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How Smart Cities handle pandemics

Smart City deployments can be game-changers in a crisis. Here are five key learnings from our work with HPE's Smart City customers.

HPE Pointnext Services Smart Cities 1.jpgSmart Cities, as a concept, have been around for a while. The vision for a digitized city addressing a series of public and private use cases is well understood. Use cases range from Smart Parking, to Smart Buildings and Smart Metering, all the way to city-wide video surveillance for citizen safety and security. Smart City adoption has varied considerably amongst regions and countries. There are cities that are moving forward with a wholesale model, where they build-out a complete underlying Smart City infrastructure, and there are cities that are going with a more targeted approach, implementing point solutions with a view towards greater integration that may happen at a later stage. Take a look at this document for a review of the various approaches and their pros and cons.

Irrespective of the model being followed, the big question that has been on the mind of everyone involved with Smart Cities lately is this one:

How have Smart Cities handled the COVID-19 pandemic? And what are some of the lessons learned?

In this blog, we attempt to answer that question and share some of the learnings from the work we are doing with our Smart City customers:

1. Smart City deployments can be game changers in a pandemic.

What we are seeing with our Smart Cities customers is that they are able to leverage a number of capabilities that a Smart City deployment brings to the table to assist with COVID-19 management. HPE is working closely with these customers to reuse and extend these current capabilities where necessary by creating a set of capabilities to help them leverage their existing Smart City deployments for the COVID-19 response:

  • Visibility and insight: Leveraging Command and Control Centers (CCC) built into the Smart Cities framework for gaining visibility using mobile apps, video, and audio feeds throughout the city. This integrated view enables policy and decision makers to cross-analyze data from multiple existing as well as new data sources across the Smart City Framework, leveraging open APIs and embedded analytics features. For example, for one of our Smart City customers, the integrated data gathered has enabled policy and decision-makers to visualize and define four zones based on infection levels – a containment, red, orange and green zone – allowing for more efficient surveillance and management
  • City-wide coordination: Leveraging the audio/video, web, mobile apps and social media capabilities of Smart City deployments to assist with the capturing of information and the coordination of activities around the city. For one of our customers, the city is able to leverage their Smart City capabilities to dispatch and coordinate its field workforce (healthcare, police and sanitization) systematically when a new COVID case is reported. This customer is also using a mobile workforce app that is part of the Smart City deployment to find the nearest COVID-19 field “warriors” and assign tasks to them
  • Telemedicine: Leveraging Smart City infrastructure to enable the medical staff to connect with patients that need attention. One of our customers is now utilizing the Smart City command and control center as the central location from where medical staff are able to connect and consult remotely with patients
  • Quarantine management: Leveraging GIS (Geographic Information System) and video surveillance capabilities built into the Smart City framework for tracing and tracking people in quarantine, while sharing only the required data under local privacy regulation requirements. With HPE’s assistance, one of our Smart City customers has repurposed their GIS systems to help enforce the isolation of quarantined patients. We have enabled another one of our customers to leverage facial recognition (which can be anonymized as needed) for quarantine violation management
  • Social distance management: Several of our Smart City customers are leveraging GIS and video surveillance capabilities of the Smart City solution to generate alerts when public spots are getting crowded
  • Public messaging: One of our Smart City customers is leveraging video billboards and displays that HPE deployed for them as part of the Smart City solution to provide guidance as well as encouragement to health workers and the general public
  • Citizen sentiment analytics: One of our Smart City customers is working with HPE Pointnext Services experts to assess citizen sentiment, leveraging data sourced from multiple social media sources and social analytics engines built into the Smart City infrastructure. We have worked with a couple of our customers to use video analytics to predict and alert COVID-related public safety incidents.

2. A functional and expandable Integrated Command and Control Center (ICCC) at the heart of a full scale city deployment is the most valuable tool for the fight against COVID-19.

HPE Pointnext Services Smart Cities 2.jpgTargeted Smart City deployments that address specific use cases in limited city areas are one of the key methods to get started with building out a Smart City.  But when it comes to COVID-19 or any other large scale emergency management situation, the biggest benefits come from Smart City deployments that have the underlying infrastructure and mechanisms in place to address a wide variety of use cases across the entire city. These allows for rapidly enhancing or leveraging existing components of the Smart City solution, such as video surveillance safety solutions, to address specific COVID-19 use cases such as crowding and social distancing.

We are also noticing that a functioning and expandable ICCC is a massive advantage for leveraging this infrastructure across the city for new COVID-19 use cases. One of our customers has converted their Smart City ICCC into a COVID-19 war room bringing public health and city officials as well as other stakeholders together, leveraging the extensive capabilities of their ICCC.

3. Privacy concerns as well as local laws and regulations need to be kept in mind as Smart City solutions are expanded to address COVID-19.

When Smart City solutions are deployed, privacy as well as local laws and regulations must be addressed. As Smart City solutions are being leveraged to address COVID-19 use cases, we have found it necessary for cities to conduct a rapid reassessment to ensure that the new use cases are still in line with local regulatory and privacy requirements. Cities need to recognize that it is entirely possible that a solution that was being used for a particular use case in the past may no longer meet privacy constraints as the use of data collected changes to address COVID-19 scenarios. For example, while technically, a video surveillance solution used for vehicle traffic congestion management could be repurposed for tracing and tracking people, it is prudent to revisit the privacy and legal ramifications of doing so.

4. Leveraging Smart City solutions for COVID-19 requires engagement and buy-in not only from city officials and technical stakeholders but public health officials as well.

One of the key learnings from our work with Smart Cities that are leveraging their deployments for COVID-19 is that the city officials need to be in agreement and aligned with how the infrastructure will be leveraged and expanded to address COVID-19 use cases. This needs to happen in conjunction with the alignment of the technical stakeholders. One group of key stakeholders that the Smart City community typically may not have dealt with yet is public health officials. Bringing them into the group of stakeholders, in agreement with the existing stakeholders, is key to the success of leveraging a Smart City deployment for COVID-19.

5. Pandemic and emergency public health management use cases can change the risk profile of a Smart City deployment, requiring a new security posture assessment and risk mitigation exercise.

While security of a Smart City solution is always part and parcel of any deployment, the addition of public health use cases can dramatically increase the risk profile associated with these systems. Not only can the sensitivity and criticality of the data being gathered by the Smart City solution increase dramatically, but the attack surface can increase as well, raising the probability of a successful attack. Looking at the security posture of a smart city deployment and ensuring that the risk mitigation mechanisms in place are suitable for the use cases being handled is critical to the successful expansion of a Smart City solution to handle pandemics. That was the result of one such assessment, where we helped one of our Smart City customers add a dedicated threat monitoring dashboard to monitor attacks targeted towards emergency applications and CCTV network, fully integrated with their existing Security Operations Center (SOC).  

In summary, as HPE Pointnext Services experts work with our Smart Cities customers on their COVID-19 response, we see them generate a great amount of ROI from their existing Smart City deployments and investments in the current COVID-19 situation. In some cities we are starting to see the basis for a new normal capability. Based on the positive experiences we see with Smart City solutions for handling pandemics, we foresee a greater interest in moving forward with plans for deploying them around the globe. This may be the difference between a new normal we are able to live with and one that is difficult to sustain.

Nitin Agarwal, HPE Smart Cities Lead, and Yanick Pouffary, HP Chief Technologist, IoT Services, were contributing authors for this article.

Saadat Malik
VP, IoT and Intelligent Edge Services
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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About the Author


As VP for IoT and Intelligent Edge Services for HPE Pointnext Services, Saadat Malik leads an organization focused on developing solutions and services for customers that are looking to transform their businesses by leveraging Networking, Digital Workplace and IoT capabilities.