March 7, 2011 By Wayne Hanson
Pueblo, Colorado, population 104,000, won first place in the 2010 Digital Cities Survey, the first year at the top of its population category.
One secret to Pueblo’s success is that it recognizes and seizes upon opportunities. A case in point is the city’s 60-year-old Police Department building that needed to be replaced. The Pueblo Municipal Justice Center, which opened in May of 2010, was funded by a voter-approved measure and during planning and construction, the 105,000 square-foot facility sparked information and communication technology upgrades that enables the city to better serve its citizens through joint city/county projects.
“When we started planning for the Municipal Justice Center about three years ago,” said Pueblo IT Director Lori Pinz, “we took a look at how can we leverage what we need to do and install in the new building, and how do we leverage that for the entire city. We analyzed the types of services that are going to be put into the building, to determine the best solution. We have standardized on Nortel and we took a look to determine if we wanted to convert this all to voice over IP or stay with the traditional phone service that we had in the old building. To save money it made sense to convert it all over to a VoIP facility. So we did.”
In addition, said Pinz, the city took a look at what additional technology the police and courts needed. Besides the upgrade to VoIP, the city installed a digital video switching system that allows officers -- during a tactical response for example -- to pull up wireless devices, such as field surveillance cameras, into the switching system and pull a live feed up on screen. “We also tied that into the Hitachi whiteboard system, that are all networked throughout the facility, and they can actually pull up GIS mapping and overlay what they’re looking at through a live feed. They can pull up Google maps or our GIS maps or any kind of content they need to look at, to enable them to handle the situation."
The leveraging of technology extends out into the broader region as well. A fiber network, for example, connects the city and county enabling video arraignment from the County Jail, as well as joint city-county 911 dispatching operations and a shared ESRI GIS system.
“We are on two different types of dispatching systems,” said Pinz, “but we’re trying to tie our networks together in such a way that both entities have access to each other’s dispatch systems in case one goes down.”
The city runs life-size videoconferencing units. “The way the system works,” said Pinz, “is that software upgrades are all that is needed to stay current. We don’t need to switch out the equipment -- it’s already set up, it’s high-definition equipment, it’s already got several built-in codecs, so that it can communicate with other types of videoconferencing systems out there. So we call that an 'evergreen' type of approach, and the same thing with our Nortel/Avaya data equipment, and PBX. Sometimes you’ll have to replace a card, but the systems are set up so it’s more of a software-driven approach, so you never have to waste the money on equipment and throw it away.”
Pinz said that through leveraging, Pueblo has been able to reduce public safety costs. “For example,” she said, “the Fire Department is going to be able to extend our videoconferencing and our digital video switcher system at minimal cost and not have to worry about if they need to attend training somewhere, loading up their pumpers and driving over there to attend training. They’ll be able to do it right in their station houses and do a videoconference or do on-demand training, and not have to move all that stuff everywhere. Same thing with the Emergency Operations Center. With the technology we’ve put into place in the new building we also put in an Emergency Operations Center. If there is a disaster in our community, we could tie in to the President of the United States if we needed to. That benefits our citizens in the public safety arena. It reduces costs, provides better ability to better manage events, and to me that’s huge.”
Pinz said that the lesson learned for her was to think outside the box. “Take a look at your funding and see what solutions are available to leverage your funding.” The technology will be further extended, she said, into the City Hall which is about to be remodeled.
The city has a strategic plan for 2011-2015, that begins with "Identifying and removing any potential barriers to the access of public information." Pinz said that Pueblo already broadcasts City Council meetings from the city’s government access channel. “But hopefully down the road,” she said, “we’ll be able to do some kind of two-way online communication with the citizens."
For more information on Pueblo's systems, contact Pueblo IT Director Lori Pinz.