CAI helps local agency innovate and enable remote workers
When Pennsylvania Governor Wolf added Lehigh County to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order on March 25, all county functions had to immediately prepare for a new normal. Located in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, Lehigh County serves more than 350,000 people, including the residents of Allentown, the state’s third-largest city. The county’s offices – from the Commissioners to the District Attorney, the Judicial System, Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehab and the Clerk of Judicial Records – faced the challenge of continuing to provide essential services to county residents with many of its employees working remotely. At the start of the pandemic, Lehigh County did not have a tele-work policy to allow people to work remotely – even on a part-time basis.
CAI provides managerial support for all of Lehigh County’s IT operations and critical functions, including payroll, fiscal, and procurement services for the human services, court system, jail operations, and county-run residential facilities. Facing unprecedented mandates from the state in response to COVID-19, quick action was required, and CAI and Lehigh County leaned into their long-standing and successful partnership to ensure uninterrupted service of essential functions.
In anticipation of a surge in network traffic, the first step was to quickly increase internet bandwidth and closely monitor the traffic with an advanced network monitoring and graphing tool. At the same time, Lehigh County IT created the Lehigh County Coronavirus Response page on the county website with updates regarding county services affected by the crisis. The webpage directed users to contact the county helpdesk, which was staffed with personnel who had successfully transitioned to remote work environments and could support live-answer calls.
IT also configured the county’s phone system to allow departments to set up conference calls and screen-sharing sessions to enable business continuity and team collaboration. The system was deployed and successfully tested for an emergency Board of Commissioners meeting on March 18. IT helped users install the communications software application on their mobile phones to ensure access to voice, video, messaging, presence, audio conferencing, mobility, and team collaboration. This meant personnel in the county’s Department of Human Services, who oversee child and family services, could respond to crisis calls on their mobile phones, ensuring the public had sustained access to these critical services. IT also configured the cell phones and laptops of the office staff to work remotely.
New video conferencing licenses made it possible for the commissioners, the clerk of marriage licenses, the court system, and the Department of Human Services to continue their essential work despite county buildings being closed. One of the most urgent items for county court systems is the issuance and continuance of protection from abuse orders. Because IT deployed video conferencing for Lehigh County judges, access to these important protections remained available and expedient. Online videoconferencing also has allowed for the continued processing of marriage licenses without requiring onsite meetings and public commissioner meetings every two weeks with easy live-streaming interactive access for county residents. Additional cameras are expanding the use of video conferencing in the courts and the county jail with the appropriate firewalls to ensure security.
CAI also amended back-office processes to support essential functions. The Procurement Department can now send and receive purchase orders to and from remote locations without needing to print them and processes used by Accounts Payable were adjusted to adapt to new onsite staffing levels.
Even during a public health crisis – perhaps especially during a public health crisis – government agencies must do what it takes to respond to the needs of their citizens. Because of its strong partnership with CAI, Lehigh County has been able to navigate the unchartered territory of the pandemic and quickly adopt processes and technologies to provide its residents the essential services they need when they need them the most. Thanks to the effective use of technology and innovative solutions, the county has continued to serve the constituents of Lehigh County and keep them safe at the same time.