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Customer Spotlight: Alabama Dept. of Transportation Reduces Travel Expenses with Video Solution

One of the biggest issues state governments face in their day-to-day governing is the sheer size of the state itself. Even in average sized states, it can take quite some time to get from place to another, and it’s particularly burdensome for state government workers who live and work in cities far from the state capital. It can be difficult to effectively communicate with other employees in the capital and in other cities, and employees spent precious time and money traveling all across the state.

One such state with this issue is Alabama. The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) manages all forms of transportation in the state, including one of the longest navigable inland waterways in the nation, six commercial airports and a large seaport on the Gulf of Mexico. To ensure these multiple forms of transportation run smoothly, ALDOT has over 5,000 employees spread out across the state. Its large number of employees and their geographic sprawl, however, meant ALDOT was having trouble getting everyone to meet in one location for mandatory training sessions.

While training was the main issue, ALDOT generally needed a more sustainable way to host meetings with employees scattered across the state. Years ago, ALDOT division chiefs from distant corners of the state would have to drive to Montgomery, Alabama, every Monday to attend one meeting, which was not a productive use of time and incurred costly travel expenses. Clearly, it needed a cost-effective solution to make it easier for the department to host trainings and meetings for its far-flung department. Read More »

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Public Safety Series: EOCs Harness Video to Improve Emergency Response

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak with PoliceOne about how Cisco solutions are helping to improve public safety in an area most people aren’t aware of: emergency operations centers. Emergency operations centers, or EOCs, are the center of disaster response efforts, helping to coordinate the first responders and distribute information to decision-makers in a chaotic emergency situation. EOCs facilitate communication across agencies to allow for coordinated efforts. And in an emergency situation, which is hectic and can be confusing, the clear communication and up-to-date information an EOC providers is vital to helping mitigate the disaster.

Since speed, accuracy and collaboration are all crucial to an EOC’s mission, the centers are constantly investing in new technologies to help them improve in these areas. In more recent years, one of the most effective collaboration technologies EOCs have harnesses is video. Why video? Video improves data gathering, which leads to more increased situational awareness, which ultimately allows for a more coordinated response.

The types of video systems vary. Digital signage, for one example, can be used to display information such as television streams, maps or graphs on a large screen visible by all in the EOC. This type of video system also can function as a display for group videoconference that allows agencies on the local, state and federal level to coordinate quickly and clearly.

A video collaboration tool like Cisco WebEx enables users to share the information on their computer screen while engaging in desktop-quality video chat, and Cisco TelePresence allows for high-quality online face-to-face conferencing. Using these technologies helps build relationships and ensure communication is clearer, as body language can be interpreted and expressions shared.

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Public Safety Series: How the City of McAllen Transformed their Judicial Process with Video Solutions

In my last blog post in the Public Safety Series, I discussed how police forces could use video technologies to improve their training programs. In addition to training, there are numerous other ways that law enforcement agencies can utilize video solutions to both operate more efficiently as a department and improve officers’ ability to protect their community. Today, I want to share with you a real-life example of how one government agency is using video solutions to make tangible changes in how the judicial process in their city works.

The City of McAllen, located in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, is increasingly turning to innovative technology solutions to improve the city’s operations. As a smaller city with limited personnel and resource, McAllen realized that technology can help them operate at a high level and continue to provide excellent service to its residents. Previously, the city had deployed Cisco Call Manager as a solution to its formerly fragmented phone system, which helped simplify and management of its phone system and save money.

Next, the city turned its sights to exploring more efficient ways to connect court activities with police departments and officers in the field. It had always been difficult to obtain warrants from off-duty judges, wasting time and adding unnecessary roadblocks in the judicial process. McAllen hoped that with video solutions, police officers could connect with the city’s judges and receive paperwork for a warrant immediately.

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Video Interpretation Solutions Help Ensure Equality in the Justice System

While I was thinking about the topic of my second post in the court series leading up to the CTC conference in September, I came across an interesting news article. The state of California just announced that it will now provide court interpreters for free in all court cases. In the past, the state – along with many others – has only provided interpretation services in criminal cases. However, ensuring that everyone understands what is going on in the courtroom, no matter the case, is critical to making sure justice is dispensed fairly, efficiently and accurately. This means that court interpretation services are a crucial part of the justice system.

While this move by California is great, it is a bit behind the times. Back in 2010, the Department of Justice issued guidance on the issue of interpreters within the judicial system, noting that a particular concern was, “limiting the types of proceedings for which qualified interpreter services are provided by the court.” The letter went on to state: “Some courts only provide competent interpreter assistance in limited categories of cases, such as in criminal, termination of parental rights, or domestic violence proceedings. DOJ, however, views access to all court proceedings as critical.” This means that all states have had five years to expand their court translation services to cover all types of cases, in accordance with the Department of Justice’s standards.

However, states have been slow to take on this expansion, largely due to the high costs. California, for example, has the nation’s largest court system, spread out across a huge state. They also have about seven million residents with limited English proficiency, who speak over 200 different languages. The cost to provide translators in those locations for these residents is huge; in 2010, California spent nearly $93 million on court interpretation services. So in order to reconcile the challenge of fixed budgets with the increased demand for interpreters, state and local governments need to rethink their manual processes for deploying these services and look toward technology instead.

One major way to reduce the cost of providing interpreters and ensure that all citizens participate in a fair and balanced judicial process is using video services. To address the rising demand for interpreters and to help streamline court procedures, Cisco has developed a Connected Justice™ Video Interpretation solution (CJVI). CJVI allows interpreters to virtually join court proceedings using the high-quality video and audio features of Cisco® Unified Communications Manager and Cisco TelePresence® end-points. Read More »

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Harford County Unveils Countywide Broadband Network (HMAN)

On May 22, Harford County, Maryland held a press conference to announce its high-speed fiber optic based network, which will connect government buildings, schools, and libraries while reducing costs. The fiber optic cable, known as HMAN, or Harford Metro Area Network will allow greater broadband access to residents. According to Ted Pilbil, director of the county’s ICT department, the HMAN will “upgrade the county’s computer network and serve as a communications backbone” for Harford.

Since its conceptualization five years ago, HMAN has grown both from the efforts of the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN) – a consortium of six Maryland counties – and a federal grant under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).HMAN press conference

As part of the fiber optics solution, Cisco helped guide the County into a design that was within its budget and met all its technical needs. More than 100 miles of fiber optic has connected approximately 100 institutions around the county. The design included a Metro Ethernet solution based on the ASR9K platform, which has allowed the County to replace its expensive leased lines with a wholly owned fiber optic network managed by the county. The network has the ability to add Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DMDW) optical technology to further expand the network capacity by a factor of 40x with additional equipment. Cisco’s flexible design allowed the County to reduce costs while providing high-speed connectivity to local schools, libraries, public safety offices, and economic development zones.

The HMAN has great potential to provide economic opportunities and bring business into Harford County. One such opportunity is the presence of “dark fiber.” In essence, dark fiber is when cables are not activated, which can allow a company to create its own private network. Furthermore, business that could not previously access broadband service from traditional carriers – whether due to location or cost – can now buy into a cost-effective, high-speed network. The data will move faster and with greater reliability and flexibility.

Alongside businesses, city and county government will also be linked on the broadband highway, offering endless possibilities for teleconferencing, data sharing, and video communications. Furthermore, HMAN will open opportunities for additional infrastructure for primary, secondary, and higher education.

By providing high-speed access to video, voice, and data for county organizations and residents, the HMAN will catapult Harford County into a technology center of the future.

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