Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

DorobekInsider: Check out ‘Virtual Alabama’ Tuesday

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So this year, I have gone on (and on and on … and on…) about the Alabama Department of Homeland Security’s remarkable program Virtual Alabama. Last week, I even had the director of the Alabama Homeland Security Department Jim Walker on Federal News Radio’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris last week talking about it. [You can hear that interview here .mp3]

In a moment, why I’m so fascinated by it, but… if you have heard me go on and on and on about it and you haven’t seen Virtual Alabama yet and you are in DC, Tuesday is your chance. Google is sponsoring an event on Tuesday at the DC Googleplex on Tuesday morning — I’ll be moderating. You can get information and register here. (They are going to be in New York later in the week, I believe. I’ll try to get more information and post it for you.)

I’m always somewhat afraid that I’ll over-sell the coolness of Virtual Alabama — that people will see it and so, ‘Well, that’s OK.’ But most of the people who see it come away saying, ‘You know what we could do with that? We could do…’

And that is why am I so fascinated by Virtual Alabama. Because I think it is such a marvelous example of government 2.0 because it empowers people to use tools in ways that people may have never expected. And THEN they find out how inexpensive Virtual Alabama was to build.

If you don’t know much about Virtual Alabama, the program is essentially a mash-up on a Google Earth platform. (An important note: Alabama purchased a enterprise version of Google Earth, so all of the information resides on Alabama servers. Google Earth simply provides the platform, but the company does not have access to any of the data.) A mash-up is the Web 2.0 term for taking data from various sources and overlaying it on a map.

It is easy to forget how powerful it is to see information on a map. It can transform data. Imagine, for example, you see a list of addresses. It may mean something, but it is complex to understand. Put those addresses on a map and –walla! — that data is magically transformed. It becomes much more powerful.

This is essentially what Virtual Alabama does — it puts information at the fingertips of government officials who need to make decisions. In military speak, it is called “situational awareness” — and that describes it, getting awareness of a situation before you get there. So Virtual Alabama allows first responders to get access to information about fire hydrants, properties, neighboring fire departments… and it pulls it all together in one place. Very powerful stuff.

One of the great things about my old job — and my new one — is that I get to see all of these things… and if I’m fascinated by them, I assume you will be too. So FCW put Virtual Alabama on the cover of the magazine earlier this year and, as I mentioned, I have had them on Federal News Radio. (The National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project has a nice write-up on Virtual Alabama.)

And I didn’t even get into the cost of this program — or relative lack there of. Somebody will have to ask about that on Tuesday.

There are some great lessons to learn from Virtual Alabama, I think. We’ll try to tap into some of them on Tuesday as well.

So if you’re interested, come check it out and explore the realm of the possible.

Written by cdorobek

October 5, 2008 at 10:35 AM

4 Responses

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  1. […] I told you that last week, I got to moderate a panel featuring the team that created Virtual Alabama. […]

  2. […] post the full list of winners after the break, but… I do want to note that Alabama Department of Homeland Security’s Virtual Alabama — a CJD-fav program — is a winner. [See GCN’s story […]

  3. […] regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of Virtual Alabama, the marvelous program developed by the Alabama Department of Homeland Security… and one part […]

  4. […] Web Managers Forum’s guidance as well… and I will undoubtedly talk about the CJD-fav Virtual Alabama, which still is one of the most powerful examples out there because, in the end, the Alabama […]

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