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Schenectady announces dates for Smart Cities public forums

Schenectady announces dates for Smart Cities public forums

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Schenectady announces dates for Smart Cities public forums
A pilot program on lower Union Street uses these wireless sensors to monitor vehicular traffic with the goal of reducing flow.
Photographer: Pete DeMola/Gazette Reporter

SCHENECTADY — The city has been rolling out new technologies designed to reform how it provides services, from apps that allow residents to monitor snow plow routes to placing devices in vacant buildings to safeguard against squatters. 

Now the public will be briefed on the ongoing Smart City initiatives through four public events. 

Upcoming city-organized open house events announced on Friday include:

  • Tuesday, Dec. 3 from 5:30 p.m to 7:30 p.m. at Mont Pleasant Library.
  • Thursday, Dec. 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Electric City Barn.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Schenectady County Public Library.
  • Thursday, Dec. 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Walter Robb Auditorium, McClellan Street Health Center. 

“Public engagement will play a critical role in this project as we evaluate new technologies and solutions to determine what options best serve the needs of the public as we build a smarter, safer and more sustainable Schenectady for the 21st century,” said Mayor Gary McCarthy in a statement.

While Schenectady has increasingly branded itself as a “smart city” by using new technology, it has also run into roadblocks articulating those services to the public and the City Council, who asked for more clarity last month before allocating an additional $2 million in capital funding in next year’s budget.

To date, the city has socked away $7 million in taxpayer money for the effort. 

McCarthy first announced the events last month after lawmakers questioned the costs, transparency, security protocols and the overall scope of the effort. 

“I’m happy the public sessions are going to happen,” said city Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo. “I hope residents come out. This is a significant amount of their money being invested.”

Councilman Vince Riggi also welcomed the events.

“There’s a lot of people in the dark about what is the benefit for the city,” Riggi said. “Now that there’s an announced public schedule, that’s better yet.”

McCarthy said the city has received wide recognition for its efforts  — including prominent billing in a recent state comptroller’s report highlighting how local governments are using technology — and said the effort has the “extraordinary potential to position our community as a global leader in municipal sustainability and innovation.”

Linked with the effort is National Grid’s ongoing work to update 4,200 street lights to LED technology over a three-year period, a $7.6 million pilot project known as “Reforming the Energy Vision.”

The new units can be dimmed during off-hours or adjusted based on real-time data, efficiency measures expected to save the city between $370,000 and $380,000 annually on electrical costs.

Each of the new units also contains sensor ports, and McCarthy and Signal Superintendent John Coluccio envision a broad network of sensors and wireless nodes, all carrying functions that can be utilized for everything from analyzing traffic volumes to monitoring air quality. 

The city will also deploy gunshot detection technology.

The city aims to use ShotSpotter in one test area, and acoustic sensors designed by Cisco Security in the other. Following a pilot period, the city will compare the efficacy of the two technologies.

The ShotSpotter technology will cost $120,000 annually, according to Coluccio.

City Police Chief Eric Clifford said on Friday the goal is to roll out the technology in select areas by late-January.

As part of Smart Cities, the city will also expand its public Wi-Fi network from downtown and into the city’s neighborhoods. 

The city is also eyeing 5G and entered into agreement with Verizon earlier this summer, a measure that will allow the provider to install small-cell technology on as many as 500 city-owned utility poles. 

Despite the rosy ambitions, an increasing reliance on technology to perform government services does carry inherent risks.

Riggi previously highlighted security concerns outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal report that cities are vulnerable to hackers breaking into municipal systems and holding data hostage through ransomware, including Baltimore and Atlanta.

And the state Division of Consumer Protection issued a warning last month to consumers utilizing public Wi-Fi connections.

While the ports are designed for convenience, they can also result in people skimming private data, malware installations and other software deployments that are hard to detect and control.

“Millions of people every day step out into the world and all its surrounding technology,” said state Secretary of State Rossana Rosado in a statement. “As technology grows and continues to make our lives easier, it is also making it easier for hackers to get access to our information. It is important for consumers to know what they can do to protect themselves.” 

McCarthy previously acknowledged the city is hit 40 times daily with attempts to crack the city’s cyber infrastructure. 

But it has been awarded a $50,000 cybersecurity grant, some of which will be used to train city staff on new technology. 

“We engage in the most advanced protocols for protection,” he said.

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