Jan 14 2008

Safety Nets

Safety Nets

Safety Nets

A common theme throughout this issue of StateTech is public safety — whether it’s safeguarding public assistance funds, securing computer systems or protecting citizens.

In cities, such as New York and Chicago, the focus on safety and security entails equipping ambulances, police cars and public places with surveillance cameras to help fight crime and thwart terrorists. But there’s more to these systems than simply capturing what goes down in crime-ridden areas. In Chicago, for example, these high-tech surveillance systems have been programmed to discern if a truck keeps circling the same building or if loiterers are present. Chicago calls its new surveillance network Operation Virtual Shield. Once completed, the network of thousands of still and video cameras will capture indisputable evidence of crime and should help deter it as well. Turn to “Advanced Surveillance Networks,” on Page 10, for the inside scoop.

Safeguarding citizens also extends to emergency-notification systems, but in that regard, citizens say government could do much better. Not surprisingly, when asked to rate their city’s performance in alerting the public in emergency situations, one-third of citizens said they couldn’t rate their city because they didn’t have knowledge or experience of what government provided. Just over one-third (36 percent) rated their city as very strong or good when it came to emergency notifications.

Those figures come from a recent CDW•G survey of more than 1,400 residents in 20 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The majority of respondents turn to television broadcasts — 73 percent — and radio announcements — 59 percent — for local government emergency updates.

However, communicating via television and radio requires citizens to tune in for updates, as opposed to “always on” forms of communication, such as cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Yet only a small percentage of city residents report getting emergency updates online — 14 percent — or via the telephone or text message — 14 percent. E-mail comes in at 10 percent.

Subscriptions to wireless Internet services and the use of text messaging from a cell phone have seen explosive growth, especially in younger age brackets. Three-fourths of Americans with cell phones have text-messaging capability, and according to CDW•G’s survey, 45 percent of respondents believe text messaging is a convenient way to send and receive information.

Just as cities, such as New York and Chicago, have placed their video-surveillance nets first in high profile and high crime areas, tuning into new media seems like an important focus for emergency communications. Luckily, a number of cities understand the communication needs of their residents. For those cities most highly ranked for their outreach efforts (and for more on the survey), turn to Strategy & Innovation, on Page 4.

Lee Copeland, Editor in Chief