When a group email was sent out in August alerting employees that all state vehicles must install a communications upgrade, there were mixed feelings. A new tracking system will add safety features for employees traveling on Wyoming’s long, often lonely roads. But it will also track their driving habits – not always a welcome tally for some.
Recently, a Wyoming Game and Fish employee went off the road and into a ditch on his way home from a long day in the backcountry. The employee might have had a long walk in his future if the vehicle hadn’t been fitted with the new tracker, said Jaye Wacker, public information officer in the Director’s Office of the Department of Administration & Information.
After the accident, state fleet manager Dale Spiess immediately received an alert from the FirstNet system, which enabled him to contact Game and Fish, who sent help.
“At certain times, [the report] automatically also to the disposal of the Highway Patrol,” said Wacker. “Fortunately, the employee was fine. But the system saved her from going on a damn hike.”
That’s exactly why the state wanted the updated location system. Risk management is extremely important, he said. However, there is a downside for those with unsafe driving habits. Employee driving is now being audited at a much higher rate. The tracking devices immediately report safety issues to officers.
“If a driver drives 95, we will be notified. If the driver is not buckled, we will be notified. In the event of an accident, we will be notified,” said Wacker.
Risk reduction work saves not only lives but money, he said. The state gets a rebate on the cost of workers’ compensation claims as a result of its efforts to reduce risk.
During his earlier career as an English teacher, Wacker taught George Orwell’s book 1984 for decades. Published in 1949, the book was about a future (although that’s almost 40 years ago now) in which “thought police” and “big brother” would keep tabs on the citizens.
“I’m as paranoid as everyone on Big Brother. But at the same time, this is one of those applications that makes sense,” Wacker said.
Getting on the wrong side of the tracking system can lead to the unemployment line.
“We’ve let people go over security breaches, it’s such a big deal,” Wacker said.
Bringing in every state vehicle is a “massive undertaking,” Wacker said. The state fleet currently has more than 1,200 vehicles in the first round of expansion. The state couldn’t say exactly how many vehicles would ultimately be upgraded, but the good news is that the entire program was a great deal.
“The cool thing is [the system, including installation] came to the state free of charge and saves our risk management [office] money,” he said.
AT&T has a FirstNet contract with the federal government. The United States First Responder Network Authority was established under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 as an independent agency within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The mission is to “deploy, operate, maintain and enhance the nation’s first high-speed wireless broadband public safety network,” AT&T reported.
The public safety communication platform enables authorities and first responders to quickly receive information that will help them make faster and better decisions in emergency situations, the company said.
Under the program, AT&T paid for the equipment and installation of the units through a third-party contractor at no cost to the state.
Most state employees in the region received the upgrades by September 16. A state official said much of the information would be public, although the privacy of employees would be maintained.