San Ramon Fire Chief Richard Price was eating lunch with members of his team one day, when they heard sirens and saw a team of medics pulling up to the grocery store next door. Someone had gone into cardiac arrest. Not realizing there were trained responders nearby, store managers had called 911, but by the time medics arrived, it was too late to administer CPR. A life could have been saved if only there had been a way to ask for help.
This experience got Price and his team thinking of how to prevent such a situation in the future. Turning mobile technology, the team recruited students to develop an iPhone app that can notify the fire department if someone has an emergency within 500 yards. The fire department then created a movie trailer to promote the project throughout the East Bay. “Are you willing to help save a life?” asks the clip, offering a link to download the free application.
By using this simple technology and publicly available government data, communities can draw on the skills of any resident willing to be a hero. Also, because CPR and using a defibrillator are easily taught skills, the fire department is developing a one-minute training video for the application, so even those with no outside training can help save a life.
This is a model that looks to citizens as assets and recognizes that getting them timely and appropriate information can lighten the load on strained public services and literally save lives.
The potential of how this simple technology can engage our citizens in immediately useful ways is limited only by our imaginations. At the core, government in this era does not exist to tell citizens what to do. It is there to act as a partner, convener, catalyst and facilitator of structured discussions to solve public problems – and technology can serve as a catalyst of this transition.
Public services – from libraries, to parks, to schools – are on the chopping block. As this happens, far-sighted municipal leaders are going beyond “cut/keep” decisions, to involving their communities in maintaining some level of public offerings. As a result, not only are services improved while costs are reduced, but citizens are called upon to reconsider their role in their own governance and take action to build stronger communities.
A new report – Golden Governance: Building Effective Public Engagement in California – highlights success stories of genuine community engagement all over California, exploring how the current financial crisis presents a golden opportunity to rethink and restructure governance. Using stories of success and hard lessons from some of the most innovative public leaders throughout the state, elected officials, local staff, and civic leaders should look to this report as a guide to a more prosperous, mutually owned governance structure.
The study was commissioned by California Forward and the Center for Individual and Institutional Renewal and authored by Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute and the Congressionally-chartered National Conference on Citizenship.
David B. Smith is executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship