Digital tech helps city connect

By Neil Schulman

Long Branch — The City of Long Branch’s website, www.longbranch.org, and its technological infrastructure, has made it easier than ever for officials to connect with residents.

Council President Dr. Anita Voogt’s favorite feature is the ability to sign up for a newsletter, overseen by Danna Kawut,which keeps her up to date on all the special events and activities planned in the city.

“She does her e-blast every week,” Voogt said. “It’s very helpful to me, and I would imagine, it’s very helpful to the 2,000 people signed up” to receive it.

At the Sept. 9 Long Branch Council workshop, Will Bahamonde, Director of IT for the city, outlined some of the changes made to the website recently and how they affect residents.

Since Mayor John Pallone’s administration took over in 2018, both the regular and workshop council meetings have been live streamed on YouTube. The Long Branch YouTube page also has videos spotlighting employees and features of Long Branch, and since 2020 has been posting videos related to Covid 19.

Close to 250 videos have been produced.

It’s not just YouTube features that have helped fight Covid. The city used its infrastructure to set up a Covid 19 vaccination hotline, which helped 9,000 people sign up for shots in the city, Bahamonde said.

Several technologies are making things easier for residents. Long Branch has installed credit card terminals, and made it possible to pay for some services online. “Several hundred thousand dollars worth of payment have been processed with our new system,” Bahamonde said.

There has been plenty of work done on the website, both visible to residents and behind the scenes. A new dashboard feature lets residents see the latest news. When Bahamonde spoke, it had recently added announcements about the dredging at Lake Takanassee that was about to begin and the upcoming 9/11 remembrance ceremonies.

In addition, this site has made it easier for residents to report concerns to the city, and for people to access accident reports online.

The city’s staff has received more training on cybersecurity, and it’s proving effective, Bahamonde said.

“Our analytics show we’re becoming less prone to phishing with this program,” Bahamonde said. Phishing is when hackers try to trick you into giving them access to a system, often by disguising a virus as an important looking document or website link.

Expect more changes by the end of the year, he said. “We’re working on some very big updates.”