How Louisville Metro is collaborating to fight fires

Under City Accelerator, Louisville Metro is working on over 50 projects that address urban challenges through a new collaboration and data innovation process

By Andrea Fox, Gov1

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — By merging fire incidence and community service provision data, Louisville Metro created a geographic information system that helped the Louisville/Jefferson County Information Consortium determine that many fires occurred in neighborhoods with high numbers of people served by the city’s Community Services Department.

The city also learned that thousands of abandoned homes and buildings pose a significant fire hazard risk to neighboring homeowners and community assets. From 2013 to 2016, about 27 percent of the home fires in Louisville’s West End district involve deserted properties. Nearly half of those fired spread to adjacent homes.

Staff at the Community Services Department who work directly with residents received fire prevention training to disseminate fire safety knowledge to the community, and in November 2015, Louisville Metro hosted a hackathon where local techies devised a cost-effective device for detecting fires at abandoned properties that is already being tested.

Collaboration, most recently spurred by participation in Living Cities’ City Accelerator program, has not only been the key to helping Louisville Metro develop strategies to address the city’s fires on a few levels, but also creating a project pipeline that addresses a multitude of urban challenges.

“What’s been fascinating is the inter and cross departmental work,” said Steven Bosacker, director of public sector innovation for Living Cities.

More than 50 projects have gone through Louisville’s pipeline, including the fire detection hackathon, he said.

Creating the Pipeline
Living Cities, powered by nearly two dozen financial institutions and foundations, launched City Accelerator in 2014 to foster innovation at the level of city government. The three-year, $3 million program brought Louisville, Ky., Nashville, Tenn., and Philadelphia, Pa., together to focus on developing municipal innovations that can help cities run more effectively while improving citizens’ lives.

This first cohort was challenged to recognize gaps, leverage partnerships and engage local residents to create solutions. City Accelerator teams use existing data to address salient issues specific to the community–such as Louisville’s fire incidence challenges.

Louisville Metro already had an Office of Innovation and the Office of Performance Improvement, which pioneered the city’s open data initiative, LouieStat, in 2012. The program collects and tracks key performance indicators (KPIs) for each Metro department. The city also previously received Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Innovation Delivery Teams (i-team) investment, which funds a team that reports to the mayor and collaborates with city department leaders to investigate selected problems, generate ideas and prepare and perhaps implement solutions delivery. Louisville’s i-team took up a vacant and abandoned properties challenge in 2013 because the city had approximately 6,500 buildings and lots unoccupied.

With i-team investment ending in 2014, the city leveraged its City Accelerator opportunity to merge these offices, and its i-team, into the Louisville Office of Performance and Improvement and Innovation (OPI2). Louisville got to work, developing standardized and delineated job titles and mapping the critical pipeline that determines how to assign projects — such as the hackathon to reduce fires at abandoned properties — as well as configuring staff and resource deployment.

Living Cities evaluated Louisville in February, interviewing more than a dozen internal and external stakeholders and reviewing multiple primary and secondary documents provided by the OPI2 team. The relationship between OPI2 and Louisville Metro’s 26 departments is growing greater trust and deeper collaboration, according to the evaluation report by Equal Measure.

OPI2 utilizes several performance improvement methodologies, including Lean, Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard, Enterprise Model and Project Management.

Engaging Departments
When Louisville Metro departments partner with OPI2, they designate a liaison with the office as well as with LouisStat, to discuss progress, challenges, successes and opportunities to further align with the city’s overall strategies.

The pipeline has resulted in the following changes for Lousiville:

  • Monthly meetings allow liaisons to learn about work across Metro government, and foster relationships between departments that did not historically exist.
  • Several departments have allocated resources to create performance analyst positions that are permanent liaisons with OPI2.
  • OPI2’s budget is now part of the city’s general fund rather than a discretionary fund.
  • Mayor Greg Fischer’s reporting on LouisStat KPIs have generated “a healthy sense of competition” among Metro departments, and led to a city council with a more data-driven mindset.

Interviewees cited OPI2’s process as empowering collaboration, leading the City Accelerator evaluators to conclude that the pipeline is accomplishing its goals under the program. And, the performance and innovation work created thus far by Louisville’s pipeline has helped streamline the city’s services for low-income residents, which is a goal of Living Cities.

Despite the progress made with City Accelerator and prior, the evaluation report indicated that some city departments exhibit skepticism on data use for performance improvement and regard it as bureaucracy. Equal Exchange suggested that further incorporating department staff on how data innovation can improve performance could help institutionalize the culture OPI2 is hoping to manifest throughout Metro.

Leveraging Local Tech
Part of the City Accelerator challenge is to engage citizens, so OPI2 partnered with Louisville Metro on the hackathon that attracted 27 local technical professionals with fire detection ideas.

Members of the city’s fire department and emergency dispatch along with fire protection industry professionals chose Completely Autonomous Solar-Powered Event Responder (CASPER) as a possible solution to reducing the ultimate impact of fires in abandoned buildings and increasing the speed of fire response by the city.

CASPER, a result of Louisville Metro’s use of data and the innovation model developed Under City Accelerator, costs approximately $10-$15 to produce. Louisville is pilot testing the relatively low-tech device — a circuit board, battery, antenna and a microphone — at nine city-owned properties to determine if it has potential to detect and reduce the city’s most destructive fires. If CASPER is effective, it could be deployed more widely throughout the city’s trove of abandoned buildings, according to CNET.

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