What potholes are to the Northeast, flooded backyards and streets are to Florida in the summer. This summer, when flood levels tend to peak, Florida towns and counties have struggled to manage the rising water levels and subsequent expenses. And yet this week, even with the remnants of Tropical Storm Erika on its way, some Florida towns and a Florida county are working together to address their flooding issues in an innovative (and award-winning) way.
Flooded With Issues
With a water table only a few feet below the surface of the ground, Florida has often battled frequent and dangerous flooding throughout the warmer months. These floods leave Florida citizens in uncomfortable and even life-threatening conditions, with expensive consequences for both the citizens and the towns.
Florida towns have attempted to combat this issue with better drainage options in these locations that are the most susceptible to flooding. Gathering the right information from citizens and staff in order to implement these drainage options, however, has not been an easy challenge. On top of that, keeping in frequent communication with citizens during these months of need (addressing their issues, sending updates on progress, etc.) proves increasingly difficult as the number of issues rises and resources are stretched thin. Lastly, Florida's overlapping and complicated jurisdictional boundaries make it difficult for counties and towns to easily exchange ownership to ensure issues are assigned and fixed to the correct agency.
Collecting and Managing Issues
Pinellas County, FL has been an area that has been particularly affected by flooding, creating a situation that demanded an innovative and creative solution. Pinellas has been working with towns within the county (St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Belleair, and Treasure Island) to partner with SeeClickFix to help them with a broad range of issue collection and management -- including and most pressingly, storm drainage issues. Utilizing this technology has allowed citizens to play a role in the services Pinellas County and the towns provide, which has proven particularly important during the peak flooding season. Now, the county and towns can:
- Collect issues reported by citizens through a variety of channels, as well as follow-up to keep in communication during this time of need.
- Use geodynamic reporting to support the overlapping and complicated jurisdictions within the county and between the towns.
- Customize the issue types to include "Storm Drain Issue/Flooding" to garner a more comprehensive understanding of where the main problems areas are in the town or county.
Communication During Times of Need
Using the county and towns' dedicated SeeClickFix mobile apps and web tools, citizens of Pinellas County and these towns can report issues directly from their smartphone or desktop, with pictures and a description that are affiliated with an address and issue request type. Town or county call takers can enter phone calls, drop ins, emails, or tweets into SeeClickFix as well. Once these issues come in, they are routed either manually or automatically based on the location and issue type, to the right agency and department with the right information. Armed with this information, county or town staff can head out to the field to acknowledge and subsequently close the issue.
Throughout the entire process of an issue being reported, acknowledged, and closed by either the county or town, citizens receive updates by email that their issue is being addressed. The result is that SeeClickFix increases the total level of citizen participation as well as the perceived quality of these services while reducing the costs associated with these services by reducing phone calls, introducing automated responses and reducing the frictional costs of communication.
"Initially, we were looking to improve of service to our citizens. The system that we were using a year ago was a little antiquated, clunky, and not very intuitive for citizens. Plus it was very one-way communication. Citizens would ask us for assistance for services and we would behold that request and move onto the next project, but there was never any communication back to that citizen. And that's one of things we like about SeeClickFix: the two-way communication between citizen and city, so when the work is done we can communicate back to them that the works been done. Citizens can also communicate with each other through SeeClickFix. We also have the added benefit of being able to step back and see the data that SeeClickFix provides us. And see how we're performing as city down to the departmental level."
-David Flintom, St. Petersburg
Jurisdictional lines in Pinellas County are complicated. With geodynamic reporting technology, SeeClickFix allows Pinellas County and towns like St. Petersburg to easily route issues to the correct agency. And, if issues do end up slipping through to the wrong place, the tools are in place to simply assign and exchange the issue.
"The way that it used to work was that a citizen within the St. Petersburg city limits would submit an issue and it would go directly to the county. This worked, but it added a lot of time ot the process. Then, in June 2014 of last year, we became stand-alone partners with SeeClickFix and we took administrative control of those issues within city limits. I don't think anybody could have been happier than Pinellas County because the lion's share of the work that was coming to them was coming back to us anyway. So we not only could take a lot of time out the equation, but citizens could contact us and we could respond to them with how we would handle their issues in a more timely manner. And now we have a relationship with Pinellas County -- we're actually an administrator on Pinellas County's SeeClickFix application. If one or two issues do slip through from a citizen that has to come to us but goes to Pinellas County first, they just use the assign tool to send it back to us and we take it from there. The citizen doesn't really need to know who's fixing their issues as long as it gets fixed and with SeeClickFix that process is very seamless."
-David Flintom, St. Petersburg
Better Data for a Better Future
One important result of having a citizen reporting tool for Pinellas County and its towns has been an increase in the quality of data. By customizing the issue types to include "Storm Drain Issue/Flooding", the county and town can use the collected data to generate maps to see where flooding issues tend to cluster. This allows them to plan better for future tropical storm seasons.
Becoming a National Model
Recently, Pinellas County's "Doing Things for You" SeeClickFix mobile app won a top technology award for innovation from one of the nation's leading nonprofits in local government technology. And this isn't the first time Pinellas County has been recognized for using their mobile app to work with municipalities to provide excellent, seamless public services.
According to Michael Roiland, web manager for Pinellas County's Business Technology Services department, the technology makes it easier for citizens and their government to work together at making the community a better place.
Roiland adds: "Through citizen participation and government partnerships, we're collaboratively improving communities while setting a new standard for public service."
As Tropical Storm Erika rolls through, Pinellas County and its partnering towns will be prepared. The waters may rise, but by harnessing the power of technology, the county and town will be equipped to collect and manage information about issues that can help address current problems or inform plans for the future.