How many times have you gone in for a driver's license renewal at lunch time, only to find a standing-room-only crowd of people with the same idea?
Well, the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles office at Red Diamond Center appreciates that its customers have busy schedules and has just installed a video camera to broadcast a picture from its lobby over the Internet.
The "Web cam," as it's called, is near the ceiling on the wall opposite the entrance, and allows anyone alike the chance to peer at the lobby.
"This is a really neat tool that you can use to see how busy our office is," said DMV office manager Patricia Plesko. "Everyone has to deal with DMV at some time, and we always get calls asking how busy we are and what a good time to come in is."
"We wanted to get this in all the major offices where we have the greatest volumes," said Mary Marshburn, director of the division.
The DMV office on Kalifornsky Beach Road is the fourth busiest in the state.
The project came about when some employees in the division's information technology section suggested it.
"There was no need to reinvent the wheel. Other businesses have done this for one customer service purpose or another," Marshburn said. "It sounded like a good idea to me."
A new picture is taken every five minutes during business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The World Wide Web address is www.state.ak. us/dmv. Once there, look for the Web cam section. If the picture does not refresh itself, click "reload" in Netscape Navigator while holding down the shift key, and click "refresh" in Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Plesko said some employees have joked that they would like to work at the far end of the room from the camera, but none have really objected to their image being broadcast over the Internet.
"But then again, I don't have anyone saying 'me, me, me' to be next to the camera," Plesko said. "There have been no real negative comments."
The image on the Web site is set to a low resolution so as to not give away too many details, Plesko added. "But it gives you a sense of what the crowds are like, or not."
The Web cam idea was hatched last year and has been up and running at two DMV offices in Anchorage and one each in Fairbanks and Palmer. The system has recorded more than 77,000 visitations since June 2000.
Marshburn said the Red Diamond and Juneau offices needed a newer Internet connection system before they could be brought online.
"People don't want to go to DMV if they don't have to, and I don't want to go to other offices if I don't have to, either," Marshburn said. "So instead of bringing all our customers to us, we've tried in the last six years to take as much business out of the offices and onto the Web.
"But with some transactions people still have to see us, and this will allow them to see how busy we are. Certain times of day and month, we have our noses right at the waterline, and people can look on the Web cam and see if the DMV is packed from the comfort of their own home or office.
"It's great for them, and it's great for us."
She warns that there's no guarantee that if someone sees an empty DMV on the Web that it'll be empty by the time they drive there.
At about $200, the Web cam system is not expensive, Marshburn said. Beside the camera, all that was needed was some wiring and programming on the DMV's Web site.
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