ET&S Provides Technology for NH House of Representatives Sessions at UNH

Enterprise Technology & Services staff
A photo of the New Hampshire House of Representatives assembling at the Whittemore Center Area at the University of New Hampshire.

Responding to the need to convene in a safe, socially distanced space in light of COVID-19, members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives met twice in the UNH Whittemore Center Arena on the Durham campus in June 2020 and again in December 2020. Prior to this year, the legislative body had met outside the Statehouse in Concord only once since the building was completed in 1819.

Three hundred and forty of the 400-member House descended on the Whitt on June 11, 337 gathered the second time June 30, and in December 2020, the House met outside the Whittemore Center to swear in the new legislature and elect its constitutional officers.

Many UNH departments and volunteers came together to make these technically challenging events possible, including Enterprise Technology & Services (ET&S).

New Hampshire Clerk of the House Paul C. Smith’s usual responsibilities includes advising on parliamentary matters, overseeing the flow of work and handling legislation. For the special session at UNH, Smith liaised with UNH on security, seating and other logistics.

Smith said challenges included spacing House members effectively while making sure rules of decorum weren’t beached, ensuring members could speak, and prioritizing safety while recognizing and respecting each member’s individual freedoms.

“From a purely logistical standpoint, I was beyond pleased with how the two sessions at UNH went,” he said.

From the UNH perspective, Megan Brunelle, associate director of university and special events, co-led and handled logistics for the gathering with Capt. Steve Lee of the UNH Police Department.

Brunelle said the biggest challenge was keeping the participants, representatives and the numerous volunteers and staff safe while following recommendations and guidelines from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Technology followed closely behind.

“The second challenge was how to meet the House’s voting needs,” Brunelle said. “Our IT and audio-visual staff faced this challenge, and had to find different options available, but then had to figure out how to make the chosen option work within the needs of the House.”

ET&S offered the i>clicker student response system as a voting system, preparing and decontaminating over 400 devices for the event. Faculty ordinarily use these devices for real-time polling and quizzes in the classroom. ET&S provided support for the i>clickers and worked to find a way to mimic the House’s existing voting system to allow for representatives to quickly leverage the devices for voting.

Louise Jones is part of the ET&S team that provided the i<clickers.

“It was nice the House was able to experience using the same student polling system that our students and faculty use on campus,” Jones said. “I enjoyed being part of the team that supported this event.”

To address health and safety, the College of Health and Human Services checked the temperature and asked each representative a series of questions, while other volunteers distributed N-95 masks to prevent the potential spread of germs. The College of Engineering and Physical Sciences did airflow tests in the arena to ensure proper ventilation.

A photo of a volunteer taking the temperature of a NH State House Representative

A UNH volunteer takes the temperature of a member of the NH House of Representatives. 

Other staff helped usher in representatives safely and made sure they were spread out across from each other, while microphone runners made sure questions and comments were heard.

ET&S coordinated the facilitation of vendors and the design consultation and provided in-house production.

Vendors supplied sound reinforcement equipment for speech and audio, which was especially critical considering the Whitt is a large, reverberant space, better suited for hockey than hosting presentational events. The vendors also provided portable and fixed large-screen video support, live streaming of the event and electronic wireless voting devices and software.

ET&S provided theatrical cue switching and production software from QLabs, which gave representatives, press and audience members a seamless, TV-production-like visual of the House proceedings and voting tallies that displayed on the jumbotron.

ET&S also provided network connectivity for the speaker of the House and his staff, the live stream and the press.

The UNH technology team went above and beyond to work with us in accommodating our session,” Smith said. “Additionally, the sound and video contractors that were utilized by the UNH team to supplement everything were incredible. The video quality was amazing, the sound was crisp and clear, and I think most folks were satisfied.”

Overall, the university’s coordinated efforts and teamwork led to a positive outcome.

“I have to say that dealing with UNH regarding these sessions may very well end up being the highlight of my career as clerk,” Smith said. “UNH accommodated every need, they worked with us on every detail and came up with solution after solution to make everything successful. From the UNH Police Department to the events team, to the catering department, to the IT folks, to the president’s administrative team, the planning was far beyond what I could have anticipated. For the two days in June 2020 the N.H. House of Representatives met outside the State House, we were all Wildcats, and we’ll always be proud of that.”

You can watch a UNH video of the June 11 session here.

Originally published on July 12, 2020. Updated on August 30, 2021.