APWA Conference – Day 3

General Session

Denver Colorado Sept 2011

Steven Johnson let the general session of the third day of APWA’s conference. His topic was “Creativity and the Brain—Where do good Ideas Come From?” Johnson started by sharing the story about John Snow who worked with maps and government mortality data to help determine the cause of cholera in the 1800s in London. His point in the story was that many good ideas develop over time—there is not always that “Aha!” moment.

In further developing this theory, he went on to list several elements of idea development:

First, he talked about the “slow hunch” and explained that many ideas begin with an inkling of what should be done or why something is a certain way. At first perhaps the person thinking this cannot quite back up the feelings with facts. So the thought is buried or set aside to incubate but is always there just under the surface waiting for validation or a catalyst that pulls it out of the mist and into full clarity. Johnson’s example of this was the development of the Internet and how Tim Berners-Lee kept working towards this idea. But his hunches and work had to wait until everything was in place before his thoughts could develop into what would eventually be known as the World Wide Web.

Johnson then talked about “the Adjacent Possible” element which is that at any particular moment there is only a finite set of moves that can be made. Another way of looking at this is that our ideas or designs are limited by the environment or time in which they are introduced.

Next, he explained the “Liquid Network” concept or information spillover. His example was the Eighteenth century coffee house which provided a source of ideas for a community. He made the point that until coffee was introduced into Europe, people primarily drank alcohol. And once everyone could instead drink coffee, they were able to think more clearly and generate new ideas.

Johnson then talked about “Diversity” and how most innovators have more ties to people in a wider range of careers and interests. Finally he discussed “Platforms.” These are important because people innovate on top of what has already been created. Johnson said, “we mistakenly thought it best to build walls around our intellectual property, but every time we pay an innovation tax because we limit our ideas from others.”

Electric Vehicles: Charging up Your Sustainable Transportation Network

I’ve been particularly interested in electric vehicles for some time for many reasons. And even more so since starting my current job because we have our own electric utility. So I attended this session to see what other cities are doing to accommodate the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles. One of the main speakers was Jay Tankersley with Rocky Mountain Institute—a non-profit located in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain Institute is set up to facilitate sharing of information about deployment plans and infrastructure, readiness, plans, permitting, and other issues related to systems supporting electric vehicles.

Tankersley explained there is a difference between supplying public charging stations and letting it all be done privately. And he encouraged prudence in deploying electric vehicle infrastructure as the cost for one charging station can range from $2,500 to $50,000.

I asked if the presenters knew of any efforts to address the replacement of the gas tax resulting from a move to electric vehicles. Deb Hale, executive director for the transportation agency for Monterey County, Salinas, Calif., mentioned that the APWA reauthorization group is interested in a vehicle mileage tax, but at this time, it’s difficult to get anyone to talk about new taxes.

Another person asked about the recommended density for installing charging stations. The presenters indicated the need to look at air quality, location of large employment centers, and at areas where people park long enough to allow for a full charge. They said they did not believe in a density statistic for making the decision. And also added that 80% of the drivers of electric vehicles are doing their charging at home.

Cyber Security and Public Works

Next I attended a session on cyber security because of my interest in technology. This session turned out particularly beneficial and informative. There was a large panel of presenters including people from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and staff from the city of Gainesville, Fla., city of Beloit, Wis., and city of Keene, N.H. The session provided an in-depth description of the cyber security services and tools offered by the DHS. At no cost, DHS will provide a full review and assessment of the cyber security readiness of an agency. During their review and visit, they focus on the following:

  • Asset Mangement
  • IT Management
  • Vulnerability Management
  • Incident Mangement
  • Service Continuity
  • Environmental Control
  • External Dependency Management
  • Situational Awareness

To date, DHS has completed 120 to 130 reviews. Their main discoveries have been that a lot of institutional knowledge resides in employees. Agencies are less likely to codify and document this information into a formal plan. And they end up having high dependencies on limited IT staff. They’ve also found that many agencies have disaster recovery plans but few plans for continuity of operations.

Near the end of the session, the three cities offered their experience with going through the review. All indicated the review pointed out areas where they could improve. And they all agreed the experience was beneficial. Not only did it help them determine how to better protect and plan for disasters, but it also opened up dialogue through the agency.

If any agency is interested in pursuing a review, DHS requested the agency email them at [email protected] and added they need 30 to 60 days notice. They will send a preliminary survey then follow up with site visit. After the review is complete, the agency receives a draft report. And once the agency agrees with the draft, the report is finalized.


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