Communities

DenverGov: Home of 250 New Webmasters

Denver recently unveiled a World Wide Web site designed to secure the city a lead in the pack of municipal governments racing to deploy services to the Internet.

The site, at www.denvergov.org, is staffed by 250 city and county agency employees designated as content authors and editors. They will be responsible for updating the interactive site daily. A wellspring of information, into which the city pumped $500,000, the site contains 6,000 pages of content and links to 216 agency sites.

DenverGov replaces the city's first Web site, InfoDenver, and city officials are positioning the new site as the appropriate electronic presence for a city that depends on Internet access. A recent survey showed that Denver citizens' Internet use is higher than that of citizens in most cities. Denver also is preparing a marketing campaign to define itself as the hub city for the Rocky Mountain technology corridor.

Citizens can use DenverGov to search county court civil case dockets, access current data on a property, search job listings and apply online. "People can put their address in and can get as many as 95 pieces of information for that address, including trash pickup, boundaries, recycling, schools, parks, voting precinct," said Byron West, the city's director of television and Internet services. Citizens also can request that certain information be pushed automatically to their e-mail accounts.

However, it may be the way the city plans to maintain information on the site, rather than its technical features, that makes DenverGov most distinctive. The city's new handpicked employee/editors directly maintain 90 percent of the site's content. "It's a publishing system that puts the power of creating the Web site with the agencies," West said. Employees with no Hypertext Markup Language experience can make changes instantly using standard Microsoft Corp. Office products, West added.

The site was built by Mediarite Inc. (www.mediarite.com), a Denver-based Internet consulting firm that is looking to replicate the service for other cities. "This wasn't a typical Web site development project," said company president Bob Schubring. "This was a content publishing system proj-ect. We built the back end that lets [agencies] make the Web site happen. Right now, the site has about 10 percent of the content on it that it should. For the investment the city has made, it will get huge returns and will invest no additional money."

When supplying content, agency editors log into an Active Server Page that acts as a front end to the database. The database uses Microsoft's BackOffice and SQL Server to wrap the look and feel of the Web site around locally keyed information. "It gives us a consistent-looking site, but the content is all coming from different places," Schubring said.

City officials have yet to add all the services they plan to offer through the site. For example, they plan to add community kiosks to enhance citizen access. But officials will poll users before making future enhancements.

- Meg Misenti

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Y2K Watch:

Columbus 'Scorecard' Simplifies TrackingMayor Gregory Lashutka of Columbus, Ohio, is urging the city's 20 suburbs to maintain a cross-community checklist on Year 2000 readiness, just as the city itself keeps a compliance scorecard of its 24 internal divisions.

"One of the things we needed to do was to take an in-depth look at all of our applications and give the mayor and our cabinet an assessment of where we were in terms of becoming compliant," said Dick Browning, the mayor's chief of staff.

Columbus hired Cambridge, Mass.-based iCube International Integration Inc., which in six weeks showed the city's Year 2000 progress and specified its next steps. The scorecard analyzes each application and tracks the Year 2000 compliance of hardware and software. Officials have found that using common metrics also facilitates Year 2000 discussions between agencies. Now the city wants to expand the use of the scorecard.

"We are surrounded by 20 suburban communities, and we have integrated systems we use to exchange information back and forth," Browning said. "I'm an advocate of common reviews that would allow us all to share information on what we are doing."

- Jennifer Jones

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High Schools Become Cradle of Microsoft Specialists

Along with a high school diploma, thousands of students next year will graduate from the 12th grade as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers. Microsoft Corp. is pumping $75 million into training programs for 200,000 students in more than 1,850 high schools and colleges.

While maintaining active MCSE programs in community colleges and vocational technical schools, Microsoft is looking for its newest technical recruits in public high schools, which host 35 percent of all Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Program classes. "We never intended this for high schools because this is difficult stuff," said Kris Vezina, manager of AATP.

Established in 1995, the program provides technology support to schools in the form of free software and deep discounts on teacher training and materials, including Microsoft certification exams and course work. To become MCSE-certified, students take basic networking classes, including Windows 95, Windows NT Workstation and networking essentials. Then they progress to more sophisticated courses on the Windows NT enterprise, TCI/IP programming or Internet Information Server.

"There isn't a high school in the world that shouldn't be teaching this," said Denise Jackson, who four years ago started the first AATP high school program in Jacksonville, Texas.

Jackson sees big benefits in teaching students operating systems rather than just basic PC applications. "When we teach them operating systems, they understand how systems work, and they can transfer skills across operating systems."

Of the 120 students that enrolled in the program's first year of networking courses, 47 became MCSE-certified. All but 10 finished the course but opted not to take the $100 Microsoft exam. Most students went on to college.

Many high schools see AATP as a way to offer introductory courses toward becoming Microsoft-certified professionals. Others have more ambitious goals. For example, in DuBois Area Voc-Tech High School in Jefferson County, Pa., 30 students this year enrolled in an MCSE program and will study network engineering two-and-a-half hours a day for three years.

"My students have done very well considering the level of difficulty with the program. But you have to remember that this is high school, and kids will be kids," said Bob Wachob, a network engineering instructor who started the Jefferson County program.

- Meg Misenti

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Cities Offered Software Tool to Combat Terrorism

Front-line antiterrorism workers and local public safety officials soon may have more practical weapons available to coordinate their response to a terrorist's attack.

PLG Inc., Alexandria, Va., has released a software package called Meteorological Information and Dispersion Assessment System Anti-Terrorism (MIDAS-AT), which is tailored for use in accidental chemical spills or terrorist attacks. MIDAS-AT uses mapping and an urban terrain modeling capability to depict an incident scene. Live weather data fed into the software via the Internet or local radar allows MIDAS-AT to simulate the movement of a "death cloud" of noxious chemicals. Standard features include a database on industrial and biological agents, a smart map of the United States and inputs for network or Global Positioning System devices.

The Oklahoma City bombing had a sobering effect on local officials. In addition, Randy Ridley, PLG's director of federal programs, said, "Lately there have been several national threats in the form of overseas terrorists trying to acquire anthrax and other deadly substances."

MIDAS-AT also features an inside-building model, with generic data on buildings and public transportation systems for decision-making in the case of attacks such as the one in a Tokyo subway in 1995. "The software walks responders through the path a death cloud will take. It shows which rooms in a building would be safe if you had a scenario in which 100 people were in the top floor...and a device containing anthrax was set off. In that case, responders would have to decide whether they should turn on the air conditioning or open a window, which could release toxicity to the outside," Ridley said.

- Jennifer Jones

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Communityplex: An 'AOL for Gov'

Local governments scrambling to bring citizen services into the Internet Age may want to check out Communityplex, described by its developers as an "America Online for governments." HTE Inc., a Lake Mary, Fla.-based company, said Communityplex would enable local government users to tap electronic government applications such as community chat rooms, electronic procurement and automated licensing.

The developers say they offer local governments a way to avoid reinventing the wheel in creating applications, and a quick time to market. "We found that if it was a matter of every single county or public utility building their own Web site while trying to include back office hardware and file servers we have installed-that would have taken forever," said Bob Gosselin, vice president of brand market development at HTE (www.hteinc.com), a 17-year-old company started by a father/son team.

The company has contracted with Orlando, Fla.-based World Commerce Online Inc. for the rights to develop and market Communityplex, which is based on WCO's E-Plex technology.

E-Plex is the backbone of Floraplex, an electronic commerce application for the retail floral market.

Using the technology, any city or a city and its surrounding counties could link together via Communityplex. At the same time, those communities would retain an independent Web presence.

HTE customer Seminole County, Fla. is eyeing Communityplex. "We do have a Web site now, but it is one-way information only.... We could use Communityplex to start doing business over the Internet-to begin delivering services and making our features interactive without adding on great cost," said Chris Grasso, Seminole County's IT director.

- Jennifer Jones

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Internet Transforms Bookmobile

The cartoon cat Garfield is splashed across the 33 1/2-foot bus that Muncie, Ind., has outfitted as the nation's first cybermobile, the city's traveling attempt to promote technology literacy.

Muncie's $50,000 cybermobile reinvents bookmobiles, which were designed decades ago to promote reading in neighborhoods that had little or no access to public libraries. "The bookmobile here in the Muncie area was just not getting used," said Brian Hamilton, Muncie Public Library's cybermobile coordinator. "Libraries all around the country are having the same problem."

Many of the patrons who climbed aboard traditional bookmobiles were children and adults who otherwise would not have had access to reading materials. "I wondered if it would be the same kind of people taking these classes as visiting the bookmobile," said Hamilton, who doubles as the cybermobile driver and the computer class instructor. "But it really seems like we are reaching a different population." The classes have drawn about 125 students in the five months following the cybermobile's debut last summer.

Hamilton drives the cybermobile to such places as fire stations, community centers and local businesses to teach two-hour computer classes. Equipped with six Compaq Computer Corp. PCs, running Microsoft Corp.'s Office software suite, and a server, the cybermobile is used to conduct Computer 101, 102 and Internet 101 courses. A satellite dish is mounted on top of the bus, and officials are installing a router onboard to provide Internet access.

City officials in Massachusetts, California, Oregon and Florida have contacted Hamilton about the cybermobile, which was financed through state grant money and private donations. "At the beginning of the project, I could safely say that we were the first and only cybermobile in the country. Now I can only say we were the first," Hamilton said.

- Jennifer Jones

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Students Spelunk for Digital Cave Painting

Forty students from elementary schools in California, Colorado and New Mexico last month went 750 feet underground into New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns to electronically paint the cave walls. The students, who were studying ancient civilizations, projected more than 350 of their own "pictographs" onto the cave walls. Then, using digital cameras, they took pictures of the drawings to take back to their classrooms.

"These pictures will go to the cave wall of the 21st century-the Internet," said Rob Lindstrom, co-founder of the Digital Exploration Society and leader of the event. DEX is a nonprofit group that explores the potential of advanced mobile digital technology.

About 20 technology vendors loaned DEX the equipment for the expedition, including digital cameras, ruggedized laptops and multimedia projectors. The digital cave paintings can be viewed at www.digitalexplorers.com.

- Meg Misenti

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