Inclusivity at Scale: How the City of San José Uses Zoom to Protect and Connect a Diverse Public
Discover how the City of San José uses Zoom to modernize operations, improve resident engagement and accessibility, and more.
Zoom brought us together to do incredible things that will have a lasting impact.
Raymond RiordanDirector, Office of Emergency Management
Today’s state and local governments are finding new ways to use Zoom to serve their constituents and support their communities. Some agencies use our technology to increase access to justice, others to streamline internal agency operations. And then there’s the City of San José, which uses it for just about everything.
Rob Lloyd, CIO for the City of San José; Raymond Riordan, Director, Office of Emergency Management; Zulma Maciel, Director of the Office of Racial Equity; Carolina Camarena, Director, Office of Communications; Toni Taber, City Clerk; and Trevor Gould, Senior Executive Analyst, shared how they use Zoom to modernize their operations, improve resident engagement and accessibility, streamline emergency response, and more.
Scaling up to solve a crisis
As the 10th-largest city in the United States, the City of San José boasts 85,000 businesses and 1 million diverse residents in the heart of Silicon Valley. When the COVID-19 pandemic upended everyday life, the City focused on protecting lives and livelihoods in the community.
Determined to continue essential services with minimal disruptions during the crisis, the San José team had to “push the limits of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC),” Riordan said. “Typically, an EOC is a physical facility where pre-assigned managers come to understand and establish what the crisis is, determine a response, communicate to the public, and coordinate the delivery of additional, unplanned services.”
From March to June 2020, the EOC staff ballooned from 50 to 700 employees aiding with emergency response — a staffing level sustained throughout 2021 and made possible through the use of Zoom. “Zoom created the ability for us to communicate with these staff members. It enabled an opportunity to reimagine how the EOC operates. Now our employees can work from home or a remote location where they feel safe, and that was very critical for us. We don’t lose time moving from one place to another,” he said.
While the team found continuity and a way to focus essential efforts via Zoom, video communications were still novel. “This was an experimental technology, it was new to us,” Riordan said. But what was once unfamiliar technology soon became a strategic tool for achieving the City’s key missions for thousands of employees.
Delivering mission-critical outcomes
While video conferencing started as a pandemic-specific necessity, the City of San José quickly saw it as an avenue for improving accessibility and community engagement. Among the first in the nation to use Zoom for all public meetings, the City team found the technology unearthed new opportunities for better equity and inclusion, citizen engagement, and service delivery.
Equity, inclusion, and accessibility
“With the number of cultures and languages spoken [in San José], we had to work on equity. We had to develop and deliver resources and services much quicker than we typically had to, and scale such significant operations,” Riordan said.
Home to nearly 40% foreign-born people, San José’s diverse population powers Silicon Valley and requires the City to find new and engaging ways to connect with residents and businesses. With over 50% of households speaking a language other than English, the City prioritized equity and increasing access to information and resources during the pandemic crisis. “We developed Zoom trainings in Spanish and Vietnamese for community leaders to help them embrace the technology,” Maciel said. “The virtual setting was also a huge boost to equity — people could participate in council and community meetings from anywhere. Zoom offered everyone an equal seat in the room through capabilities like closed captioning in numerous languages, including American Sign Language.”
For Maciel and City teams, Zoom was an essential tool for achieving their larger goals. “We strive to create a positive customer experience where everyone feels like they belong,” she added.
Zoom also helped the San José team evolve services, as Camarena noted, “We moved from translation to transcreation.” Transcreation means a message isn’t just put into the right language but is also culturally appropriate and relevant. The direct translation of words can miss important context and may not resonate with intended audiences.
Transcreation was fundamental in conveying timely, important emergency information. And the reception was overwhelming. According to Gould, the team witnessed “147,000 total visits to transcreated emergency webpages — 58,000 for Spanish, 64,000 for Vietnamese, and 25,000 for Chinese.”
Public safety continuity
“[With Zoom] we were able to sustain all of our major public health services — police, fire, water, sanitation — without disruption,” Riordan noted. The San José team was even able to operationalize a food necessities distribution program for those who were in need or out of work due to COVID-19. ”We delivered over 2 million meals a week,” he added.
Bridging the digital divide
“We bridged a digital divide by distributing hotspots, computers, [tablets], so [the public] could communicate with us [over Zoom] and to support education,” Riordan said.
The increased digital presence resulted in better community engagement across town hall and City meetings, as Taber noted, “On average, we used to have [less than] 50 people attend meetings in person. For virtual meetings, we have about 263 unique viewers per meeting and we recently peaked with 573 viewers.” When it came time to discuss an important topic recently, Taber and the team saw a robust, hybrid pool of attendees. “We had about 100 people attend in person, and 1,000 attend virtually.” The team has also provided access to Zoom recordings of public meetings over YouTube and Facebook, resulting in engagement as high as 4,000 views for a single public session.
Protecting lives and livelihoods
San José’s disaster response and recovery planning was also focused on helping those who are struggling most, using collaboration technology to orchestrate outreach to those facing housing insecurity. The team also used this technology to implement testing and vaccination efforts in areas where vulnerable populations live, execute programs for the homeless, coordinate addiction relief services, and more.
“All of this was done through the Zoom capability — Zoom brought us together to do incredible things that will have a lasting impact,” Riordan said.
Reimagining the workings of local government
With challenge comes an opportunity for change. The City of San José embraced the obstacles ahead of them to bring innovation and inclusivity into the forefront of everything they do. This matches the people of Silicon Valley, as the San José team noted, “We aspire to be as innovative as the community we serve.”
“Even local governments can embrace ingenuity and efficiency. This past year tested a system and a culture, and necessitated doing business differently. From revising policy to the adoption of various technology tools, [we had to find] more effective methods to reach and engage all members of our community, regardless of which language is spoken or if they’re differently-abled individuals,” Maciel reflected.
“We used these tools to connect in a way that we’ve never connected before — to be the answer to a community in a time of crisis. We now have a digital workforce and digital public. We tell people welcome back, but it’s different now,” Lloyd said. “We have a couple of imperatives we are focusing on: continuing pandemic recovery, managing a different type of organization, and using these tools to make decisions that are more representative of our community.” The City sees Zoom playing an important role in those efforts.
You can learn more about how Zoom supports state and local governments by visiting our government webpage.