FirstNet is a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders being built and deployed through a first of its kind public-private partnership. FirstNet was borne out of the September 11, 2001 tragedy where it became clear that the radio systems police, fire, and paramedics relied on did not easily operate across agencies. First responders also could not rely on land and mobile phone lines as they were overwhelmed by a high volume of calls. The 2004 9/11 commission report cited this lack of connectivity as a fundamental problem for first responders and pushed for solutions to be developed quickly to support everyday public safety activities as well as response to catastrophes.
The development of FirstNet began in 2012 when the First Responder Network Authority was established and a law was put in place that allocated 20 megahertz of spectrum and $7 billion to establish a broadband network dedicated to the nation's first responders. FirstNet was launched in 2018.
State and local agencies are home to some of the most innovative ideas in government. Their use of artificial intelligence (AI) is no exception. Localities are embracing AI as a way to make sense of all the data they hold to better understand how citizens are using their services and where gaps may exist. A survey from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released in the fall of 2019 found that 32% of those surveyed "strongly agreed" that AI and related technologies can help them meet citizen demands and improve operations. Specifically, the survey found that nearly 50% of respondents planned to use AI as a way to shift workers away from rote tasks and toward high-value activities.
Taking a look around the country, we see some interesting applications of AI at the state and local level.
From military missions to public safety applications to infrastructure inspections, drones have many applications across government. While the technology is ready for all of these applications (and more), there are complex regulatory and legal issues that are holding up their widespread use. These issues include airspace regulations (for the safety of manned and unmanned flights), privacy concerns (related to on-board cameras), and cybersecurity concerns.
While these issues are being discussed in the courts and across regulatory bodies, state and federal level agencies are taking steps to integrate drone usage into their processes. For federal agencies, drones are available on the GSA Schedule. State and local organizations are piloting a drone-as-a-service model that allows groups to use drones for specific-use cases without having to invest in the purchase and maintenance of the hardware.
There are a number of upcoming events that address both the technology and the policies that impact current and future drone usage. Continue reading →
The operating challenges around budgets, resources, and legacy technology we see at the Federal level are amplified at the state and local level. Just because these groups are responsible for a smaller population does not mean their problems are smaller. On the contrary, historically low staffing levels and a geographically-limited pool of talent feed into the core challenges that all government teams face.
Security - Securing systems and the data that lives on those networks is now seen as a focus beyond IT. Everyone plays a role in cybersecurity, and there is a real need to update systems and processes as well as educate users.
Innovation - Since teams are so busy with day-to-day operations, stepping back to foster innovation can be difficult. Many are finding ways to make the transformation work. In fact, some of the most innovative public sector programs are happening on the local level.
Managing change - Communication is key in implementing change within small, tight-knit teams. Participation in decision making ensures that new solutions meet the needs of the workforce as well as the citizens.
Finding time for training - All of the challenges above feed into an inability to make time for training and education to keep up with the rapidly evolving technology field. Continue reading →
Geospatial, as a strict term, means data that is related to a location. In the government space, Geospatial has been used interchangeably with GIS - or Geographic Information Systems - which refers to technology that uses geospatial data. GIS has long been a key technology for the military and intelligence communities to help map out and gain visibility into areas for combat or missions. But as the availability of geographic data grows through the use of GPS applications, drones, and IoT technologies, the use of GIS is expanding across government.
GIS is a key tool in disaster response helping overlay available resources and assets onto maps of areas impacted by floods or fires. It can also be used to map in real time the location of hazards such as downed power lines.
GIS is also being used by law enforcement. In one case, a boy had gone missing, suspected to be abducted. The boy posted a photo to Instagram and the image, taken from what seemed to be an apartment window, included a sign on a bank across the street. An analyst looked up branch locations and cross-referenced the addresses with online maps, but could not get a location that seemed to be a possible match. When they took that data and loaded it into a GIS system that took a top-down look at locations they were able to pinpoint the location of the child.
Urban sprawl and growth is also being managed with GIS. The city of Durham, NC uses aerial imagery to get a better look at changes being done to properties that impact land use, water runoff, and drainage.
There are several upcoming events focused on GIS as well as others that include discussion of the application of geospatial technology. Continue reading →