Innovation Awards at the Southeast Summit. Honorees were recognized improving emergency response, strengthening access to technology in public housing, streamlining and automating utility processes, and more. Meet all the winners here.
We'll See You in Houston
The Special Districts Program comes to Houston Aug. 29, with a full day of live keynotes and panels designed specifically for special district policy and technology leaders. Learn how Port Houston is strengthening emergency readiness. Find out how the San Antonio Water System and Lower Colorado River Authority are implementing IoT. Hear practical strategies for eliminating paper, improving communications resiliency, and safeguarding vital systems and information. Register now to attend this important event.
The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority is putting the brakes on plans to pilot autonomous people movers. The authority announced last summer it had secured a $1.8 million federal grant to support development on a self-driving shuttle bus in downtown Toledo.
Although the goal was to launch the pilot in the city sometime this year, the project has yet to leave the garage.
"The technology for this program isn't moving forward as quickly as originally anticipated so the project is on hold for now." Amy Mohr, the transit authority's spokesperson, said earlier this month.
Navya - a French company whose shuttle prototype was displayed during last summer's announcement - issued a statement in late July that it was changing its business model to supply self-driving technology to other vehicle manufacturers.
Read the rest of the 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
A new contactless payment system launched in May by New York's Metropolitian Transportation Agency (MTA) already has been used a million times. MTA is rolling out the technology across the cit's sprawling bus and subway system.
Smart water meters are coming to Akron, Ohio, where city leaders recently took the first steps toward replacing more than 80,000 water meters with digital devices. The new technology will support more accurate billing and improve leak detection.
A new Transit App in Chicago helps users locate electric scooters from 10 different companies operating in the city. The app is running as a pilot through the middle of October.