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Summit Northeast Highlights, Award Winners and More


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 / July 19, 2019

Special Districts Summit Northeast: The Highlights

Speakers and panelists at the Special Districts Summit Northeast tackled topics ranging from modernizing and protecting critical systems to eliminating paper and leveraging real-time data. The day-long event, held in Philadelphia on June 25, drew leaders from more than 30 special districts across the region. Here are a few important takeaways:

  • Special districts are government’s problem-solvers: Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in a keynote speech, said the city frequently forms special districts to tackle issues that are difficult for traditional governments to address. For instance, the Center City District was created in the early 1990s with downtown businesses to clean up litter and strengthen public safety. And the City Avenue Special Services District is a partnership between the city of Philadelphia and Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County to improve cooperation between police departments in the two jurisdictions and promote economic improvement along a three-mile corridor. Close cooperation between special districts and traditional agencies produces powerful results, Nutter said, telling summit attendees, “Your active engagement and partnership with the local government is critically important to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of citizens.”
  • Special districts play a vital role in times of crisis: Bruce Moeller, former fire chief and city manager of Sunrise, Fla., said almost all special districts have a role to play during emergency situations, and he urged special district leaders to take steps to improve their resiliency and communications capabilities. He said FirstNet, the dedicated national communications network for first responders, is a vital tool for connecting special districts to other units of government during emergencies. Moeller, who dealt with Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina as a city official, said he often called on special districts to help evacuate disaster victims and repair critical infrastructure. “You need to explore FirstNet now. You can’t wait until an event happens,” Moeller told summit attendees. “You need the capability to talk to other first responders. In a crisis, we all need to be able to work together.”
  • Even small districts can improve user experience: When Jonathan Klotz became executive director of the Mount Pocono Municipal Authority in 2018, the small water and wastewater district was overflowing with paper maps and documents, and it lacked electronic payment options for customers. Klotz explained how he worked with the nonprofit Rural Community Assistance Partnership to secure a $75,000 grant package for technology upgrades and used the money to launch a sweeping modernization campaign. The initiative included digitizing existing maps and blueprints and deploying modern GIS technology, as well as new cloud-based electronic document and citizen portal software.
  • Free cybersecurity assessments are available: Tara Brewer, an analyst with the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told summit attendees to take advantage of free Cyber Resiliency Reviews offered through CISA’s Cybersecurity Advisor Program. The free 8-hour onsite reviews evaluate an organization’s operational resiliency and cybersecurity practices across 10 domains, including asset management, incident management, vulnerability management, situational awareness and training. The review helps special districts understand their current security posture compared to similar organizations, and it produces an actionable list of recommendations. “You end up with a checklist and you know the resources you need to move forward,” she said.

Read more about the Northeast Summit here.

2019 Northeast Award Winners

Three special districts and three special district executives received Technology Innovation Awards at the Northeast Summit. The awards program recognizes visionary leadership, as well as innovative use of technology to strengthen internal operations and improve citizen services. Honorees included leaders of micro-transit deployments, mobile payment projects, data analytics initiatives and more. Meet them all here.

Next Stop: Orlando

Register now to attend our next live summit in Orlando on Aug. 1. The Special Districts Summit Southeast features a full slate of special district leaders and experts who’ll cover critical policy and technology issues. Cybersecurity Advisor Klint Walker, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will cover the latest cyber-threat trends and provide information on free security assessments available to special districts through the DHS Cybersecurity Advisor Program. You’ll also hear how your peers are supporting mobile workforces, eliminating paper processes and managing increasing complexity.

District Spotlight

VIA Metropolitan Transit, the transit authority serving San Antonio, is upgrading its data storage technology to provide more accurate bus location data to its customers. VIA’s 500 buses currently report their location every 30 seconds at best, and that data is used to feed mobile apps used by riders. Steve Young, vice president for technology and innovation at VIA, says the authority intends to reduce the reporting interval to less than 10 seconds, a move which will give riders a better idea of when their bus will arrive, but also creates significant new storage demands.

To meet these demands, VIA will implement new flash storage arrays that will enable the authority to rapidly process a growing volume of data. Reporting the location of hundreds of buses every 10 seconds or less could quadruple the amount of streaming data the authority must handle, says Young.

“We have to be able to parse that extremely fast, and get it back out to customers,” he says. “That’s where this ultra-high-density storage really becomes critical.”

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

Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority introduced the region’s first autonomous shuttle last month. The pilot project will test a six-passenger self-driving vehicle on a one-mile route on the Texas Southern University campus.

The Houma-Terrebonne Airport Commission in Louisiana received a $1.3 million federal grant to advance its unmanned aviation system. The project includes building a new 40,000-square-foot hangar, access road and taxiway to support the use of unmanned aircraft in the Gulf Coast oil and gas industry.

Hackers are targeting small Florida cities and demanding big payouts. In June, hackers attacked computer systems and held hostage city files and data in Lake City and Riviera Beach, demanding a combined $1 million in ransom.

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