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News Maryland Howard County Laurel

Laurel city launches municipal smartphone app

The Laurel city government has launched a smartphone application that city officials say make the municipality more accessible to the public.

"It's really city government in your hand," said Mayor Craig Moe. "The most important thing is that once people download the app they are in touch with the government. ... It's a way for city government to communicate with the public and the public to communicate with us."

The application is called MyLaurel and is intended to be both informational and interactive. The chief function of the application is a feature that allows residents to place a variety of service requests – like reporting crime tips, downed trees, etc. The application also has features that alert residents during emergency situations and provides information on the city, including a map of its historical locations and a directory to the city's elected officials and employees.

Audrey Barnes, the city's director of Department of Communications, said the application was officially launched Friday, May 9.

Since Saturday evening, approximately 200 users downloaded the city's application, according to James Cornwell-Shiel, the webmaster for the city. Monday evening, Cornwell-Shiel said approximately eight service requests have been processed since the launch.

Cornwell-Shiel said the application was developed by PublicStuff, a New York City-based company that has developed applications for governments in Tallahassee, Fla., and Oceanside, Calif., as well as others. Cornwell-Shiel said the company was chosen because they are actively developing new features, allow for customization and have a clean layout.

He said the application has been in development for eight months and that the city's contract with PublicStuff is $6,750 annually.

Moe said the application, in addition to the recent additions on social media and the redevelopment of Laurel TV, is another tool the city can use to become more connected with the community.

"We try to keep up on what's cutting edge," Moe said. "We've tried to push information out at all different levels and this is another way of doing that."

At your service

Both Moe and Cornwell-Shiel touted the service request feature of the application, which functions like the city's 311 phone line, as the most beneficial to residents.

A resident can use the feature to request a variety of different services from the city's various agencies. The application lists 44 different types of service requests that residents can submit, ranging from traffic complaints to zoning issues to animal control issues. To submit a request, the resident selects the type of request and the location using a mapping system within the application. The resident has the option of submitting a photograph or description in the request as well.

Cornwell-Shiel said the request is then automatically distributed to the appropriate person within the city via an email and that person can then respond to the request accordingly. He said the application allows for back and forth between the city official and the resident, and that the application notifies the resident of the status of the submitted request.

Moe said giving residents more and easier options to report requests for services is key to keeping the city in shape.

"That piece is important because we rely on the community," he said.

Moe and Cornwell-Shiel emphasized that the tool is not to be used as a replacement for 911 calls, and that it should not be used in emergency situations.

The application will, however, be used during emergency situations within the city, like flooding or storms, to keep residents updated on conditions, road closures and other pertinent information.

Cornwell-Shiel said the city and PublicStuff are developing new features for the application that include adding information on city buildings and a virtual visitor center that has a list of local businesses and a robust calendar.

"Our intent is to start with the basics and built on to that as we go to better serve the public's need," he said.

The application can be downloaded on an iPhone or Android by searching "My Laurel" in the App store or on Google Play. After downloading the app, users must create an account with a user name and password.

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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