As the country braces for unrest, here’s what you should know about staying safe in Pittsburgh

The country is on edge after a mob incited by the president overtook the U.S. Capitol last week, resulting in the death of five people and a sense that the security of American democracy is at risk. 

The Washington Post reported that right-wing groups are planning additional armed marches leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration, according to Alethea Group, which analyzes and combats disinformation online. The report by Alethea Group’ showed plans for activity in all 50 state capitals as well as some other cities, including Pittsburgh. In a Jan. 12 statement, the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office said the agency is aware of reports of possible “protests in our area,” and that FBI agents interviewed a “Pittsburgh-based individual” cited in the report.

(Photo via iStock)

Facial recognition use spiked after the Capitol riot. Privacy advocates are leery.

The Capitol riot marks another notable moment in the ongoing facial recognition debate. 

The facial recognition app Clearview AI saw an increase in use the day after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, the New York Times reported. As police departments throughout the United States are helping the FBI identify rioters, some are reportedly using facial recognition technology. 

The use of facial recognition last year to investigate suspected crimes related to Black Lives Matter protests raised privacy and First Amendment concerns from activists, advocates and some lawmakers. Studies show the technology, which attempts to match an uploaded image of a person to other images in a photo database, is less accurate at identifying people of color and women. Facial recognition has also resulted in at least three Black men being wrongfully arrested.

Five ways COVID-19 will continue to change Pittsburgh college life this spring

With COVID-19 cases rising following the holidays and an expected lengthy vaccine rollout, Pittsburgh-area colleges and universities are bracing for another difficult semester. How things will look for students and faculty this spring will be informed by lessons from the fall. “The whole thing has been a real challenge for everybody, but I believe that the response from the students and the faculty and the administration has really made the best of this particular time,” said Susan O’Rourke, faculty senate chair at Carlow University. Colleges are readjusting schedules to start the spring semester later, expanding COVID-19 testing, asking for student input on the fall semester and creating connections with classmates and professors — both online and in-person. Meanwhile, they face challenges like tighter budgets and deflated enrollment. 

The University of Pittsburgh, for instance, has been monitoring case metrics and advice from health officials in deciding when to bring thousands of students back to campus.

Endless buffering: Local schools try to solve students’ internet access issues on their own

Carla Rathway could hear her youngest son's frustration from the other room. She knew the clamor meant the internet was acting up again and keeping 12-year-old Preston from his school work. It happened all the time. "He's like, 'Oh my gosh,' when it's buffering or locking him out,” Rathway said, adding she also overhears him saying, "'I hate this internet.'"

Like scores of Pennsylvania students, Preston, a seventh grader at Belle Vernon Area School District in Westmoreland County, and his brother, 15-year-old tenth-grader Dylan, were in their second month of online learning this October. But the brothers were doing it all without a reliable high-speed internet connection at home, where they live across the county line in Fayette County.

Maddie Aicher, volunteer coordinator petting a cat at Animal Friends Shelter in Pittsburgh, PA (photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Caring for animals is a hands-on task. The pandemic has upended operations (and fundraising) for Pittsburgh-area shelters.

Animals aren’t at a great risk for COVID-19, but the pandemic has upended care at local shelters.  

As businesses shuttered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new challenge arose for Pittsburgh’s Animal Friends shelter. With more than 200 cats, dogs and other animals all on-site, Animal Friends couldn’t just shut their doors. 

Instead, shelter staff sprung into action. And over the next nine months, the shelter created solutions to continue providing essential care to the animals safely amid the pandemic. Those included partnering with foster homes to house the animals, virtual fundraisers and limiting foot traffic at their campus — among other precautions. “We limited the number of people in the building and implemented a team schedule among staff,” said Cody Hoellerman, chief community engagement officer at Animal Friends.

Lower Hill District parking lots, north of PPG Paints Arena. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

December Develop PGH Bulletins: Allegheny County picks new officer to diversify contracting

Develop PGH Bulletins updates you on the Pittsburgh region's economy, including close coverage of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, City Planning Commission and other important agencies. Please check back frequently, sign up for the Develop PGH newsletter and email rich@publicsource.org with questions, tips or story ideas. 12/17/20: Allegheny County hires from within in bid to diversify contracting
Allegheny County has hired a new chief equity and inclusion officer, charged with increasing minority- and women-owned business participation in contracts, according to a press release from County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office. Lisa Edmonds, a Pittsburgh resident, has been the acting director of the county’s Department of Equity and Inclusion since 2019, and before that served as its deputy director beginning in 2005. According to the release, she was chosen from among nearly 100 candidates for the job.