New public portals save Earth, lives

NEW ORLEANS -- When Biloxi, Miss., wanted to encourage its citizens to recycle motor oil and other petroleum products, it recruited action star Steven Segal to help get its message out.

Segal had taped a public service announcement video for Scottsdale, Ariz., portal provider Engaging and Empowering Citizenship (E2C) for national distribution as part of the company's environmental portal, Earth911.

When the video aired in Biloxi, its results were instant, company and local officials said. It seems many Biloxi residents thought Segal had come to town to deliver his message, although in actuality the announcement was taped elsewhere, said Chris Warner, E2C's founder and self-described "chief cat-herder," who told the story during his keynote presentation at the annual meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in New Orleans today.

Although the city had set aside $40,000 to produce an announcement, it instead was able to use E2C's announcement. The strategy not only saved money, but also let the city air an announcement that had the extra punch delivered by action hero Segal.

Enlisting the assistance of well-known Hollywood actors is one of the ways that E2C is helping federal, state and local agencies accomplish their environmental, public safety and community service goals without having to pay for advertisements and portal services out of their own pockets.

Collaborative efforts among agencies work best when participants are given ownership, information is assembled in one place and efforts are supported by nationally known figures and media outlets, E2C's Warner said.

"We've gotten organizations that don't normally play [together] to start playing together," he said.

In the case of Earth911, Warner has integrated environmental information from thousands of public agencies and groups onto a single network. Providing participants with a password that lets them post and maintain information on their recycling programs gives them a sense of ownership, he said.

Asking and waiting for consensus on collaborative programs doesn't always work, said Warner, who urged individuals trying to facilitate interagency or intergovernmental collaboration to persevere even in the face of organized resistance.

In addition to Earth911, E2C has created several other noteworthy portals, including one for the Amber Alert program and another one known as Pets911.

The Amber Alert portal so far has been implemented in Arizona and Washington state. Warner hopes to have it up and running in all 50 states by year's end.

A sister program to Earth911, Pets911's mission is to help protect homeless animals and stop the euthanasia of 5 million adoptable pets by consolidating more than 8,000 animal welfare groups' information into a single hotline and portal.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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