New app designed for emergencies

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There's an easier way to discover that the power in your neighborhood is out besides waking up an hour late to work after your alarm clock failed to go off.

A new city of Belen app can alert residents of emergencies, community events, past-due account notices, reminders and updates through a free smartphone application and a mass communication system.

The city partnered with Parlant Technology in November to create the app to send out mass communications to residents after a citizen asked city councilors how they would notify the community if something happened in Belen, said Lawrence Kaneshiro, the city's information technology specialist.

"That kind of stuck with me all this time," Kaneshiro said.

Parlant Technology can notify residents of city happenings through phone calls on land lines or cell phones, text messages, email and fax, or through social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

The company also provides text communication over a telephone line for those who have hearing or speech difficulties.

The city of Belen app, available for iPhone and Android devices, also allows residents to communicate with their city government on any issue.

Citizens can, for example, create a service request for road maintenance, sewer problems, drainage or fire hazards, submit a book request, report criminal activity or zoning violations.

A picture can be attached to the report, directed to department heads, along with the location of the service needed through a tag placed on the picture from a smartphones built-in global positioning system.

The app can link residents to the city's Facebook and Twitter pages and YouTube channel. It also contains contact information for the mayor, city councilors and department heads.

"It's a way for residents to talk back to city hall," Kaneshiro said.

The purpose behind the app is to bring interest to the Hub City by tourists, highlight city happenings for residents and involve the public in their city government, Kaneshiro said.

Residents are automatically signed up for the mass communication message through the contact information listed in the residents' utility accounts. However, some utility accounts contain outdated information making communicating with residents hard.

"They're subscribed, but we need to have their correct phone number and email," Kaneshiro said.

The smartphone app and mass communication message, costing $8,229, was paid for with the technology infrastructure fee. The TIF, charging residents $1.80 per month, was instituted a year ago in an effort to improve technology throughout the city.

This fund will continue to pay $3,000 a year for the mass communication system.

About $60,000 of TIF funds purchased 12 video surveillance cameras and one video server at the Belen Public Library to keep a close eye on those outside of the library, as well as at the entrances and inside each room.

These features are the first in a series of technological advancements to come to the city, Kaneshiro said.

He plans on placing audio and video feeds of city council meetings online, as well as broadcasting council meetings live on the Internet and extending WiFi hot spots.

Belen residents can sign up for the mass communication messages at the city of Belen's website, or download the city of Belen app through the iTunes store or Play store.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.