Skip to Main Content

Maiden turns up the tech 

by League Communications Associate Jessica Wells

Sitting idle in a line of cars at an elementary school is rarely the highlight of a parent’s day. But, could free Wi-Fi make it a more pleasant experience? In Maiden, parents waiting to pick up their children stumbled upon the town’s new public Wi-Fi connection, and 600 people connected the first day.
“If you build it, they will come,” Town Manager Todd Herms said. “We didn’t tell a lot of people we were rolling it out because we didn’t know how it was going to go, so we rolled it out, and it had been up a week or two when one of the access points dropped. It wasn’t down very long and three people at the town got a phone call.”
That was nearly two years ago, when the town first began putting in place the network, which will eventually blanket all 3.1 square miles of Maiden, located along the Catawba and Lincoln county line. The project was broken into three phases. One is complete and serves the town’s most economically depressed neighborhood.
“You think it would be a lot of younger kids on it, but we’re finding that it’s mostly older adults that are taking advantage of it. At one time, we would see a big spike when school got out, then it would level off,” Herms said. “We’re trying to focus on areas where there are students who might not have access to it, and they certainly need it nowadays.”
He said the network averages about 1,200 active devices at a time in a town of 3,400. According to Director of Information Technology Tammy Hawn, the network supports 3,000 to 4,000 on the weekends and during festivals.

The Wi-Fi initiative was part of a broader directive from the council to find ways to serve citizens without raising taxes – and they did. Thanks to expansion and creation of local businesses, which raised revenue from about $10 million to $17.5 million, the town was able to implement a myriad of technological improvements while still cutting property taxes twice.

The most notable addition is Apple’s data center and solar farm, the largest operated by the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer firm. The center, which cost more than $500 million to build, houses Apple’s iCloud data and runs completely off of energy from the solar farm.

Coincidentally, since Herms became manager, the town switched all its devices to Apple products for consistency.

"Seven and a half years ago, when I first started working here, they gave me a flip phone and we had older Dells, but the mayor and council really wanted us to become more modern," he said.

The council has moved to electronic packets, and according to Herms, having an electronic budget packet paid for itself. The budget used to total 300 to 400 pages, so after printing 20 to 25 hard copies for department heads, council members, various other employees and citizens by request, town staff spent 4 days to produce the document.

Now, it’s uploaded to the cloud to be shared, and the town can make a copy for citizens on an as-needed basis.

"People are starting to realize, if you spend a little up front, you save in the long run. When our council looks at a product, it looks at the cost over its life," Herms said. "We try to keep what we have up and running because, at the end of the day, we’re charged with protecting the public’s money, and I and the council truly believe that the best way to do that is to keep good products out there."

The police vehicles were also upgraded to include mobile terminals. Now, each vehicle includes a Mac laptop that can access the private side of the town’s Wi-Fi network to type up a report anywhere in town.

"We’re in a situation here where it all goes together and works together so nicely from the computer on their desk to the laptop in the police car and what they’re carrying on their hip," Hawn said. "It all works together so seamlessly. It’s just getting easier and easier."

A new Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system has also streamlined processes for water and sewer management. Employees are able to track water levels and open and close valves electronically when an alert comes through to their iPhone or iPad. When a water leak happens, the software will tell the employee what kind of pipe it was, what utilities are nearby and about any past repairs before he or she even begins to dig. The town also is in the process of mapping the electrical grid for similar benefits and faster recovery in case of outages.

"There’s more to come, but I think the turnaround is what surprises everybody," Herms said. "We’re a town of 3,400 people – little ol’ Maiden – and when people get here, they’re blown away by what we’re offering and what we’re doing in the background that they don’t see."