British Columbia Municipalities Harness AI Through UBCM Funding for Community Projects

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Technological advancements steadily infuse the municipalities of British Columbia, balancing between the pace of the eager and the cautious. Cybersafety and funding standas cardinal considerations in this forward march.

The annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities has become a hub of knowledge exchange, hosting various presentations and seminars, myriad unofficial discourses, and a special resolution. These are intensely focused on the high-tech evolution intrinsic to the function of local governments.

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Stepping ahead, Kelowna is harnessing the potential of UBCM funding to jumpstart various pilot projects within the community. The wonders of artificial intelligence are being tapped to automate responsibilities, such as handling 90 percent of the calls for snow removal advisories, based on the caller’s information and expediating online applications for home reconstruction and renovations.

“If you’ve committed an error, AI can promptly identify non-compliance, referencing the applicable bylaw,” Jazz Pabla, the city’s Director of Information Services, shared with the seminar delegates.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer also emphasized the indispensability of this technology, urging his counterparts to embrace it, given its massive value.

AI is already assimilated into your organizations,” noted Doug Gilchrist, “Even if you are unaware, comfortable, or have a regulated set-up, its usage continues to grow.”

EMERGENCY TECHNOLOGY TAKES STRIDES

Progress in the area of emergency technology was a highlight on the fourth day of the convention. Discussions on Next-Gen 911, the impending countrywide project aimed at paring emergency call handling for the digital age, permitting texts, photos, and videos submissions, were a focal point.

“We’re venturing into new realms and must tread carefully,” cautioned E-Comm 911 CEO Oliver Gruter-Andrew.

While discussions on the upgrade have been going on for years, actual implementation remains sparse with Gruter-Andrew insisting on a phase-wise approach given its complexity. Concerns about data storage, privacy, and managing sensitive information also remain challenges.

Coquitlam City Councillor Craig Hodge successfully advocated for introducing a small monthly fee, likely a dollar, per mobile account, to cover increasing system demands. Moreover, discussions on a fourth “mental health” option, apart from the typical “police, fire, or ambulance” options is also under consideration.

COMPLEX FACTORS

The incorporation of newer technology doesn’t necessarily ease workloads, as evidenced by the Next-Gen 911 odyssey.

“We are finding it difficult to manage even voice calls,” revealed Donald Grand, President of the Emergency Communications Professionals of B.C. “Accepting photo and video content multiplies the amount of information for processing and communication.”

While UBCM members support funding augmentation, exhaustion among dispatchers remains a concerning issue. The job is likely to become even more taxing with the addition of potentially traumatic visuals into the mix, also demanding better working conditions.

The march of technology also raises privacy concerns, particularly with controversial uses of facial recognition software. However, cyber-security remains a complex and ever-cycling challenge.

“Online government interactions have surged,” according to B.C.’s Chief Technology Officer, Alex MacLennan. “We must safeguard our personal information during these interactions.”

Modernizing services comes at a cost. With municipal budgets already strained, delegates from the UBCM are lobbying the provincial government to provide the funds necessary to meet constituents’ expectations.