New app allows residents to report potholes, other troubles

BY BEN MARKS | FEBRUARY 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Soon, fixing a pothole may be as simple as snapping a photo.

SeeClickFix is an app that connects residents to local government, allowing them to alert officials about problems in the county.

Area residents would be able to snap a photo of a pothole or fallen tree branch and quickly send it to workers to fix, to report non-emergency crimes to the authorities, or to receive alerts about issues in their communities.

Johnson County engineer Greg Parker presented SeeClickFix’s contract to the county Board of Supervisors for review on Thursday. Pending their official vote next week, the app could come to Johnson County in as soon as a month.

If the contract is approved, Parker said, the app would have one year on a trial basis and cost $7,000. Depending on if officials are pleased with it after the year is completed, the contract would be extended with a maximum 10 percent cost increase.

SeeClickFix is a website and a free mobile app that is linked to local government services and allows residents to perform a number of civic-engagement activities.

According to its website, the app — available for Android, Windows, and Apple — is designed around a map that displays all uploaded picture and videos and has threads that allow users and government officials to interact, comment, and suggest solutions.

To report an issue, the user opens the app and takes a picture or video of the problem. The picture is then geo-tagged and time stamped and is automatically sent to a government facility such as Secondary Roads, from which workers can work on fixing the problem.

“This will be a great tool for people to help us keep track of what’s going on our roads,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said. “We simply can’t be on 940 miles of roads every day,”

Although Parker said officials are mainly focused on SeeClickFix’s road-maintenance capabilities, the app’s functionality goes well beyond potholes.

SeeClickFix is active in cities such as Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago and has also been active in Mason City, Iowa, for the past three years.

Neighborhood-development specialist Pat Otto, whose office handles and distributes all SeeClickFix complaints to the various Mason City departments, said almost every city department uses the app, and the program has worked very well.

“I think people like using it because of the anonymity associated with it,” she said. “They like the fact they’ll get an immediate response. We’ve been very happy with it.”

Otto said most of the complaints come from user’s home computers and not the app, and therefore they don’t get a lot of the app’s beneficial features, such as geo-tagging and photos, something she said is most likely because of the age of the population.

Although it has done well in Mason City, Otto said she’s intrigued about its future in Johnson County, and said she thinks it will do even better with a larger college population.

Parker said the biggest part of the app is keeping citizens involved.

“It helps us manage our staff, but it also keeps the public involved in their system,” he said. “You drive on it, you’re a user, I’m a user, we’re all end users of this system out there. It helps [citizens] to be involved to take care of the area, just like you do your own house.”

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