Location-Based Government

This sidebar accompanies Mission: Mobile, a feature story from trajectory 2013 issue 2 by Matt Alderton.

“Using location awareness as a part of a mobile app, governments can improve user services and alert citizens to upcoming events,” said T.L. Neff, executive vice president of global client services for Verivo Software, which provides an enterprise mobility platform for numerous government clients. “For example, multiple government agencies are developing apps to alert citizens to incoming inclement weather and notify them of pending road closures.”

The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), which introduced its mobile app in 2009, is one example among many.

“The FEMA app offers interactive mapping where users can find FEMA Disaster Recovery Center locations and shelters,” Neff continued. “This information has the maximum impact because the pointed alerts directly affect the user’s current location.”

These business cases point to a more engaged government, which can now deliver services that were previously thought to be unachievable, Neff said. Among the many other public-sector applications for LBS:

  • Wayfinding: Government agencies can use LBS in much the same way businesses do—to help citizens locate places and things. The National Park Service, for instance, has an app for the National Mall that provides turn-by-turn directions to landmarks and uses augmented reality to disseminate location-aware information. Likewise, Arlington National Cemetery’s ANC Explorer app, developed in partnership with Geographic Information Services, Inc. and Army Installation Management Command, offers directions to points of interest within the cemetery, including more than 260,000 gravesites.
  • Civic engagement: Location-aware apps can direct voters to the nearest polling place or help them discover their taxpayer dollars at work. For example, the Recovery.gov mobile app, published by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, allows citizens to discover projects around them that were funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
  • Public works: Many progressive cities—including Denver, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago, among others—have launched “311” apps that allow citizens to submit geo-tagged reports of hazards or eyesores such as potholes, fallen trees, and graffiti, then track their request from submission to resolution. In Florida, meanwhile, the National Park Service’s IveGot1 app allows people to report geo-tagged sightings of invasive species, thereby assisting with eradication.
  • Data collection: The “311” apps being developed by cities improve data collection as much as citizen services. In the case of graffiti reports, for instance, location tracking allows city government to map incidents, and then deploy police officers to high-risk areas for prevention. At the federal level, agencies like FEMA and the U.S. Census Bureau use apps to digitize and geo-tag everything from land surveys to damage assessments to population studies, simultaneously increasing data quantity and quality.
  • Workforce management: Location-aware apps can also help governments deploy human resources more effectively. Military and law enforcement agencies, for instance, can use LBS to strategically deploy units to nearby incidents, improving mission speed and response time. Personnel at Arlington National Cemetery are likewise using the aforementioned ANC Explorer app to synchronize the teams involved with gravesite preparation and burials.

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