St. Louis Smart City Pilot Tests 5 Public-Safety Communications Scenarios
Wednesday, July 08, 2020 | Comments

A Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture (SCIRA) pilot in St. Louis brought together tech providers and public-safety stakeholders in a first-of-its-kind exercise that involved five emergency scenarios. SCIRA is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) framework to facilitate the integration and operability of disparate IT systems.

The goal of the pilot was to assess smart city technology solutions and develop common standards to ensure they meet the needs of jurisdictions of different sizes. Through SCIRA’s findings, cities could have open, interoperable methods for incorporating technologies such as internet of things (IoT) sensors into everyday public services and have unified standards across the spectrum of smart cities.

“I spearhead the city's smart city initiative,” said Robert Gaskill-Clemons, chief technology officer (CTO) for the city of St. Louis. “Technology is vitally important to protecting citizens, delivering emergency services and supporting public safety. It allows us to be much more proactive when it comes to protecting our citizens, versus primarily being reactive.”

S&T is seizing the opportunity to introduce new smart city technologies to agile-minded decision-makers, emergency managers and first responders. In addition to organizing and funding a two-day SCRIA pilot in mid-January, S&T sees its role as lowering barriers, so it is easier to integrate these technologies into a community’s IT infrastructure.

SCIRA used Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) technologies and multiple vendor products that were competitively selected by S&T and OGC.

The SCIRA exercise included five realistic and interrelated scenarios that tested new technologies and demonstrated to stakeholders how powerful an asset smart cities technologies can be. An important component of that testing is integrating standards and a common operating language for the products being used.

The objective was to test and prove smart city capabilities in five major areas: situational awareness for emergency managers, CAD for emergency response, dynamic routing for emergency response around obstructions, agility for workforce mobility tasking/re-tasking and in-building navigation for first responders.

A mock city operations center was created in downtown St. Louis inside the T-Rex office building. T-Rex is a non-profit incubator for technology start-ups and a hub for innovation-minded entrepreneurs. Local stakeholders were invited to participate in the exercise at the multipurpose venue.

Norman Speicher, S&T’s SCIRA program manager, described the pilot as “a series of operational scenarios including flooding, auto accidents, fires as a means of bringing together multiple city departments in a unified way that tests and evaluates the SCIRA architecture.” The scenarios began with a (fictitious) major storm hitting St. Louis, after the city had previously endured weeks of heavy rain. As often happens, with the soil already saturated, the Mississippi River began to swell.

Emergency managers in the city operations center were alerted to the rising Mississippi River waters on their SCIRA dashboards. IoT flood sensors that were deployed around the river, as well as other connected assets, not only gave city personnel an early warning that the river was breeching its banks but also visually displayed where it was happening via the dashboards. This type of monitoring offered the city a head start, so they could pre-position assets to respond.

As flash flooding inundated the city, computers connected with even more strategically placed IoT sensors mapped the extent of the water incursion. SCIRA provided citizens in the community the opportunity to send pictures of flooded areas through an app. Then, computer systems at the center analyzed the information and published emergency action alerts. Meanwhile, smart mapping of emergency routes for citizens and emergency responders, which may be different than those for the public, was done so they could all avoid flood waters.

Floods most threaten vulnerable populations that may be living on the streets, disconnected from news and public-safety information, as well as those who are physically or otherwise challenged. Through historical data about where these populations may reside and street camera confirmation, proper authorities were (in simulation) dispatched to offer assistance when it was determined that water was heading in that direction.

Next in the simulation, floodwaters seeped into the mechanical room of an office building basement. The water caused a short circuit and resulted in a fire. As the building fire alarm triggered, first responders were dispatched and automatically smartly routed to avoid the flooded streets. When they reached the building, IoT sensors in the walls helped lead some firefighters with in-building navigation to the blaze, while other responders were directed to rescue trapped office workers. When a firefighter battling the flames experienced irregular heartbeats, a physiological monitoring device on his wrist informed the incident commander of his physical distress, and he was assisted immediately.

Standing water can make roads treacherous. The simulation called for a car to lose control, hydroplane and smash into a fire hydrant, sending fountains of even more water into the street. The SCIRA CAD prioritized and re-routed the closest first responders around flooded areas, so they could attend to the victim and deal with the accident scene. Meanwhile, city water crews were sent to shut off the hydrant source.

Though many individual smart city technologies are readily available, having access to a larger framework of how they all tie together and complement each other is a major advancement. SCIRA will allow emergency managers and public officials far greater real-time situational awareness, so they can make better, more informed and more efficient decisions that can save lives.

“This pilot fits into our mission to protect our citizens but also fits into a mission to protect our first responders as well …,” said Gaskill-Clemons. “The types of technology that are available today, that were demonstrated during this pilot, allow the city to overcome challenges we've had. Multiple departments being able to respond at the same time, all departments having the same information, the ability to speed up our response times, especially when multiple departments are involved … It was just amazing to see how this exercise played out.”

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