Prince George's County recreation officials are gearing up for changes in the county's camp registration procedure that will allow parents to sign up their children online and over the telephone for the first time, beginning Saturday.
Using the new SMARTlink system, online or over the telephone, parents can register their children, put them on waiting lists or make payments on recreation registration accounts, instead of waiting long hours in line at camp locations. The new technology, which was designed specifically for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, is expected to shorten registration times and alleviate anxiety for thousands of parents as they register their children for summer recreation in the next several weeks.
"We've been concerned for a long time about parents having to stand in long lines to register and how we could make it more convenient," commission spokeswoman Anita Pesses said. "We've had our large Web site and that is a wonderful source of information, but we needed a way to do business on our Web site, and this gives us a way to do that."
Pesses said the new program requires parents to stop by a recreation center with proof of residency and proof of their child's age to set up a SMARTlink account. That account will allow them to register online or via telephone using a credit card or debit card. People who don't have debit or credit cards may put money in an account using a check or cash, she said. Personal identification numbers will be assigned to each family and bar codes will be given to each person who sets up an account so they can sign up on the new system, she said.
When registration begins for county residents , parents will be able to sign on via the Internet or call the registration line. Pesses said officials have no idea how many parents will register their children for this year's summer camps, but that there are about 450 programs that each attract, on average, 15 children.
Officials said there is concern from some parents who fear the software will crash Saturday if a lot of people log on to the system at the same time. But Pesses said commission officials have tested the system several times, and it was able to handle a large number of calls.
"I don't think it will be a major problem," she said. "We have hundreds of phone lines and hundreds of computer portals. We load-tested this technology. We recruited people to log on and call within a few minutes of each other. We've not maxed it out yet."
Pesses said experts trained 700 employees to work with the new system. She said people who call or log in will be queued up on a first-come, first-served basis, and that a message will tell them to hang on if the system is busy.
"We are aware there is concern, because people are trying to make arrangements and they are anxious, but I think people are scaring themselves, making it a bigger deal than it is," Pesses said. "It certainly won't be any worse than it was before. And it will be even better, because you won't have others in front of you in a line. You get SMARTlink set up, then all you have to do is go right to what you want and register for it."