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Electronic government, better known as "eGovernment" or "eGov," is a concept that is changing the face of public service interaction. This concept has spread around the globe. Every level of government - local, regional, state and national - has embraced this new way of linking services with its people through electronic or online connectivity. While the implementation is not globally seamless, the effect is remarkable, with no end in sight.
The objectives listed by the United Kingdom's Centre for e-Government are to enhance and spread the use of e-Government techniques and expertise for the benefit of citizens. But what is eGovernment and what impact will it have on the fire service?
It is perhaps best defined by the Centre for e-Government as, "The introduction of electronic methods of improving the way government performs its business. This is the government equivalent of e-commerce. Its potential is huge as it can enable cost-effective seven-day, 24-hour services. In short, it is the next revolution in government and governance where these functions get closer to the people."
Underway in California is a program called, "A Statewide Technology Initiative," designed to close the digital divide and create an eGovernment framework for the state. This initiative outlines the various components and the level to which they are found.
This change is picking up momentum and the fire service must continue to move in the direction of eGovernment. It has become a public expectation and the public's knowledge of "e"-related functions continues to expand.
It is no longer acceptable to be without a web presence. A web presence provides immediate information to the public, such as how citizens can most effectively contact a fire-rescue representative, what programs are offered, online requests, online fire safety information, volunteer recruitment opportunities, fund raising and much more. Many free website offers are available and it can all be accomplished at no cost to a fire or rescue department. Just do it!
This "e" philosophy is also affecting fire departments around the country in another way. The Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department is in the midst of such a transformation in its city. The City Council approved the adoption of a philosophy that states, "Charlottesville, a Connected Community." This philosophy also embraces the development of a citywide eGovernment infrastructure. Twenty-one communities in the Mercer, WA, area are working regionally to develop an effective shared eGovernment infrastructure. On the national level, President Bush recently announced the enhanced White House website (www.whitehouse.gov) and its enhanced audio and multilingual content.
The Internet is filled with eGov-related websites and examples, too numerous to list. Almost every city and town has employed or considered the eGov approach in one way or another.
This electronic or online movement begins to create a "snowball" effect with the evolution of more new functions. One example involves the integration of information systems (sometimes known as enterprise systems or integrated systems projects). This model takes existing information systems and integrates, interfaces or creates a collective information source called a data warehouse. A data warehouse becomes the mammoth information repository (for multiple agencies) from which statistical reports, in-depth analysis and geographical information applications/reports are applied or produced.
This is where it becomes critical for emergency service agencies. Does your department or agency have records-management software, personnel databases, daily-staffing software, training databases, or hydrant- or vehicle-maintenance databases? This new integration phenomenon will immediately focus on how a department's existing data will be integrated, interfaced or in some cases replaced. While this may seem severe, if you are not well prepared to defend the importance and have knowledge of how this information can be best utilized, that may be the outcome. The key is to be ready. First, establish an electronic data inventory that lists all of your separate systems. Then define: