The Savvy Citizen app in use on a mobile phone. Image courtesy of MSA.

Allegheny County’s 130 townships, boroughs and cities have an awful lot of ground to cover: They maintain roads, water systems and parks, and have thousands of citizens to communicate with each day. And when dangerous situations or risky weather suddenly strike in the form of crises like flooding, they have to deal with the consequences while trying to keep residents as informed as possible.

Several employees of Management Science Associates (MSA), an East Liberty-based technology and data analytics company, volunteer for their local governments in Allegheny and surrounding counties, and they’ve seen these challenges up close.

Chuck Warden, an account director at MSA, recalls the story of one of his colleagues, whose township recently wrestled with the decision of whether or not to turn a piece of farmland into residential housing. A group of concerned citizens urged their elected officials not to develop the farmland, prompting leaders to schedule a special meeting.

“One of the residents actually asked the question, ‘How are you going to let me know when that meeting is?’” Warden says. “And they couldn’t answer that question.”

That’s when the inspiration for MSA’s Savvy Citizen app was born.

A real-time communication solution

Instead of posting updates about important meetings, community events and street closures on a website or social media account where people may or may not see it, MSA has developed a way for local governments to communicate with their residents in real-time.

By downloading the Savvy Citizen app or visiting the product’s website, users can receive different types of alert notifications and gain access to a community calendar. It’s free to use and municipal officials can send out a notification within minutes.

Borough Manager Ben Estell of Dormont has been using Savvy Citizen since the beginning of this year. He says 690 Dormont residents are now signed up, and the borough recently tried to get even more people to subscribe in advance of the summer road construction season.

MSA’s Savvy Citizen is available for mobile use and also on home computers via their website. Image courtesy of MSA.
MSA’s Savvy Citizen is available for mobile use and also on home computers via their website. Image courtesy of MSA.

“We can send normal alerts out to them,” Estell says. “That way they will know if there are any traffic pattern changes or not in their area. But it allows us to kind of attach a small map to show the affected area, which is quite useful for us.”

The level of customization separates the app from other push notification services. Anyone sending out alerts can target specific streets or neighborhoods to ensure that information reaches the right people. And everyone in town sees the same community calendar.

“We’re comprehensive in the type of information that municipalities are able to communicate out to residents. While emergency alerts and disaster information is very, very critical to communities, residents also find a lot of value in community events,” said Jeralyn Brown, senior account manager at MSA.

Staying savvy across the state

In just over a year, 14 municipalities in Allegheny County have signed up for Savvy Citizen — a list that continues to grow each month, according to Brown. MSA also has several clients throughout Washington, Fayette and Butler counties.

Through traditional marketing methods, the company is actively trying to spread the word beyond the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. They’re also gaining traction the old-fashioned way.

“Our best clients have actually been referred to us from our existing clients,” Brown says. “That’s a testament to people liking our service, because you’re not going to recommend your next-door municipality if you’re not pleased with the service yourself.”

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh's East End. When he's not on deadline, he can be found running through one of Pittsburgh's city parks, reading history or playing the mandolin.