Afton Terry oversees parking citations for the city of Long Beach, Calif., which now uses a faster, simpler Samsung Galaxy for tickets.

Apr 08 2019

Versatile Mobile Devices Speed Up Work for Local Officials in the Field

Public safety and fire personnel tout the capabilities of small, intuitive mobile terminals that provide support wherever their jobs take them.

Nobody likes being on the wrong end of a parking ticket. But citizens in Long Beach, Calif., can take solace in the fact that their citations are more accurate and accessible than ever, now that the city has replaced its aging Motorola handheld citation units with 63 new Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphones

According to the eCitation Coalition, an industry trade group, electronic ticketing can reduce errors by 50 percent while increasing city revenues by 30 percent or more. But e-citations are just one use for mobile field devices. 

First responders around the country are also using them to keep track of personnel, map locations and share data in real time during emergency scenarios. Using handheld technology helps city and state agencies gain efficiencies, increase accuracy and integrate information more easily with state networks and databases, says Amy Hille Glasscock, a senior policy analyst with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers

“A big benefit is one-stop data entry,” she says. “They don’t have to write something down on paper and then go to their office and enter it into a database later, because it all just syncs up. Fewer steps means fewer opportunities to make mistakes or miss a required field on a form.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how New York City’s child protective staff use tablets to better manage investigations.

Smartphones Deliver Better and Speedier Services

In Long Beach, the 6.2-inch Android devices are faster and easier to use, and they feature high-resolution color cameras, says Afton Terry, acting supervisor for the Long Beach Commercial Services Bureau’s parking unit. 

“The pictures taken by the device are clearer, sharper and in color,” Terry adds. “The enhanced software features have also simplified the use and management of each agency’s citations.” Through software, citations are now automatically entered into the city’s database, instead of taking overnight. The new procedure offers benefits for Long Beach residents despite the misfortune of getting a parking ticket. 


Percentage of first responders who suffered a communications problem during an emergency over the past two years

Source: Zinwave, “In-Building Public Communication Survey,” February 2018

“Citizens no longer have to wait 24 hours for the information to be processed, which means they can contest a citation as soon as they receive the ticket,” Terry says. “They can also make their payments on the same day.”

And if a citation is challenged, the Samsung’s 12-megapixel cameras give the city more information to respond to citizens’ questions.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how Hawaii reaps the benefits of going paperless! 

Eaton County, Mich., First Responders Deploy Ruggedized Devices 

First responders in Eaton County, Mich., rely on a combination of ruggedized handhelds and laptops. Eaton County has currently deployed 105 Panasonic public safety devices, ranging from Toughpad FZ-G1 tablets to Toughbook CF-31 and CF-54 notebooks, says Nathan Nighbert, network and PC administrator for Eaton County Technology Services

All the devices run on the county’s Mobile Computer Terminal software, allowing them to receive and respond to 911 calls, he says. Aside from that, however, they’re employed in unique ways by each agency. Some law enforcement agencies use them for e-citations or electronic crash reports, he says. Meanwhile, fire inspectors use them to map the location of buildings and fire hydrants.

Each Windows 10 device is secured using anti-virus software, encrypted data vaults and VPN connections across the Verizon 4G LTE network, Nighbert says. But otherwise, they do not run off-the-shelf commercial software.

“We keep the devices dedicated to public safety,” Nighbert says. “In a time of need, we don’t want ‘Minecraft’ or ‘Candy Crush’ causing problems.”

The main benefits these ruggedized devices bring are reliability and durability, he adds. Since the first units were deployed in 2013, several have logged more than 50,000 hours in the field, and one has topped 75,000 hours. And that, in turn, helps the county save thousands of dollars in support, maintenance and replacement costs.

“These machines are crazy reliable and designed extremely well,” Nighbert says. “The hinges on the laptops do not wear out. Screens are designed for years and years of use. The hard drives have heaters on them, because the cars are parked outside in the cold overnight. Fire trucks, police cars and ambulances are turned off when they get back to the station, but our computers are on 24/7/365.”


Tablets Increase Situational Awareness for Firefighters 

Fighting fires in rugged, mountainous terrain can be chaotic and fraught with danger. But things have become a little bit safer now that Northern Lakes Fire District has mounted Zebra XSlate R12 tablets in some of its trucks, says Pat Riley, District 1 director for the Idaho Fire Chiefs Association.

Prior to installing the ruggedized 12-inch Windows tablets, NLFD would dispatch crews by pager or radio. Firefighters would use paper maps and GPS systems to locate the scene of the emergency. Headquarters would keep track of personnel on the scene using “passport” tags attached to each firefighter’s uniform. And an on-scene incident commander would update his or her status via radio to personnel at the station, who manually entered the information. 

Now, mapping software running on the R12s displays the optimal route to the scene. First responders get information in real time as the dispatcher types it. Incident command software allows them to track engines on the scene.

“It’s much quicker, more accurate and does not allow for essential information to get lost in translation,” Riley says. “What we’re doing with these terminals has greatly improved safety and accountability.”

Like the radios and firefighting equipment inside each fire truck, simplicity and reliability are crucial. Riley likes how the R12s are very intuitive and user friendly.

“When I pick up the radio, I want to be able to talk on it and have someone hear me,” Riley says. “When I pick up a computer, I want it to work and do what I need it to do. I don’t want to have to try and figure out why it’s not working.

Photography by John Davis

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