Education, Public Safety Programs Win Innovation Awards
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
Two state-run programs on education and public safety are among five policy initiatives that won $100,000 awards for being the most innovative programs in American government.
The awards are given annually by the Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in conjunction with the Council for Excellence in Government.
Winners of the top prize this year included:
- California's Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program helps educationally disadvantaged students excel in math.
- Oklahoma's OK-First program supports local public safety agencies in the heart of Tornado Alley with a computerized weather system that helps local officials make lifesaving decisions. The program, an initiative by the state-run Oklahoma Climatological Survey, serves about 140 communities with real-time radar data through public safety agencies including fire departments, law enforcement and emergency management.
The two programs were chosen from 1,300 applicants for having outstanding creative problem-solving.
Dale Morris, program manager for OK First, said the Oklahoma program was noteworthy because it has transformed emergency management. OK First has helped public safety officials spot tornadoes and let forest fire crews know about wind shifts.
"Most people would assume that local fire departments are well informed on such things, but typically they are not," Morris said. "The way the emergency management field in Oklahoma operates now is completely different. It has completely transformed their jobs. That is what is most innovative about it."
Other winners of the top prizes included a federal Veterans Affairs program that monitors close calls involving patients, a tribal business-development initiative in Nebraska, and a Toledo, Ohio teacher peer review method.
The grand prizes, funded through a Ford Foundation endowment, are given to publicize and replicate the winning programs in other jurisdictions. In the 15 years since the competition started, programs such as voice mail for the homeless, an initiative to eradicate sweatshops, and an effort to help the uninsured gain health coverage have won awards and taken root elsewhere.