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6 unique local government ARPA tech projects

As cities and counties begin to spend American Rescue Plan funding, most are placing an emphasis within their technology portfolios on core technology infrastructure and broadband expansion.

But there are also projects outside that scope that stand out for their unique character or unusual approach to the difficult challenges now faced by city and county governments. Here are a few of them.

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1. “Cutting-edge” teens

Los Angeles County, which is receiving $1.9 billion in ARPA funding, plans to spend $12 million on bridging the digital divide. Part of that will include a $2 million in support for Teen Tech Centers, after-school spaces where students will have access to “cutting-edge technology” and youth-development staff, according to the plan.

The centers were established through a $10 million Best Buy investment announced last May in conjunction with the Greater LA Education Foundation and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. The retailer says it plans to establish 12 LA-area centers, connecting students with technology and software used in industries such as film and music production.

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2. And we’re live!

Portsmouth, Rhode Island, is investing in an upgraded audio-visual system to livestream its town hall meetings. Social-distancing guidelines have made online meetings and events commonplace during the coronavirus pandemic, and Portsmouth’s commitment to a digital format is emblematic of the widespread shift within government.

For roughly $91,000, the city gets from its vendor a year of maintenance and five displays, some facing the gallery and others facing council members. The project’s proposal also calls for upgraded microphones, conferencing devices and a control interface.

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3. Connecting isolated seniors

The pandemic has highlighted numerous digital divides. Franklin County, Ohio’s Office of Aging plans to spend more than $80,000 to help its senior citizens go digital. The approved project routes funds to three programs and provides Wi-Fi hot-spots and other digital devices. The county is also planning to support online social events, like book clubs, and education programs to help disadvantaged seniors learn how to use the technology.

The coronavirus pandemic further isolated seniors who did not have connections to digital services, the office’s assistant director, Amy Funk, wrote in a July resolution. “Digital access will allow these seniors to reduce social isolation, engage in telehealth opportunities, as well as gain access to employment and other commercial activities,” Funk wrote.

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4. A 911 vendor swap

Cole County, Missouri, which contains Jefferson City, is currently amid a project to upgrade its 911 system, and its sheriff has proposed using ARPA funds to switch tracks on upgrade work that began under CARES Act funding. 

The county used CARES Act money to purchase an upgraded 911 system from Solacom, but county Sheriff John Wheeler this month said the automatic mapping feature the vendor promised isn’t working how the county wants. He proposed using ARPA funding to switch to Intrado, a 911 vendor contracted by the nearby Boone County, an arrangement Wheeler said could provide both counties back-up systems in the event of an outage.

The upgrade is pending council approval.

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5. Watching water

As part of a proposed $3.25 million upgrade to the wastewater system and treatment plant in Plainfield, Connecticut, officials plan to use ARPA funding to install a new alert system. Software from Missions Communications would be installed at all pump stations.

The software, a supervisory control and data acquisition system, monitors various parts of wastewater systems, like pumps and valves, and can send notifications to workers’ cell phones, alerting them of abnormalities. The proposal is particularly salient given recent cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure, such as an attack last February against a Florida water facility in which actors altered chemical levels.

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6. COVID-fighting police cars

The sheriff’s office in Winnebago County, Illinois, is looking to spend some of its ARPA funding on vehicle software from Ford that uses heat to fight COVID-19. The software, which revs a vehicle’s engine and blows the hot air out its vents, can reportedly heat the interior above 133 degrees Fahrenheit. The efficacy of the solution is unclear, however; one study recently showed that some strains of the novel coronavirus can survive temperatures in excess of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.

Ford worked with Ohio State University to develop the software, testing it in police department vehicles.

The northern county is still reviewing whether such a project is an allowable use under ARPA spending rules.

This piece is part of StateScoop & EdScoop’s special report on relief funding.

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