Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Light in the sky

I am headed home from Vancouver, BC where I attended CITIG7, a conference sponsored by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada. I was their guest, and sang for my supper by making a presentation about location-based services at Tuesday's plenary session, followed by a more detailed workshop, in which I actually built a working LBS app for the fire service--right in front of the audience. Thank goodness everything worked, and both sessions were well-received.

At the beginning of the conference, Lance Valcour, the director of CITIG, encouraged attendees to join a conference tweetup, so what the heck--I posted a few tweets. Tough for a blogger like me to say anything meaningful in 140 characters, but I gave it a try. It proved to be a very good conference. I attended several sessions that were valuable, one of the most interesting about the use of social media in public safety. A session on wireless technology in emergency medicine was also quite intriguing. Above all, it was interesting to see police, fire, and EMS leaders gathered together in a joint conference--something I have never experienced I the United States.

Vancouver was beautiful. I would like to spend more time there someday. I snapped this photo Monday night from the sea wall at the foot of Burrard street, looking north across the harbor. The UFO in the sky is actually an illuminated ski area on a mountain in the distance. I had to ask: it was pretty confusing for a rube from the flatlands.

I told the audience that Vancouver reminded me a lot of Lincoln--except for the size, and the mountains, and the ocean, and the bay, and Stanley Park, and the weather, and the seafood, and the sea planes, and the yachts, and the skyscrapers.... In other words, everyone was friendly and welcoming everywhere I went, just like Lincoln.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fleet well managed

I was part of a budget meeting last Wednesday afternoon in which fleet managers Jim Chiles from the public works department, and Pat Wenzl from the police department briefed the Mayor on the status of our large and small fleets (respectively) and the plans for the upcoming biennial city budget. Vehicles, equipment, and fuel are a sizeable chunk of the City budget, and the Mayor wanted to be well informed of the status, issues, and plans relating to the City's fleet services, which range from dozens of string trimmers, to scores of police cruisers, to the big stuff: bucket trucks, snowplows, front-end loaders, and so forth.

These two managers did a great job in laying out the information relevant to our elected officials and decision-makers. The professionalism with which they are managing some of the City's most important and expensive assets is obvious. Kendall Warnock, Chief of Logistics at Lincoln Fire and Rescue was absent--in the middle of moving the fire department's maintenance facility from it's former location at 3rd and South Streets to the Municipal Services Center across town--but I am also impressed by his skill in management of the fire apparatus (among many other responsibilities.)

Rest assured that the three people managing the second-largest ticket on the City budget (the first is personnel) are professionals who have wide-angle vision, and are creatively implementing practices that minimize costs without impairing the level of service. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

I was a fifth grader at Rountree Elementary School in Springfield, Missouri, in Miss Luna's class on the second floor, when we learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. My primary recollection was my young teacher in tears. We watched television for the remainder of the afternoon.

Three days later, we watched the funeral. I recall watching Caroline and John, thinking that they were the same age as my younger sisters. Even as a ten year old, I was intrigued by the history of the riderless horse with empty boots backwards in the stirrups, and the caisson following, carrying the President's casket.

In my adult years, I visited President Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery twice, and also Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the site of the assassination. Standing at these locations causes a flood of memories and a wave of emotion, even for someone who was just a child at the time of these momentous events.

No one of my generation will ever forget precisely where they were on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, and on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wild west

One of my colleagues at the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department sent me this link yesterday, to a map application published by the Houston Chronicle. She knew I would be interested both in the subject matter--officer involved shootings--and the technique used by the newspaper in creating a simple and clever application with filters for querying the data. Making something like this would have been a huge and expensive undertaking just a few years ago. Now, you can do some incredible things in the GIS world quickly and with free or low cost software.

Many newspapers around the country are publishing web mapping applications, but this one from Houston is a particularly nice example. The Chronicle's embedded interactive map was created with ArcGIS Online, and uses the same template and style as several of the small, special purpose apps we deploy at the City of Lincoln for such tasks as looking up parcel ownership, accessing the City's traffic cameras, or displaying Lincoln Fire & Rescue pre-plans.

I used to build large GIS projects that included dozens of layers, fulfilled a myriad of uses, and had scores of controls. Now, I'm increasingly a fan of small, simple apps that do one of two things very well:  more simple, with fewer layers, buttons and controls. As a byproduct of this approach many of these apps work quite well on mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.

That's a lot of officer-involved shootings in Houston over a four year period. I realize that it is a huge metropolitan area, but still.... Is it just the size of the population? I wonder how the rate of shootings today would compare to the days of the wild west. I couldn't find a link to it, but several years ago I read an article describing research about fatal shootings in California during the gold rush of the mid-19th century. The researcher had gathered contemporary news reports, and using population estimates concluded that the rate of shootings was far, far higher than even the most violent contemporary cities.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vicki's legacy

Had to love this story from the news last night. Every time I see a photo of Vicki, I get choked up. I can't recall anyone who had quite this effect . Passing along Skinny to the Omaha Police Department is a legacy I think Vicki would thoroughly enjoy. God is good.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No reason not to

I had a speaking engagement yesterday at the Lincoln Realtors Association. It's one of five I have this week, all with different topics. For this one, I told the realtors about the value of, our public crime mapping application from the Omega Group. Of particular interest to real estate agents, I would think, is crime alerts--the feature that provides the ability to sign up for automatic email alerts when one of these selected crimes is reported within proximity to the address you have selected.

I know I've blogged about this on a few past occasions, but this is my annual push to remind as many people as possible that this services is available at no cost. I love crime alerts. I am subscribed to the area within 500 feet of my own home address, my son's home in Lincoln, and my daughter's home in Omaha. Even though I have plenty of access to the police records management system, I simply would miss some of these crimes due to the sheer volume of what goes on in Lincoln on a typical day, were it not for crime alerts.

Crime alerts are a great way to learn about crimes in your immediate surroundings. In my case, a little more awareness of the kinds of crimes that occur in my neighborhood has caused me to change two habits in a way that makes it less likely I will be a victim--again.

Sign up. Spread the word. If you live in an area covered by, which includes hundreds of cities and counties, there is no reason not to.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Learn to Dream

I had the honor last week of spending some time with a group of a couple hundred seniors from Lincoln's high schools. These students are eligible for a scholarship to attend Southeast Community College. The program, Learn to Dream, offers low-income graduates up to 45 tuition-free credit hours at SECC. It's a terrific way to make great progress towards a associates degree in one of SECC's many programs, or to get a head start on a bachelor's degree, as those credit hours can transfer to the University of Nebraska.

The students spent the morning learning more about what SECC has to offer, visiting the campus and facilities, and meeting with staff. My role was to help inspire these students, many of whom face personal challenges and impediments that can be discouraging. I dealt with plenty of challenges similar to those confronting these students, and I told them my own story about how I made it work, and how important my education was to my success in life--along with a cheesy (but true) story about the prettiest girl at Charles Culler Junior High School.

I am always a little apprehensive about being an old guy with a story of walking up hill to school in both directions. Walter Powell, however, assured me that it was well-received the last time I spoke a couple years ago, and I had a good feeling afterwards on this occasion. I really enjoy high school kids, and I hope that I was able to contribute a little encouragement.

Friday, November 8, 2013

At the summit

Wednesday I was in attendance at the Nebraska Digital Summit, a gathering of government technologists at the Embassy Suites here in Lincoln. I attended a few breakout sessions, and enjoyed some time rubbing shoulders with a diverse group from many other fields. In the afternoon, I was one of three speakers in an hour long plenary session that followed the TED format--in other words, fast--a lot of information stuffed into 18 minutes.

My topic was location-based services in public safety. I demonstrated the LBS application for police that we invented here in Lincoln, P3i, which is now commercialized as CrimeView NEARme, then I talked about several other uses for location-based services in police, fire, and EMS service. Interestingly, the second speaker, who followed me, spoke about the same topic in a broader context: how LBS applications are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in many fields.

We have a couple other location-based services applications in the wings here in Lincoln's public safety agencies. The Emergency Communications Center and Lincoln Fire & Rescue are doing some preliminary work to spin Lincoln up on PulsePoint, an application that provides information about sudden cardiac arrest incidents occurring in public places to nearby citizens who may be able to hlep. We are also experimenting across all agencies with a location-based emergency alerting service, Ping4Alerts.

Like my fellow presenter, I think LBS will continue to be a dominant theme in information technology, as the mobile device becomes the primary way in which we all consume content.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quick is good

In a post last year, I republished an email that Lincoln Fire & Rescue EMS Supervisor Scott Wiebe sent out to his coworkers to acknowledge great work as part of the team effort involved in caring for patients with ST elevated myocardial infarctions--a potentially deadly heart attack.

Scott updated the information for the third quarter of 2013 yesterday. The average time from our firefighter/paramedics arriving at the patient's side to the deployment of the first device at the hospital during the quarter was 56 minutes. The guidelines of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend a goal of 90 minutes.

That's a mighty fine time in an emergency where quick is good.

Friday, November 1, 2013

More than a scuffle

The ongoing saga of LPD's proposal to light up two CCTV cameras in the public right of way near 14th and O Street was back in the news this week. The police would like cameras here to both deter illegal behavior and to aid in the investigation of crimes that occur within their viewshed on the public streets and sidewalks. This is a logical spot, because of the frequency of such crimes as assault in the area--primarily during the late night and early morning hours when the bar scene is booming.

One of the opponents to these cameras has asserted that many of these assaults were mere scuffles between college students. Well, in a sense he's right: most of the assaults are misdemeanors, although nowhere close to half of these actually involve college students, and I would hardly call these mere scuffles. There are a lot of trips to the hospital involved, many injuries, and I don't think the shoving contests and chest-bumping confrontations are typically reported to the police.

Among the 103 assaults this year that have resulted in an official police report and occurred within a block and a half of the camera location are 25 felony assaults. These one-liners provide a glimpse of what some of the "scuffles" were like: