The Town of Bedford: A Case Study in Technology

Dean E. Shankle

Soon after Steve Daly became the new Town Manager in Bedford, the Police Chief handed him a 1 ½ inch three-ring binder filled with information on the police department’s operations. Using software that gathers and analyzes data, the Chief’s information contained detailed charts and graphs that clearly explained how the department was operating and, using clear and understandable data, why it was operating as it did. The Chief is a “crime-stats-type person,” Daly explained. “The statistical analysis allows for more efficient and effective police work” and justifies such things as the “directed patrols” the department uses.

In addition to using technology for data-driven decision-making, the Bedford Police Department uses a number of social media outlets to provide information to the public. Bedford’s website is thorough and kept up-to-date and provides citizens information on their various programs (e.g., Alzheimer’s Registration, “Are you Okay?”), public service information (e.g., a series on Domestic Violence), a weekly Police Log and much more.

The Bedford Police Department (BPD) also maintains a Facebook™ page that has many photos and has garnered 310 “likes.” They also use both Twitter and Nixle™ (www.nixle.com) to get out more time- sensitive announcements such as “Due to a funeral procession on 7/12/14 expect traffic delays along NH-101 from NH-114 to Meetinghouse Rd from 10am–11am” and “BPD is asking for assistance from the public in locating a missing person: (name and age).” The Department is currently migrating to Nixle 360, a world class community notification system with advanced features such as anonymous text-to-tip and the ability to send emergency alert voice messages to both land lines and mobile devices.

Daly said he was glad to find that most town departments had already begun upgrading their technological capabilities before he arrived and he was encouraging them to continue doing so. He said his philosophy is that it is important to provide “tools, training and technology so that staff can be as productive as possible.” Daly also noted that “the Town Council has been very supportive of our use of technology and has been willing to budget accordingly. Non-taxpayer funding through grants and restricted use police resources have contributed as well.”

Daly said that the Planning and Zoning Department provided another good example of effective use of readily-accessible technology that provides detailed information to both the Planning Board and the general public. He explained the simple process as follows: If you go to the Planning and Zoning Department’s home page on the website, you will find a link to “Meeting Agendas.” Choose the most recent agenda and you will see above the agenda a link that informs you that you can “Click here to display Google Map of the site locations with links to the staff reports.” Following that link takes you to a Google Map with blue markers indicating the site of each of the agenda items for that meeting, which are also displayed on the left side of the page. Clicking on one of the map markers allows you to open detailed staff reports, attachments and site plan for that agenda item. This simple process makes available to the public information that would require a trip to town hall in many municipalities.

Daly spoke proudly of several other technology initiatives that departments had undertaken. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has an integrated telecommunications, radio and computer system. It includes a Smart board and projector and allows for wireless video feeds back to the EOC from tablet and cell phone cameras. Recently, technology used during a multi-jurisdiction swift water training exercise was supported by the fire department’s Public Eye© software that has been recognized nationally for its public safety mapping, preplanning and infrastructure locating utility, which interfaces with the neighboring departments. The local community television station, BCTV, provides the EOC with live TV and web streaming broadcasts over the station’s three channels and website during emergency events. The television station’s digital signage system also allows emergency and general information to be posted instantaneously on the channels and website by authorized town personnel. “The array of tools and technology available during emergencies allows information to be quickly and accurately provided to the staff in the EOC,” he pointed out.

The town library has recently updated its website to make the large amount of information it contains to be more user-friendly. Daly says that his goal with all of the town’s online presence is to have websites designed so that “everything is within two or three clicks” and to make the language sound “less government-ese.” He believes that the library’s newly designed website, created with the open-source content management system Drupal, meets these criteria.

The Town of Bedford’s technology initiatives run the gamut of cost. The town has invested heavily in some technologies but also makes extensive use of inexpensive and essentially free resources (e.g., Google Maps™, Facebook™, Twitter™, Nixle™). Not everything Bedford is doing is right for every municipality in New Hampshire, but certainly Daly’s philosophy of increasing productivity with “tools, training and technology” is something that our residents expect of each of our towns and cities.

Dean E. Shankle, Jr., Ph. D, is treasurer of NHLoGIN, an affiliate group which has helped government officials and employees from all over New Hampshire collaborate with each other for over 13 years. Mr. Shankle also serves as town administrator in the Town of Hooksett.