Putting public apps to work
The click of the keyboard and soundless tap of a smartphone can open up new options for Red Wing's citizens.
The technology the city's Public Works Department has introduced include a YourGov app for smartphones, a geographic information systems mapping system that is both online and on smartphones, and GPS devices that monitor snow plow salt use and position.
Patrick Ramaker, infrastructure specialist, said that Public Works has always been open to trying new technology and seeing how it can benefit them. These are three that they have been working with recently.
The YourGov app
Deputy Director Lynn Nardinger said that he is most excited about the YourGov app that allows people to report different things they may notice in the community such as downed trees, unplowed roads, dangerous sidewalks and dead animals.
"That will be available to the residents to send their complaints in without making a phone call or going and typing an email. They can do it onsite," Nardinger said.
They can do this by downloading the app on their smartphone. They are required to fill contact information so they can be reached if something is unclear, and then their position is marked with a red pin on the online map indicating where they noticed what they are reporting. Then they can use a drop-down menu and comments section to explain the issue.
"It automatically goes right into our system," Ramaker said.
On a typical day, Nardinger said the department gets five to 10 calls about different things ranging from damaged street signs to potholes. Citizens still have the option to call, but YourGov may be a better option, he said.
"I really feel like this is going to streamline complaints and be able to get them taken care of in a more timely manner," Nardinger said.
After the complaint is sent in, it is received by city workers. They evaluate it based on what the safety concern would be and what the budget will allow.
This reporting application also can be used by city employees when they are working on site, Ramaker said. Instead of paper records of updates, projects and maps, they are now digital and can fit in employees' pockets.
Once they enter in what they have done on their electronic devices, "their job is done. They don't have to come back here and sit at a computer and re-enter all the data again. In the old way, they would have to write it all on a piece of paper and then come back here and type it in," Nardinger said.
The writing step will be eliminated once all the city workers are trained and equipped with the technology.
GIS mapping system
The GIS mapping system can be used for multiple purposes, including looking at area shots of Red Wing. One unique aspect is that is maps out the burial plots in cemeteries.
Ramaker came up with this idea when he was on a cemetery site doing work for the city and a woman and her son asked him to help find where her late husband was buried.
"I'm looking through all these old books, I couldn't help the lady," Ramaker said. He ended up having to call someone to come to the cemetery to help the woman and her son.
There was old software in place for people to locate burial sites, but Ramaker found this was out of date and "not a good system."
He built the new system off a cartography program Public Works already used, resulting in the end product that is available on the city of Red Wing's website.
"Instead of looking through an old book, we can type it in and we can show them exactly where they need to go to find their relative or friend," Ramaker said.
This system is not common across Minnesota, said Ron Gjerde, the executive director of Minnesota Association of Cemeteries. Most cemeteries have an office that people can go to for help to locate graves.
"But as far as the self-service tool, I'd say there's less than a handful of places that do that," he said.
To make Red Wing part of that handful, Ramaker built up the system, summer staff took pictures of all the cemetery head and foot stones, names were collected and all the information was uploaded.
The system allows searches by name, by lot and by cemetery.
People use GPS devices in vehicles to guide them to and from a location, but Public Works now uses these devices in snow plows and plans to put them in all department vehicles.
So far, the 20 snow plows have GPS devices that track salt amounts spread and what roads have and have not been plowed.
Each GPS that tracks salt use costs $600. Those that do not track salt use are projected to be $300 each.
The amount of salt Red Wing snow plows use is something that should be monitored, Nardinger said.
"It's both a budget and environmental issue. Eventually, I think there's going to be some restrictions on how much salt is applied, so I feel like we're ahead of the game with this technology," he said.
"We're excited about what it's done so far," Nardinger added. "I think technology is the way everything is going and I think it's just a useful tool to help us be more efficient at our jobs."