Friday, July 29, 2011

Looking for a handout

I note that this guy has been arrested for a much more serious offense.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Map happy

Most readers know that I am a bit of a GIS wonk.  I now have my hands on a new set of data, and a new range of questions.  Capt. Julio Talero is the GIS analyst at Lincoln Fire & Rescue, but I can’t help by dabbling a little myself on the weekends.  I leave the heavy lifting to him, but I can play a little, too.

In preparation for a meeting last week, I prepared a few simple slides for my iPad. Capt. Talero provided me with a set of four-minute travel time polygons.  Using ESRI’s ArcGIS and Network Analyst extension, he created these polygons, which represent coverage areas from each fire station within four minutes of hypothetical travel time: hypothetical because the method uses the speed limit of each street segment to perform the calculation.  In the real world, you don’t get a running start, your acceleration is not exactly like a Cobra 429, and there are plenty of motorists who either can’t hear your siren over their music, or freeze up in the inside lane.
This first map shows the location of the stations, and the four-minute polygon surrounding. There is a lot of overlap, and these 14 polygons are opaque: they are layered over or under the adjacent station’s four minute area. 

Overlap is good if it’s located in the right place: the areas where you are most likely to have a high volume of calls for service. If you want to have a reasonable response time to every address in the City, you have to consider both proximity to the fire station, AND the likelihood that the resources at that station are already committed.  In a busy area, the resources are more likely to be occupied elsewhere, so the response is not coming from the closest station anyway.  Here’s another map depicting the overlap areas:
In this map, each of the 14 polygons is shaded pink and semi-transparent.  As four-minute travel time areas overlap, the visual effect is that the color becomes more and more opaque—a hotter shade of pink.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Options abound

Monday night, the City Council voted to restore fire station 11 to the budget, a cut that I had proposed when Lincoln Fire & Rescue was facing the prospect of a major hit during the upcoming fiscal year.  Now that it’s back, we will be focusing on our study of the optimal way for us to use our existing resources.  The issue of how many stations Lincoln needs (and can afford) is not going away, and we need to be well-prepared to give our elected officials and citizens our best professional judgment.

This includes an examination of our existing facilities and our future needs.  Nothing is off the table, and there are many options that need to be considered.  The past few fire chiefs have stressed the need for one or two additional fire stations, and the first of those stations are in the City’s Capital Improvement Program (although without any funding source.)  I’m not so sure.  I’ll have to see that need myself before I sign up with the program.  It’s not that I can’t be convinced, but I need to make sure we consider the options.

The need for new fire stations has been predicated on the growth of Lincoln.  Since we occupied the newest station (14) in 1997, Lincoln has grown by 49,000.  That’s the equivalent of Nebraska’s third largest City, Grand Island, with Auburn thrown in to boot. Growth would certainly suggest the need for more fire stations and fire companies, but maybe we could accomplish quite a bit by relocating one or two existing stations, by relocating apparatus, by opening one or more medic-only stations, or by (heresy!) breaking apart an engine company and a truck company.  Maybe a combination produces the best return on investment: something like building one, moving two, and lighting up a medic-only station.

Fire stations aren’t cheap, but the real cost is not in the construction, it’s in the staffing.  You pay the contractor once; you pay the salaries and benefits every year. I don’t think it is likely that the checkbook will be thrown open, so we need to make the best investment of the dollars that become available. The key question is this: what provides the best result for the money?

Think about this for a moment:  when the need for elementary schools changed, Lincoln Public Schools did  more than just build more: they also moved.  Here’s a few former schools that have other uses now: Whittier, Bryan, Willard, Hawthorne, Bethany, and Hayward.  I’m probably forgetting a few.  For sure, they added schools, too, but they also moved to where the kids were.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Can this be accurate?

It's 2:21 AM.  You've just returned to bed after about a half-hour of  singing softly to a five year old with a touch of stomach flu. The sheets have been changed, and the washing machine is humming as you drift back to sleep, trying not to think of the 7:30 AM staff meeting where you are expected to make a brief presentation.  Suddenly, you are jarred--again--by the shouts and whoops and slamming car doors coming from across the street, where your new neighbors this year seem to have a perpetual parade of their closest 40 friends over for a few cases of beer three or four times a week.  This is getting very, very old.  

So, after suffering through these nights most of the year, picking up cans, cups, and bottles the next morning with depressing regularity, you finally call the police.  You know they've got other things to do, and you know that you tipped a few yourself when you were 21 or 22. You never wanted to be "that guy", but this has gotten ridiculous.  

That, readers, is a wild party disturbance complaint: incident code 12311, location code 81, with a default initial response of two units, priority three, code one.  As of midnight, we have dispatched police officers in Lincoln to 282 of these.  Usually, the call is the last straw in a situation like this that has been brewing over hours, if not months.  During the same time period last year, Januray 1 through July 21, we dispatched police officers to 519.  That's a pretty dramatic reduction by any standard.  But wait....

In 2005, from January 1 through July 21, Lincoln police officers were dispatched to 1,012 wild party disturbance complaints.  Could that really be accurate?  I double checked and checked again.  Are we missing a few months from the data? Does this query have a syntax error?  Apparently not. It is both accurate and remarkable. 

You can click the link in my label cloud to Party On. read about the trend and the strategies, and follow the emerging pattern over the four years I have published the Director's Desk.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hot or not?

I don't have to tell most Americans that it has been incredibly hot the last few days.  In Nebraska, we're talking 100 or better, with heat index readings in the 110-115 range.  There is not much relief at night, as the slight in temperature is offset by even higher humidity.

The stifling heat made me wonder about a topic I've blogged about on a few other occasions: the impact of weather.  It's been about the cold, previously, but now I'm interested in whether the same phenomenon applies to extreme heat.  Hot, or not?  I went back a month to the same days of the week during a milder week in June--the 19th, 20th, and 21st, when the high temperatures were in the 70s and 80s,and compared this to the past three days we have sweltered through: Sunday, July 17 through Tuesday, July 19.

               June       July
Sunday     306      312
Monday   369      389
Tuesday   341      359
Total       1016    1060

Not much of an impact apparent in this highly unscientific analysis. Here's the same data for Lincoln Fire & Rescue on the same dates:

               June      July
Sunday      53       57
Monday    67       49
Tuesday    56       63
Total       176      169

The impact of brutally cold weather upon our workload that is so obvious in our data does not, in this little comparison, seem to apply to extremely hot weather.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

P3i picking up momentum

The Lincoln Police Department’s location-based services application, P3i (Proactive Police Patrol information) is getting a little more attention around the dial these days.  Since my blog post back on June 14, the first public unveiling of the concept, we gave gotten a bit of news coverage and a feature-length article in the Police Chief, one of the most widely-read professional publications in the field.

The video has been getting a lot of hits, and inquiries have been coming in from other organizations and departments in such places as Illinois, California, Texas, Washington D.C., Virginia, and Kansas.  As the project continues, the research & development team from UNL and LPD will be working on interim reports, articles, a and a book chapter.  Conference presentations are also in the works. This weekend, some of our officers are going to be showing P3i to a few parole and probation officers—a field that I think is particularly ripe for the use of location-based services.  I’m interested if they will see the potential.

The feedback I’m getting from external sources has included glowing words such as “revolutionary”.  We shall see.  Sometimes things look good in development, but fall somewhat flatter in the real world.  That’s the purpose of the research phase of this project, but I am cautiously optimistic.  Remember, though, that this is “Version 1”.  Location-based services applications generally, including P3i, will continue to become more polished as time passes.

During the first 45 days of the  launch, the application gradually dribbled out in small groups to what was eventually 60 officers.  During that time, they reported 504 contacts or attempted contacts that would not have occurred but for P3i, resulting in 65 arrests and 92 Information Reports.  We are well into the second month now, and we are now fully deployed for the test. The last of the applications (a web app for our mobile data computers combined with a USB GPS puck) was checked off this week.  We now have 75 officers in the experimental group who have P3i on one of five different devices.  Their feedback will be far more significant than the impression of anyone who has read an article, attended a conference presentation, or watched an amateur youtube.  The jiggling camera and rattle, by the way, an intentional--like reality TV.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Closing Eleven

Mayor Beutler released his budget proposal yesterday for the upcoming fiscal year, 2011-2012.  There is a $9.3 million gap between revenue and the cost of producing exactly the same services next year as last year.  The Mayor proposes to fill that gap with a combination of further budget cuts and some relatively small tax increases.  As I mentioned last week, Lincoln is at a decision point: the easy cuts happened a long time ago, and from here on out, the cuts bring a certain amount of pain that Lincoln's citizens are going to have to face.

Among the more dramatic cuts is the Mayor's proposal to close Fire Station 11, which serves the Arnold Heights/Airpark neighborhood, home to around 5,000 residents and a thriving industrial/commercial area.  Geographically, this area is somewhat isolated from the rest of the City by a sprawling cold-war era nuclear bomber base that now serves as the Lincoln Municipal Airport, the Nebraska Air National Guard base, and a commercial/industrial tract.  The old airbase functions like a large lake: you can't drive through it, you've got to go around it. There is no bridge.

There are no hospitals in Airpark, no nursing homes, no drug treatment centers, no homeless shelters, nor any of the other major facilities that generate large numbers of fire and rescue calls.  As a result, Station 11 is something of the Maytag repairman of Lincoln Fire & Rescue, with slightly over 300 calls for service in 2010.  By way of comparison, the average of Lincoln's 14 fire stations is around 1,500, and the busiest station cracked 6,000 last year.

A bean-counter would immediately realize that from a strictly managerial standpoint, a fire station at the bottom of the list with a volume less than 25% of the average, and only half that of the next lowest station, is the logical cut. It's not, however, quite that easy.  Serving the residents and businesses in Airpark is going to be quite difficult without Station 11.  The next closes stations, 13 and 14, are all on the opposite side of the lake, and the travel time will increase by upwards of five minutes--into the 7-10 minute range.  Moreover, pulling those units from such a great distance has a persistent domino effect on their regular service areas: if Engine 13 responds to Airpark, it would now be more than five minutes out of position if something occurs in its normal service area.

Google "flashover" and "cardiac arrest" so you can see for yourself what the extra response times means.    The solution to the Station 11 dilemma might lie in re-configuring the location of fire stations in Lincoln.  Build a new firehouse further south, and Station 11 might be able to serve the growing workload along West O Street and Interstate 80, while still providing effective response to Airpark. We are presently engaged in a study to determine the potential impact of some strategic relocations like this in Lincoln.  This is a future solution, however, and the budget gap looms right now.

The quirky manner in which Lincoln developed is no one's fault.  The geography, however, puts public safety in a predicament.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Efficiency Comparison

PSAP stands for "Public Safety Access Point": a term-of-art in the emergency communications field that refers to the call center where the phone is answered when someone calls 911.  Lincoln's PSAP is the City of Lincoln Emergency Communications Center (popularly known as the 911 Center).  It is one of the three public safety entities that is now my responsibility. The 911 Center manager, Julie Righter, provided me with some interesting data that was collected by another midwest PSAP.  Julie knows that I'm something of a data hound, and I find it useful to compare with other service providers as a benchmark for how we are doing. In this comparison, Lincoln's center fares very well.  That's good: we want to continue to strive to provide good efficiency, and good value to the taxpayers.

I am intrigued by the metric of "Dispatchers per 911 Calls", where Lincoln ranks in the middle of the pack, while we are at the top in "Dispatchers per Administrative Calls."  I think this reflects an interesting difference in Lincoln.  Citizens in our community--more than most--understand that you only call 911 in an emergency, and have been conditioned to call the non-emergency number, 402.441.6000 in other circumstances.  A lot of communities struggle with this a great deal.  While our personnel still get some real doozies calling 911, on balance we have much less of a problem in this regard than most others.  Hence, we have a high number of co-called administrative calls in comparison to 911 calls.  That, too, is very good.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What a difference

Lincoln's fireworks ordinance was liberalized this year, basically to reflect the reality of what otherwise law-abiding citizens were really doing: shooting off a lot of inch-and-a-half firecrackers that were heretofore illegal. Insight of the new law, I wondered what would happen to the number of complaints the police receive about fireworks. Here's the data on Incident Code 12341-DISTURBANCE/FIREWORKS for the week running from 0001 on June 28th to 0500 on July 5th:

2011  -  319
2010  -  502
2009  -  501
2008  -  557
2007  -  572

That's a reduction of 40% in 2011 from the average of the preceding four years.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reality bites

Mayor Beutler held a news conference yesterday to break the bad news to the citizens of Lincoln: you are going to face some tough choices this year pertaining to the City budget.  Lincoln is facing a $9.3 million shortfall between the revenue coming in, and the cost of providing exactly the same services next year as we are providing today.  That's the reality, even if it bites.

We are far better off than most cities, but several years of plugging the budget gaps with one-time only funding sources has finally come home to roost.  Now, we are facing the gut-check: cut $9.3 million in services or find some additional revenue.  With a few small exceptions, the cuts from here on out will hurt.

Lincoln prioritizes its government programs into tiers, and all those programs and tiers are listed on the City's website.  In order to get $9.3 million, most all of the tier 3 programs and a good chunk of tier 2 would be gone: 60 neighborhood parks closed, all but one of the City swimming pools closed, a fire station closed and 12 firefighters laid off, 13 police officers and civilian support staff gone, public transportation slashed in half, three libraries shuttered, and so forth.  It would be brutal, but would leave intact the higher priority programs.

I've been around the block before, and I can predict what some of the reaction will be.  Some will accuse the Mayor of being alarmist, and accuse the City of laying out potential cuts of popular or high-profile services just to soften the public up for a tax increase.  If you think that's the case, visit the list yourself, and find the cuts you would propose that add up to $9.3 million.  Do not, however, try to pretend that you can fill this kind of gap by slashing the bookmobile and a smoking prevention program.

Someone told me today that we pay extra for red ambulances.  If it's more than a couple hundred bucks, I'd be the first to say "let's buy white." But we only buy six every ten years, so unless we're paying about $15 million each for that paint job, I don't think that's going to make a dent. Truth be told, the low-hanging fruit was plucked a long time ago.  While there may be an occasional expense that could be reduced in City government, these little bits and pieces will not add up to a hill of beans compared to the mound we are facing.

Anyone who thinks the City is crying wolf should Google "firefighter layoffs", "police officer layoffs", "park closings", "library closings", and you'll see that there are many cities around the United States doing just that to cope with their budget problems.  If citizens can live with the cuts, we will continue to deliver the best services we can with the resources we have. If they can't live with them, now is the time to say so.