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November/December 2009

Inside This Issue:

 

Research Assesses Computer Security Readiness of Rural Municipalities
Pennsylvania rural municipalities may need to beef up their computer security and training practices to reduce their vulnerability to computer crimes and threats, according to research conducted by Pennsylvania State University-Altoona researchers.

The first-of-its-kind research on the computer systems security readiness of rural Pennsylvania municipalities found the lack of service agreements addressing security issues, relaxed access control and inappropriate data backup as some of the potential security weaknesses of rural municipalities that need to be addressed.

Nuts and bolts of research
The research, which was sponsored by a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, was conducted by Dr. Jungwoo Ryoo, Dr. Tulay Girard, and Charlotte E. McConn. It assessed the information systems security readiness of rural municipal governments in Pennsylvania.

The research was conducted in 2008 and employed the following evaluation criteria to assess security readiness: hardware and software infrastructures, computer and security literacy, and the daily practices of municipalities. These evaluation criteria allowed the researchers to quantify different aspects of computer security readiness.

The researchers invited all local governments in Pennsylvania to participate in the survey. Respondents from 276 municipalities, including boroughs, cities and townships, participated in the study: 67 percent (184) were rural municipalities and 33 percent (92) were urban municipalities.

A total of 379 individuals from the 276 municipalities responded.

Infrastructure assessment
To assess the hardware and software infrastructures of the participating municipalities, the researchers measured criteria related to computer infrastructures, funding and human resources. From the evaluation, the researchers identified the following factors as the most challenging to the security readiness of rural municipalities:

• A lack of human resources as 81 percent of the rural municipal respondents had no dedicated in-house information technology (IT) support personnel. Only 46 percent outsourced their computer hardware/software support.
• Insufficient budgets for improving information systems security as 25 percent of rural municipal respondents spent nothing on information systems security during the previous 5 years.
• Increased vulnerability as more municipal computers are connected to the Internet. On average, rural municipal respondents had three desktop computers connected to the Internet.
• Less than optimal installation of security software as a significant number of rural municipal respondents said they did not have any security software installed on their computers.

Computer literacy, security assessment
The researchers assessed computer literacy by measuring various criteria in the areas of computer training and knowledge, and security training and knowledge. From the evaluation, they identified the following factors as potential weaknesses of rural municipalities:

• Little computer training provided to computer users;
• Little information systems security training provided to users; and
• Lack of security knowledge as almost one half of rural municipal respondents said their information systems security knowledge was below average.

Daily practices assessment
Daily practices were assessed by measuring a host of criteria including computer sharing among employees, whether employees access municipal computers from a remote location,  inventory management, the use of various encryption methods, handling email, backing up and disposing of data, and disaster recovery. The researchers identified the following as potential weaknesses of rural municipalities:

• Lack of service agreements addressing security issues between municipalities and information technology contractors as only 32 percent of rural municipal respondents had such agreements.
• Relaxed access control as 63 percent of rural respondents adopted improper user name/password practices, such as not using a user name or password, or using only one. Also, 64 percent of rural respondents were never asked to change their passwords.
• No or unknown encryption methods used for a majority of municipal wireless local area networks.
• Inappropriate data backups. The municipalities backed up their data but did not verify it.
• Insufficient physical security. The municipalities had only a bare minimum of physical security tools.
• Inadequate disposal of computers and other media containing sensitive information.
• No security policies for a majority of municipalities.
• Loose network monitoring as 63 percent of rural respondents did not monitor the logs of network connection activities.

Practices, policy to consider
Based on the research findings, the researchers offered several practice and policy considerations for both local governments and state government. Some of the considerations include:

• Encouraging resource pooling among municipalities to share IT staff with security expertise;
• Encouraging periodic assessment of information systems security readiness among rural municipalities to monitor progress or any potential deterioration;
• Encouraging the development of written policies for enforcing daily information systems security practices;
• Providing awareness training and security education to rural municipal employees;
• Providing a centralized incident management system that keeps track of security breaches and recognizes patterns, if any, that surface; and
• Developing a Web site that promotes community-driven exchanges of ideas and features local-government-specific information systems security best practices.

For a copy of the repoReport available
rt, An Information Systems Security Readiness Assessment for Municipalities in Rural Pennsylvania, call or email the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or info@rural.palegislature.us or visit www.rural.palegislature.us.

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Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s Enabling Legislation Amended
Act 52, signed into law by Governor Ed Rendell on October 9, amended the Rural Revitalization Act, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s enabling legislation.

Act 52 allows faculty from the regional campuses of the University of Pittsburgh to participate in the Center's Research Grant Program. The regional campuses are in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville.

Previously, only faculty from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities and Pennsylvania State University were eligible to participate in the grant program.

The new law also increases the maximum potential yearly grant funding from $50,000 to $60,000, and specifically includes agriculture and rural health as grant subject areas. 

Senator John Wozniak, the Center’s board treasurer, was the primary sponsor of the legislation and Senator John Gordner, board chairman, was a cosponsor.

The act takes effect on December 8, 2009.

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Chairman’s Message
If you’re a member of the Baby Boom generation, you can probably relate to what I’m about to say: technology continues to amaze and mystify me.

As someone who didn’t grow up with a laptop, cell phone or ipod attached to my hands and ears, I’m still a bit surprised by all of the applications that are available to instantaneously share and retrieve information. And I’m often impressed by how my children and other youngsters can, within minutes, navigate any new program or command any new gadget that is introduced to the market.

While all of this access is advantageous, many members of my generation continue to be a bit apprehensive about these applications because of their ability to share things we don’t necessarily want to share, like viruses and access to our personal information.

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that, while these technologies keep us connected and informed, we need to take proper precautions to keep our information safe and in the hands of those for whom it is meant.

But it takes time, money and know-how to keep information safe from security breaches.

To assess the computer security readiness of municipalities in rural Pennsylvania, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania sponsored research in 2008. The research, which is the first-of-its-kind, was conducted by Dr. Jungwoo Ryoo, Dr. Tulay Girard, and Charlotte E. McConn of Penn State-Altoona.

The researchers examined a variety of criteria and found several factors challenging the security readiness of rural municipalities, in general. The research findings are featured on Pages 1 and 3 and offer some good suggestions on how local governments and state government can address the challenges and enhance the strengths.

Another research project sponsored and recently published by the Center looked at another issue that hasn’t been well documented in rural Pennsylvania: namely, mobile homes and mobile home residents. That’s because mobile home data specific to rural Pennsylvania are difficult to find and work with when located. So Dr. Brent Yarnal and Destiny Aman from the Center for Integrated Regional Assessment at Penn State University conducted research on mobile homes and their residents in 2007-2008.

To complete the study, the researchers conducted a phone survey of all 48 rural Pennsylvania county tax assessment and related offices to find mobile home data in electronic format. They also conducted a mail survey of mobile home residents to learn more about them and their homes.

This combination of phone survey, data analysis and mail survey helped to provide a clearer picture of mobile homes and mobile home residents in rural Pennsylvania. Some of the results from that study are featured on Page 4.

A copy of the complete report is available by contacting the Center, which has a new mail address and web address, as noted at left and on Page 7.

As always, if you have any questions about the information presented in the newsletter, or would like specific data or information about rural Pennsylvania, contact the Center staff, who will be pleased to help you.

Senator John Gordner

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A Closer Look at Mobile Homes and Mobile Home Residents
Mobile homes are an important housing option for rural Americans, providing greater affordability, availability and flexibility than traditional site-built housing, according to a variety of national data.

These data and other Pennsylvania-related data suggest that mobile homes are important housing choices for rural Pennsylvanians. These data also indicate that, like their national counterparts, rural Pennsylvania’s mobile home residents may face issues of land tenure, financing and ownership, spatially restrictive institutional barriers, and increased vulnerability to hazards not experienced by traditional site-built homeowners.

Because mobile home data specific to rural Pennsylvania are difficult to find and, when located, difficult to work with, little was known with certainty about mobile homes in the state’s rural counties.

To provide more accurate information about mobile homes and mobile home residents in rural Pennsylvania, Dr. Brent Yarnal and Destiny Aman from the Center for Integrated Regional Assessment at Pennsylvania State University conducted a study in 2007-2008 to find out more. The research was sponsored by a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

Surveys and analysis
To complete the study, the researchers conducted a phone survey of all 48 rural Pennsylvania county tax assessment and related offices to find mobile home data in electronic format. They used a representative sample of the data to determine the nature and geography of mobile homes in rural counties.

The researchers also conducted a mail survey of mobile home residents to learn more about them and their homes.

The combination of phone survey, data analysis and mail survey provided a clearer picture of mobile homes in rural Pennsylvania.

The results
Following are some of the major findings from the study:

• Mobile homes in rural Pennsylvania are much older, much smaller, and in much poorer condition than the national average.
• Most mobile homes in rural Pennsylvania have never been moved.
• Most mobile homes are primary residences, with residents having lived in their mobile homes for decades. Nearly all residents are satisfied with their housing choice. 
• Most mobile homes are located in rural municipalities far from services and employment, requiring residents to drive considerable distances every day.
• Most mobile home residents own their mobile home, but most do not own the land on which the home sits, living either in mobile home parks or on single plots of varying acreages.
• Most rural mobile homes are inhabited by older white individuals with a high school education. Many residents are retired married couples and widowed individuals living on very small pensions and only a small proportion are younger individuals with families. 
• Many mobile homes are located in floodplains and are at high risk of flood damage.
• The wide variety of formats and definitions used by tax assessment and other county offices result in incompatible mobile home data that are extremely difficult to reconcile and use.

Policy considerations
Based on the findings, the researchers provided the following policy considerations for state government and the Pennsylvania General Assembly:

• Ensure that comprehensive policies to address affordable housing in rural areas include mobile homes.
• Enact legislation to protect mobile home owners from wholesale eviction resulting from the sale of mobile home parks.
• Develop strategies with large employers and local governments to encourage and subsidize car pool, park-and-ride, and other transportation management programs.
• Provide information, incentives and help to weatherize mobile homes on leased land.
• Initiate programs that move mobile home residents out of floodplains.

Report available
For a copy of the report, An Examination of Mobile Homes in Rural Pennsylvania, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email info@rural.palegislature.us or visit www.rural.palegislature.us.

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Coming of Age: The Rise of Rural 20-Somethings
One out of every seven rural Pennsylvanians was between the ages of 20 and 29 in 2008, according to the United States Census Bureau. And these 20-somethings were among the fastest growing age groups in rural Pennsylvania from 2000 to 2008, with an increase of 14 percent. In urban counties during this same period, the number of 20-somethings increased 4 percent.

The counties with the highest increases in 20-somethings were Forest, Pike, Monroe and Wayne, each with an increase of more than 45 percent. (Forest County’s increase is largely attributed to the opening of a state correctional institution in 2004). Five counties, including Elk, McKean, Dauphin, Allegheny and Philadelphia had a decline in 20-somethings.

According to Pennsylvania State Data Center population projections, over the next 30 years (2000 to 2030), the number of rural and urban 20-somethings will increase. Rural counties are projected to see a 4 percent increase and urban counties are expected to see a 9 percent increase. 

Nationwide, in 2008, Pennsylvania ranked 44th in the percentage of the population between the ages of 20 and 29. U.S. Census data show that Alaska, North Dakota and Utah had the highest percentages of 20-somethings (more than 16 percent of the population in each state). New Jersey, New Hampshire and Maine had the lowest percentages, each with less than 13 percent. 

From 2000 to 2008, Pennsylvania ranked 35th among states with the fastest growing number of 20-somethings. The fastest growing number of 20-somethings was in Alaska, Arizona and Nevada, each with a more than 25 percent increase. The states with the slowest growth in 20-somethings were Mississippi, Kentucky and Michigan, each with an increase of less than 3 percent. West Virginia was the only state with a decline.

Like those in rural Pennsylvania, other rural counties throughout the United States saw a significant increase in the number of 20-somethings from 2000 to 2008. The number of rural Americans between the ages of 20 and 29 increased 26 percent while the number of urban Americans in this age group increased 6 percent. In both rural and urban counties nationwide, approximately 14 percent of the population was 20-something.

To take a closer look at this age group, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania analyzed data from its 2006-2009 Rural Pennsylvania Current Population Survey (RuralPA-CPS). This annual survey is modeled after the federal Current Population Survey. 

The RuralPA-CPS showed that 57 percent of rural 20-somethings and 53 percent of urban 20-somethings did not live with a parent or relative.

Among those rural and urban 20-somethings not living with a parent or relative, homeownership was high: 76 percent of rural and 70 percent of urban 20-somethings were homeowners. For those with a monthly mortgage, the median payment for rural 20-somethings was $400 and the median for urban 20-somethings was $672.

The median household income for rural 20-somethings not living with a parent or relative was $50,000. The median for urban 20-somethings was $65,000. 

Both rural and urban 20-somethings have higher levels of home Internet access than those in older age groups. Eighty-three percent of rural and 85 percent of urban 20-somethings have home Internet access. However, urban 20-somethings were more likely to have broadband than rural 20-somethings (85 percent and 78 percent, respectively).

A higher percentage of rural 20-somethings were married (30 percent vs. 22 percent for urban 20-somethings). A higher percentage of rural 20-somethings lived in a household with children (46 percent) than urban 20-somethings (41 percent).

When it comes to education, a lower percentage of rural 20-somethings were enrolled in school (29 percent rural vs. 36 percent urban). Also, a higher percentage of urban 20-somethings had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher (28 percent urban vs. 22 percent rural)

According to the RuralPA-CPS, rural 20-somethings were less likely to have health insurance coverage (75 percent) than urban 20-somethings (78 percent).

Seventy-one percent of rural 20-somethings were employed, 13 percent were unemployed, and 16 percent were not in the labor force due to a disability, education, or other reasons. Seventy-five percent of urban 20-somethings were employed, 12 percent were unemployed, and 13 percent were not in the labor force.

Number of Rural Residents Between 20 and 29 Years Old, 1960 to 2030 (projected)

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Eyesores, Health and Safety Threats
Illegal Dumpsites in Pennsylvania
Rural Pennsylvania counties have more illegal dumpsites, which typically have more trash, than urban counties, according to an analysis by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

The Center used data on illegal dumpsites collected by PA CleanWays, a nonprofit organization focused on eliminating illegal dumping and littering in Pennsylvania.

Data collection and analysis
From 2005 to 2009, PA CleanWays collected data on illegal dumpsites in 37 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

PA CleanWays defines an illegal dumpsite as an area of concentrated trash, which may contain isolated or solitary items, such as one or two appliances or tires, or just yard waste or scattered trash. Sites with scattered trash, however, must contain more than what is considered “roadside litter” (bottles, fast food wrappers, etc.), and must appear to have new trash thrown in occasionally. 

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania linked the dumpsite data with municipal level data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services. Data on curbside recycling came from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The analysis looked at the distribution of illegal dumpsites; the characteristics of these dumpsites; the differences between municipalities with and without dumpsites; and whether the availability of municipal trash collection and/or recycling services affected the number of illegal dumpsites.

The Center used its definition of rural municipalities for the analysis. Among the 1,571 municipalities surveyed, 65 percent were rural and 35 percent were urban.

Location of illegal dumpsites

• Seventy-two percent of the 4,157 illegal dumpsites were located in a rural municipality and 28 percent were in an urban municipality.
• Dumpsites located in rural municipalities contained a total of 11,219 tons of trash, or 77 percent of the total 14,494 tons. Urban municipalities had 3,275 tons of trash or 23 percent of the total.
• The majority of rural and urban municipalities (81 percent) had two or more dumpsites. The average rural municipality had 4.8 dumpsites and the average urban municipality had 6.4 dumpsites.
• The average rural illegal dumpsite had 3.8 tons of trash, while the average urban dumpsite had 2.8 tons. However, these averages are skewed by very large dumpsites: in rural municipalities, 50 percent of the trash was in just 4 percent of the dumpsites, and, in urban municipalities, 50 percent of the trash was in 8 percent of the dumpsites.
• Townships of the second class had the most dumpsites and the most tons of trash (79 percent of dumpsites and 81 percent of the total tonnage). Boroughs, cities, and townships of the first class collectively had 21 percent of the dumpsites and 19 percent of the total tonnage.
• Forty-three percent of rural and 30 percent of urban dumpsites are in or near (within 100 feet) waterways.
• The typical rural dumpsite is located along a county or municipally maintained roadway (75 percent). The same is generally true for the typical urban dumpsite (71 percent). 

Municipalities with and without dumpsites

• In the 37 counties surveyed, there were a total of 1,021 rural municipalities and 550 urban municipalities. Sixty percent, or 616, of the rural municipalities had illegal dumpsites and 40 percent, or 405, did not. Among urban municipalities, 33 percent, or 183, had illegal dumpsites and 67 percent, or 367, did not. 
• Rural municipalities with illegal dumpsites had populations that were significantly larger and more dispersed than rural municipalities without dumpsites.
• The data suggest that illegal dumpers target municipalities with low population densities.

Municipalities with, without trash collection and curbside recycling

• The majority of rural municipalities (68 percent) in the counties surveyed did not have trash collection or curbside recycling. Sixteen percent of rural municipalities had trash collection only and 10 percent had curbside recycling only. The remaining 6 percent of rural municipalities had both trash collection and curbside recycling available.
• Urban municipalities were almost the mirror opposite of rural municipalities as 64 percent had both trash collection and curbside recycling, 16 percent had trash collection only, 12 percent had curbside recycling only, and 8 percent had neither trash collection nor curbside recycling.
• The analysis compared rural municipalities with and without illegal dumpsites with those that had and did not have trash collection and curbside recycling. It found no statistically significant relationship between rural municipalities with and without illegal dumpsites and those with and without trash/recycling collection.

Fact sheet available
For a copy of the fact sheet, An Analysis of Illegal Dumpsites in Rural Pennsylvania, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email info@rural.palegislature.us or visit www.rural.palegislature.us.

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Just the Facts: Protection from Abuse Orders
In 2007, about one in 320 households nationwide was affected by partner violence, according to the United States Department of Justice. The National Coalition Against Violence says many more cases of domestic violence are not reported: the number one reason, as given to police, was the victim wanting to keep the matter private. When the victim of partner violence does request assistance, however, the most common method is to file a protection from abuse (PFA) order.

A PFA order is a restraining order against a relative or partner. This court order prohibits abusive conduct and can remove the abuser from the victim’s residence and/or provide other provisions deemed necessary by a judge. A PFA order can last anywhere from one month to 3 years.

It should be noted that protection from abuse orders are only one means of protection from domestic violence and the number of PFA orders filed does not reflect all of those who are victims of domestic violence.

According to data compiled by the Administration Office of the Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), in 2007 there were approximately 38,000 PFA orders filed. Twenty-two percent of these orders were filed in courts located in rural counties, and 78 percent were filed in urban county courts. On a per capita basis, rural counties had 247 orders per 100,000 residents, while urban counties had 328 orders per 100,000 residents. From 2000 to 2007, the number of orders filed increased in rural counties (5 percent) and decreased in urban counties (6 percent).

At the county level, in 2007, Cameron, Philadelphia and Sullivan had the highest number of PFA orders filed, each with more than 600 orders per 100,000 residents. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Chester, Franklin and Tioga had the fewest number of orders filed, each with less than 67 per 100,000 residents.

Although over half of Pennsylvania’s 61 domestic violence programs serve rural areas, public awareness about domestic violence in these areas tends to be low, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  The coalition says that low community awareness may increase the fear and isolation felt by many rural victims.

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Change of Address
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s new office and Web addresses are:

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania
625 Forster Street, Room 902
Harrisburg, PA 17120
www.rural.palegislature.us

The Center's telephone and fax numbers will remain the same.

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