Civic Tech Roundup: November 23, 2016

Seattle happenings

  • Check out yesterday’s recap of the Code for America Summit, a collaborative effort from Seattle IT, Seattle Police Department, and the Mayor’s Innovation Team. We continue to explore how we can bring more user-centered design to the services we provide as a city and the technology we use to support them.
  • Startup Week Seattle was as energetic as ever. For the first time, we presented a civic & social impact track with 5 events – three with City involvement. Approximately 150 people attended our events on edtech, civic tech, and inclusive design. Special thanks again to all our speakers and congratulations to all the successful track organizers, which focused on everything from “real talk” on diversity in tech to the evolving AR/VR landscape. Check out this recap of the civic startups panel on StateScoop and explore all the events and companies at seattle.startupweek.co.
  • On November 9, Open Seattle launched a new meetup, OpenIDEO, focused on user-centered design and design thinking. You do not have to have technical skills to participate. For more on this meetup or to attend the next event on December 7, visit the new outpost’s Meetup page.
  • Love Seattle? Love tech? You have until November 30 to apply to be an organizer of Open Seattle.

National news

  • A new app called Nexar is crowdsourcing traffic data in San Francisco and New York. The app is free; the company has $14.5 million in backing, with a business model around monetizing crowdsourced data. The founders say this data has value for insurance companies now and the makers of autonomous vehicles later. (GovTech)
  • The City of San Rafael has implemented a just-launched tool called ProudCity Service Center that embeds directly into Facebook, allowing users to find information, make payments, submit service requests, and provide feedback all from a simple initial interface. (GovTech)
  • Is the future of open data open source? A new product from GIS company Boundless believes so, switching up the traditional gov-SaaS business model, around licensing for individual users, to a model more focused on providing central support for agencies that operate at scale. It’s worth keeping an eye on as the civic tech sector and government in general wrestle with the tradeoffs between open-source and proprietary software. (GovTech)

New tools

  • Escape Your Bubble, a Chrome extension that interrupts your Facebook news feed with clearly marked stories from “the other side” (you can choose whether you wish to better understand Republicans or Democrats) is just one of several civic-minded apps and offline efforts to emerge in the immediate aftermath of the election. In “Coders Think They Can Burst Your Filter Bubble With Tech,” Emily Dreyfuss lists them all. (Wired)
  • Pittsburgh’s new Burgh’s Eye View app is an open-source tool that displays geocoded open data about service requests, arrests, code violations, and more. (CityInspired)

Must-reads
Is civic tech partisan? Harvard Kennedy School’s David Eaves says it can’t be. Code for America Founder Jen Pahlka says it fundamentally isn’t. FedScoop asked both sides of the aisle. Everyone seems to agree that good government technology isn’t a partisan issue – but 18F has taken a stand in small ways on things like gender and racial equality, and the civic tech movement is fundamentally oriented around the notion that government should be accountable to people. It’s unclear whether those values will carry forward, and there’s an active debate among thought leaders as to where the work can and should go from here.

  • In “Looking Forward: How Civic Technology Can Bridge the Divide,” AppCityLife CEO Lisa Abeyta urges civic technologists to stay focused on tangible outcomes. She writes: “We must continue to develop and share the technology and tools that can deliver better self-service access to the information and services we need within our own communities, urban or rural, that empower us to make informed decisions, interact with our government, and improve our own economic mobility.” (Inc.)
  • 18F’s Noah Kunin says he’s staying to work for Trump.”My oath to this country was not to a particular office, or person, and certainly not to a political party. It was to the Constitution and to the people (emphasis added)” (Medium)
  • Civic tech, government tech, and urban tech are often used interchangeably, but to many in the fields, they are not the same thing. In a post-election essay, “How Civic Tech Should Respond to Our New Reality,” Personal Democracy Media/Personal Democracy Forum founder Andrew Rasiej urges the civic tech community to stay focused on equity, even when that is perceived as political. “If [civic tech] is to ever fulfill its promise,” he writes, “our field must become a champion for decency, equity, and openness, and to do everything it can to fight bigotry, racism, and hate. The fear of openly talking about these subjects at Summit makes me also fear that the civic tech community has not yet developed enough to know when to recognize the difference between partisanship and an existential threat.” (Civicist)

On the horizon

  • From 911 to 311 to crisis hotlines, governments operate a lot of call centers. But could any of those services be automated? What about gamified? In “The Future of 311 could be weird,” David Dudley writes, “The ultimate goal, many 311 experts say, is to allow cities to forge a frictionless and spookily immersive e-commerce kind of relationship with its residents, complete with the ability to predict their wants and needs.” Quoting Andrew Nicklin from the Johns Hopkins Center for Government Excellence: “In an ideal universe, your interaction with government would be so seamless you don’t even know it’s government.” That ideal may not be far away. (CityLab)

Upcoming events

Community events with a civic tech component:

  • Wednesday, November 30, 7-8:30 pm @ University of Washington Kane Hall: “My Politics as a Technologist,” featuring civic technology legends Terry Winograd and Alan Borning. Free. (RSVP)
  • Wednesday, December 7, 6:00-9:00 pm @ Impact Hub Seattle: OpenIDEO meetup about civic engagement and employment in the age of automation. Free. (RSVP)
  • Wednesday, December 14, 6:00-9:00 pm @ Socrata: “Designing Open Seattle’s Role in Civic Tech Post-Election.” Free. (RSVP)
  • Wednesday, January 25, 10:00-11:30 am @ Impact Hub Seattle: “Community Cross-Pollinators: Technology + Social Impact.” Free. (RSVP)

If you’d like to suggest events or content, please email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

Center for Digital Government Names Seattle Digital Cities Survey Winner

cdg16-digcities-winner-image_300x250The Center for Digital Government (CDG) today announced the winners of the 2016 Digital Cities Survey. Now in its 15th anniversary year, the annual survey recognizes cities using technology to improve citizen services, enhance transparency and encourage citizen engagement.  Seattle held steady at fourth place, the ranking it also received last year.

Seattle Information Technology (Seattle IT) was recognized for its recent consolidation. The new department is made up of 650 staff members that once worked across 15 city agencies and aims to create efficiencies and capacity for tech projects.

Other accomplishments include: the launch of a mobile-responsive website, a customer relationship management system to improve communications with residents and a data analytics platform for the police department. Efforts to work with the city’s tech community include the hiring of a civic technology advocate to engage with those individuals, a Hack the Commute program that developed prototype apps to help solve transportation issues, and a partnership with Code for America on the development of a crisis intervention app to connect people in need with social services.

In addition, an in-house innovation team is working on data-driven solutions to challenges in Seattle. While an open data program has been in place since 2010, the city’s “open by preference” policy was signed in February and calls on department heads to name “open data champions” to spearhead the release of information.  And for monitoring IT performance, Seattle developed TechStat, which is modeled off programs like the New York City Police Department’s CompStat, to facilitate internal transparency and monitor metrics for operations and projects.

Happy Cyber Security Awareness Month

October is National Cyber Security Month. How will you celebrate?

Seattle IT put together some simple, proactive steps to protect personal, medical, financial, and other sensitive information online.

Take these steps to prevent misuse, abuse, and unauthorized disclosure of your information.

• Regularly review and set security and privacy settings for online accounts to your comfort level. Be aware how much you are sharing and with whom. Be sure to do the same for accounts of children and vulnerable family members.

• Keep application, system, and firmware up to date on all PCs, smartphones, and tablets. Software patches and updates often include bug fixes and enhancements to protect against viruses and vulnerabilities.

• Install anti-virus/malware software on all devices, and keep it updated.

• Enforce the use of strong passwords, passphrases, or PINs to access all accounts, devices, and access points. Many devices and online accounts offer additional authentication options (such as Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, and others) where, in addition to your password, a second authentication step can be used as an added layer of security (such as sending an access code via text message, a biometric check such as fingerprint, or a hardware token).

Cyber Security Awareness Month proclamation

Civic Tech Roundup: October 12, 2016

Seattle happenings

  • Yesterday, the Seattle Trails Alliance released a new app for iOS called Seattle Trails. The app, which got its start at the AT&T Mobile Parks & Rec Hackathon back in March, shows precise locations of trails in Seattle Parks as well as what kind of trail they are–gravel, bridge, paved, trail–and allows users to give feedback directly in the app. The app was developed by volunteers led by Eric Mentele, Theodore Abshire, and David Wolgemuth, with support from Seattle Parks Trails Manager Chukundi Salisbury. Thanks to volunteer Craig Morrison, an Android version is also in development. Ironically, on my way to the event yesterday, I followed Google Maps rather than the Seattle Trails app and found myself at a private “trailhead” I would have had to spend hours bushwhacking to get up to the real trailhead for the St. Mark’s Greenbelt. Next time, I’ll use the app! You can download it here.
  • Rebekah Bastian, VP of Product at Zillow, wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post, “How Tech Communities Can Create Social Change.” She shares the steps she took to learn about homelessness before designing a solution and then highlights the Community Pillar program that emerged, through which 20,000 landlords and property managers have signed up to rent to people who might not otherwise find housing in the Seattle market. “We in the tech community have a unique opportunity to use our skills, resources and passion to create change,” she writes. “And with that opportunity comes responsibility – responsibility to better the communities that are supporting our growth.”
  • In “Seattle’s Virtual Road to Transcendence,” Seattle Weekly explores how our city’s VR/AR developers are breaking ground by going beyond traditional gaming to applications of virtual and augmented reality with potential to “radically transform psychology, medicine, therapy, education, policy-making, social and environmental justice, storytelling, and, ultimately, the limits of human consciousness and perception.”
  • Last weekend, at Zoohackathon at the Woodland Park Zoo, hackers took on various challenges related to wildlife trafficking, including product identification, fundraising for conservation organizations, gaming to raise public awareness of the issue, and, for the winning app, using crowdsourced data to identify the reasons for loss of orangutan habitat. As part of the event, hackers got to meet several of the Zoo’s “animal ambassadors,” experience a night tour, and attend Brew at the Zoo. This was the first global Zoohackathon, with six cities around the world participating. Check out the pre-event story on NPR and summaries in GeekWire and the Zoo’s blog.

 

National news

 

New tools

 

Must-reads

  • Civic technology is breaking out of the GovTech world: TechCrunch published “Creating a New Architecture of Government through Tech and Innovation,” a summary of more than 50 interviews conducted by Harvard’s Hollie Gilman and Georgetown’s Jessica Gover. They conclude: “Building a twenty-first-century government requires a governance structure that enables an internal ecosystem of innovation that invests in technology, better use of data, and partnerships that can measure and deliver results.” Their full report, “The Architecture of Innovation: Institutionalizing Innovation in Federal Policymaking” (launched at the Oct 6 event mentioned above), is well worth a read.
  • The Center for Open Data Enterprise published a new report based on a series of roundtables organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy earlier this year. The report addresses key issues in open data, including privacy, data quality, sharing research data, and public-private collaboration. Read the full report or check out this summary in the Huffington Post.
  • This is a must-listen rather than a must-read. In “Blame Game,” episode 8 of the Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell breaks down the Toyota “sudden acceleration” scandal that resulted in the recall of 10 million vehicles due to mistrust of the cars’ technology. Spoiler alert: The technology was not to blame. The story has insights for consumers as well as policymakers struggling to understand how technology works and how to ensure it serves the public interest.

 

On the horizon

 

Upcoming events 

Events with official City involvement: 

Community events with a civic tech component:

If you’d like to suggest events or content, please email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

Civic Tech Roundup: September 28, 2016

Welcome to the Civic Tech Roundup! If you’d like to suggest content, please email us at civic.tech@seattle.gov.

 

Seattle happenings

 

National news

  • Paris hosted a Smart Cities exhibition this week, showcasing high-impact initiatives from all over the world. DevEx wrote up an overview of four of them: Missing Maps (filling in gaps in data on Open Street Map), CoCity, Smart Favela, and One Heart Spots. Read it here.
  • San Francisco’s Startup-in-Residence program (STiR) just had its demo day, featuring teams that worked with 6 different city agencies to improve their work. Learn more about the teams and watch the entire demo day event.
  • Two investors in Chicago just launched a new $15 million startup fund for civic technology startups called Ekistic Ventures. Read about the effort or visit their site.

 

New tools

  • The Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development created a Displacement Alert Project Map for New York City “designed to show where residential tenants may be facing significant displacement pressures and where affordable apartments are most threatened,” building by building. Explore the map or read about the project.
  • Mississippi’s Secretary of State released a new tool called Y’all Vote. Read GovTech’s summary or check it out.
  • A new open source tool from Chicago called Chi Safe Path allows anyone to report hazards on sidewalks and public walkways – and the data goes directly to the City of Chicago’s 311 services. See it here.

 

Must-reads

  • In “Discrimination by Design,” ProPublica journalist Lena Groeger explores how discrimination shows up in the design of everything from Snapchat filters to the height of overpasses. It’s a must-read for anyone who designs systems, including government officials and technologists who aim to do civic good.
  • Krzysztof Madejski from Code for Poland and and Transparan-CEE wrote an excellent overview of legislative monitoring tools, “Monitoring and Engaging with Democratic Processes.” The article focuses on Central & Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Eurasia, but has insights for anyone exploring legislative transparency.
  • MySociety’s Myfanwy Nixon shared her organization’s process for recruiting and selecting new trustees in “Recruiting for Diversity: This much we know.” She explains why diversity matters for their organization, how they have attempted to address it, and invites feedback from anyone who has ever considered not applying to a job there for related reasons. They key takeaway: “Where there is no strategy, it allows a status quo to prevail.”
  • Fast Company‘s CoExist blog dove into “The Different Paths Los Angeles and San Francisco Are Taking to Spur Civic Innovation,” highlighting the two city government’s different approaches to engaging startups to improve government services. The key takeaway: There’s no right answer, but “cities need to innovate how they function internally even as they forge external partnerships with startups, tech companies, and private sector professionals, who are bringing in valuable, new ideas to innovate public services.”

 

On the horizon
Civic tech is not as much about technological innovation as it is about applying cutting-edge technologies to the important civic and social questions of our time. I’m adding this section as a way to share breakthroughs that could quickly have applications in civic tech. Let me know what you think!

  • “One of these days, the walls may know when you’re happy, sad, stressed or angry.” That’s the lede from a recent Wall Street Journal article about new technology from MIT called EQ-Radio, which uses an extremely lo-fi radio system to detect physiological changes in the bodies in a room that indicate a change of mood. Said one of the researchers, Dr. Dina Katabi, “All of us share so much in how our emotions affect our vital signs … We get an accuracy that is so high that we can look at individual heartbeats at the order of milliseconds.”

 

Upcoming events 

Events with official City involvement: 

Community events with a civic tech component:

Seattle Channel wins national Excellence in Government Programming award

seattle channel logoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 27, 2016

Contact: Lori Patrick, Seattle Channel Communications

lori.patrick@seattle.gov, (206) 733-9764

 City-operated TV station wins 15 awards in national competition

SEATTLE— Seattle Channel was named the best municipal television station in the nation when it received the prestigious Excellence in Government Programming award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) at the group’s annual meeting held in Austin, Texas, last week.

Additionally, the city-operated station won 13 government programming awards, including five first-place wins for programming as well as a first-place award for its use of social media.

NATOA honors excellence in broadcast, cable, multimedia and electronic programming produced by local government agencies. This year, NATOA received more than 850 entries submitted in 67 categories by local governments across the country.

“Seattle Channel is an important resource,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “The station’s in-depth programming provides transparency and accountability in city government, sparks civic engagement and helps deepen understanding of local issues and Seattle’s diverse communities.”

This is Seattle Channel’s seventh NATOA win in 10 years for programming excellence. Seattle Channel competed against other government-access TV stations in large U.S. cities. The station was recognized with the top government-programming award in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015.

“Seattle Channel continues to be the highest standard in local government programming,” said Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell. “I am proud of what Seattle Channel does every day in providing transparent and informative programming connecting our residents to the city’s civic, cultural and community events.”

Seattle Channel programs that won first-place awards include the public-affairs program City Inside/Out with Brian Callanan; the showcase of Seattle’s creative scene Art Zone with Nancy Guppy; Civic Cocktail, civic conversations with a twist; and Community Stories, which features documentaries about Seattle’s inspiring people, programs and cultural traditions.

“Our staff is committed to building strong, engaged and inspired communities through compelling content and quality production,” said John Giamberso, Seattle Channel general manager. “It’s an honor to receive this recognition from our national peers in local government.”

Here is a listing of Seattle Channel’s 2016 NATOA awards:

Excellence in Government Programming

First Place

Public Affairs: City Inside/Out – Homelessness http://www.seattlechannel.org/CityInsideOut/episodes?videoid=x61637

Interview/Talk Show: Civic Cocktail http://www.seattlechannel.org/CivicCocktail/episodes?videoid=x61635

Arts and Entertainment: Art Zone with Nancy Guppy http://www.seattlechannel.org/ArtZone/episodes?videoid=x62379

Profile of a City/County Department: CityStream – Solar in Seattle

http://www.seattlechannel.org/explore-videos?videoid=x55663

Documentary: Community Stories – Massive Monkees: The Beacon http://www.seattlechannel.org/CommunityStories?videoid=x62211

Use of social media: Seattle Channel communications/web team

 

Second Place

Ethnic Experience: Community Stories – An American Hero: Shiro Kashino http://www.seattlechannel.org/CommunityStories?videoid=x59988

Profile of a City/County Department: CityStream – City of Seattle Paid Parental Leave and Gender Pay Equity http://www.seattlechannel.org/explore-videos?videoid=x60344

Public Education: Citizen University TV – Democracy Vouchers

http://www.seattlechannel.org/CitizenUniversityTV?videoid=x62151

Editing: Seattle Channel production staff

 

Third Place

Election Coverage: City Inside/Out – Council Elections (District 3 Debate)

http://www.seattlechannel.org/CityInsideOut/episodes?videoid=x58520

Visual Arts: Art Zone with Nancy Guppy—Show Open http://www.seattlechannel.org/artZone?videoid=x67963

Magazine Format Series: CityStream http://www.seattlechannel.org/feature-shows/citystream

Honorable Mention Seniors: CityStream – Senior Self Defense http://www.seattlechannel.org/explore-videos?videoid=x57404

Seattle Channel is a local TV station that reflects, informs and inspires the community it serves. Seattle Channel presents programs on cable television – channel 21 on Comcast (321 HD) and Wave (721 HD) – and via the Internet to help residents connect with their city. Programming includes series and special features highlighting the diverse civic and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest’s premier city.

Proposed Seattle Information and Technology Budget 2017-2018

A Message from City of Seattle’s Chief Technology Officer: 

Today Mayor Murray presented his proposed 2017-18 Budget to the City Council.

This has been a year of transition for the City’s technology functions and staff. The creation of the Seattle Information Technology Department (Seattle IT) provided an opportunity to create the City’s first unified technology budget and provided clarity into IT spending. Creating this budget is no small feat – it required merging 16 budgets into one, coordinating with finance staff from across departments to clarify and align disparate accounting treatments, and standing up a new financial management tool. While many of the methods remained the same, the 2017-18 Seattle IT budget proposal will represent a clean start for how we manage technology spend.

This first consolidated budget is aligned with five strategic priorities that will help advance Seattle IT’s ability to deliver on its objectives and advance technology across the City.

  • System and service maturity. Many of Seattle IT’s services have not evolved at the same pace as the technology advances of the past decade, nor are investments being made to automate service delivery or improve service levels. Focusing on service and system maturity will lower ongoing operational costs and improve the customer experience. The proposed budget includes funding to ensure the City maintains an acceptable level of security and can be more proactive in responding to security threats. It also adds resources to improve the City’s identity management and mobility service offerings – key components in maturing our application and infrastructure operations.
  • Smart, data-driven City. Data has the potential to drive innovation and efficiency, improving both our quality of life and economic productivity.  Unlocking the promise of a smart, data-driven city requires a focus on data governance, consistent tools that facilitate cross-department collaboration, and educating the public on how to leverage the City’s resources. In the 2017-2018 proposed budget, projects such as Seattle Police Department’s data analytics platform and the Human Services Department data-to-decisions database will help those departments make data-driven decisions to improve their services. In addition, investments in our civic technology, open data, and business intelligence programs will allow the City to engage the public and collaborate on solutions that improve our quality of life.
  • Digital Equity. Internet access and the skills necessary to be successful online are vitally important to Seattle residents. In 2016 the City put forth specific strategies and actions, developed by our community-led Digital Equity Action Committee, to bridge this digital divide.  The Initiative is one part of the Mayor’s broadband strategy to increase access, affordability, and public-private-community partnerships. The proposed budget includes additional positions to deliver on our digital equity strategies. In addition, the Mayor’s Youth Participatory budget program allocated funds to increase the number of Wi-Fi hotspots available through the Seattle Public Library’s checkout program, increasing the number of homes that will have internet access.
  • Public experience. Technology can greatly improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of government services by facilitating, automating, and streamlining interactions among the public, government employees, service providers, and other stakeholders. The proposed budget includes funding to expand the use of a customer engagement and relationship system and a new grant application system to improve the City’s engagement with the public. The budget also expands the Citywide web team.
  • Optimization. Seattle IT was created to increase the value delivered from the City’s information technology investment. Shared IT functions provide common strategy, structure and key enterprise services across City government.  Through funding in the proposed 2017-18, we will continue to optimizing the department’s structure and change how the City develops and operates applications. We will also continue to invest in enterprise architecture, business relationship management, resource management, and project portfolio management.

 

In total, the 2017 Proposed Operating Budget for Seattle IT is $203 million with another $42 million in our Capital Improvement Program. Read the Mayor’s budget speech at http://murray.seattle.gov/.

 

I’m proud of our Seattle IT team for all of their achievements in our first six months working together as a new department and excited for what we will achieve through Mayor Murray’s proposed 2017-18 budget. Together we will deliver powerful technology solutions for the City and public we serve.

 

Sincerely,

Michael Mattmiller, CTO

 

David Doyle is the City’s New Open Data Program Manager

David Doyle, Open Data Program Manager

David Doyle, Open Data Program Manager

David Doyle has been hired as the Open Data Program Manager for the City of Seattle. David will work alongside the current manager, Bruce Blood, who will be retiring in January. He will primarily focus on continuing the implementation of the Open Data policy signed by Mayor Ed Murray on February 1, 2016. This work involves coordinating efforts across all city departments to accelerate the publishing of high value datasets into http://data.seattle.gov. He’ll also partner closely with the City’s Community Technology Advocate, Candace Faber, on initiatives that strengthen Open Data’s role as a key pillar in the City’s Civic Engagement strategy, as well as participating in various efforts to represent and promote the City of Seattle as a leading Smart City in the US.

Prior to joining the City of Seattle, David worked at Microsoft for over 18 years within the Windows localization and internationalization teams. Most recently he ran a Data Insights team that focused on Windows 10 worldwide customer data, analyzing data from hundreds of millions of customers to provide insights into customer usage patterns outside of the US and ensuring that key customer feedback from those markets was prioritized and addressed. Prior to that role, he managed test teams that focused on assuring the localization quality of several major releases of the Windows operating system in over 100 languages, culminating with the Windows 10 initial release in July 2015.

David’s passion for Open Data resulted in him completing a policy analysis of the impacts of an Open Data Law for Washington State for his Capstone research project when earning a Master of Arts in Policy Studies from University of Washington-Bothell, in 2015. He is an active member of the eGov Committee, a sub-committee of Seattle’s Community Technology Advisory Board (CTAB), which advises and supports the City on technology initiatives. David also holds an Master of Science in Technology Management from University College Dublin, Ireland, and a Bachelor of Science in Applied Sciences (Computer Science & Physics) from the Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland.

Open Data Playbook Now Available

Seattle IT staff and members of the community stand behind Mayor Ed Murray as he signs an Executive Order in support of the City's new open data policy on February 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of Colin Wood.

Seattle IT staff and members of the community stand behind Mayor Ed Murray as he signs an Executive Order in support of the City’s new open data policy on February 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of Colin Wood.

Want to know how Seattle’s open data program is managed? Curious how we get from policy to action? Check out our newly published open data playbook here, also linked to from seattle.gov/opendata.

The playbook is a guide for City staff on how to implement the open data policy and executive order that were issued in February 2016. We are making it available to the general public as well, based on demand for this information from other cities as well as from members of the community.

This document is in Portable Document Format, but please consider the content open-source: You may use or reuse any language or images you find helpful, with the exception of the City’s official logo. We plan to update the document as needed based on feedback from users inside the City as well as any changes we make to the program’s management over time.

If you have feedback for the open data team on this playbook or any other questions about the program, you can reach us at open.data@seattle.gov.

Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle Information Technology Partner to Give Watershed Radio Communications a Boost

picture of radio communications

Cedar River Watershed

By Brian Mikelson, SPU Public Relations Specialist (article originally appeared on SPU InWeb)

At Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), safety is always top of mind. For field employees, this means following certain protocols to avoid hazards and reduce the chances that an accident will occur. Less obvious, but just as important, is the role of reliable radio communications.

For much of Seattle Public Utilities’ service area, especially where population density is high, the radio communication system functions extremely well. This is not always the case in the Cedar River Watershed, where SPU staff and contractors are working on the Chester Morse Lake Pump Plant (MLPP) project. A lack of existing infrastructure and interference from the Cascade Mountains make communications difficult. SPU has long recognized the need to install better communications capabilities should the MLPP crew need to reach the Cedar Falls office or other crews in the event of a hazardous materials spill or an accident involving personnel. Thanks to a strong One Team effort from SPU and other City departments, a more reliable system is finally at hand.

Plans for getting a permanent communications system installed have been in the works for some time. Earlier this spring, SPU was close to finalizing a deal to lease space on a radio site in the Rattlesnake Ledge area, which the department does not own. Just weeks before the system was to be installed, the landlord became totally unresponsive, and SPU had to scramble. Ultimately, staff from the SPU Watershed Protection and Operations teams, SPU Emergency Management group, and City of Seattle IT department were able to work together to come up with a viable solution.

Traditionally, the infrastructure necessary for radio communication includes a tower, power source, and structure to house electronics, but none of these exist on site at Chester Morse Lake.

“We wanted to use tools that were already in place without overburdening the staff,” says Ned Worcester, head of SPU’s Emergency Management team. “With the help of Seattle IT and our engineering consultant, we did some computer modeling to determine viable radio sites, and the watershed staff validated them for access and maintenance potential.”

Next, Emergency Management set to the task of finding existing equipment to install on the chosen site. They rounded up radio equipment provided by Seattle IT, including an outdoor equipment cabinet salvaged from the roof of a Seattle Fire Department station. Seattle IT tested the equipment, mounted an antenna, and transported everything to the Watershed. SPU Watershed staff then delivered everything to the chosen site.

All that remained was finding a viable power source to run the equipment. Initially, the watershed team utilized four car batteries, hauling two at a time to the site. But the batteries had to be swapped out every day for charging, which required several hours of labor.

To save time and money, SPU began exploring alternatives. Emergency Management asked Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) staff for ideas. They proposed solar and secured bids from contractors, but all required too much manufacturing lead time.

Eventually, Watershed Operations staff came up with the idea for a thermo-electric generator (TEG). SPU owned two TEGs that were previously used for instream flow monitoring. The TEG utilizes propane to heat up platinum wire that produces electricity. Operations staff removed one of the TEGs from storage to fire up, configure, and transport to the remote site, along with a 500-gallon propane tank.

Additionally, the new radio channel had to be programmed into all of the radios at Cedar Falls. This required coordination between the Seattle IT radio shop technicians and SPU Watershed Protection staff to round up and physically program all of the portable and vehicle radios.

In just three days, SPU’s teams retrieved the radio equipment and Seattle IT’s radio shop provided a repurposed cabinet to house the equipment on site, helped find radio channels, tested and programmed the equipment, and mounted the antenna. These efforts took place on a Friday and over the weekend, and represented additional work for all staff involved.

Thanks to the collective efforts of SPU and Seattle IT staff, ratepayers save money, watershed radio coverage is improved, and operations are now safer and more efficient.

“This was a quintessential One Team effort and an example of what it takes to maintain communications that keep our employees safe and operations running smoothly,” says Worcester. “Several departments worked together to assemble a pilot radio communications system that can be replicated each year. We’re already planning how to create a physical site to be deployed year-round or seasonally.”