Learning Zone: Smart cities and smart homes: what lies ahead for the emergency services?

In our final part of our future technology trends learning series, we take a look at so called ‘smart cities’ and ‘smart homes’ and what their impact may be on our emergency services.


What is a smart city?

There is no absolute definition of a smart city. It can be seen as a collective mindset that aspires to be forward-thinking in all it does. When a smart city goes on this journey, it takes a series of steps to become more “liveable” and resilient, and able to respond quicker to new challenges from emerging technology.

The smart city of the 21st centurty brings together hard infrastructure, local skills and community institutions, as well as digital technologies and infrastructure to fuel sustainable economic development and provide an attractive environment for all.  But what does this really mean? Watch the video to get a real sense of the smart city in action.

What does a ‘smart city’ approach mean for the emergency and healthcare services in that area?

Well we can see that there are huge potential gains.

Experts McKinsey Global Institute assessed how dozens of currently-available ‘smart city’ applications and technologies could support three sample cities with varying legacy infrastructure systems and baseline starting points.

What did they find? That these tools could:

  • Reduce fatalities by 8–10%

  • Accelerate emergency response times by 20–35%

  • Shave the average commute by 15–20%

  • Lower the disease burden by 8–15%

  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10–15%

Their research looked at dozens of smart applications that will be relevant for cities through to 2025.

In the area of security they looked into the following areas:

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  • Predictive policing

  • Real-time crime mapping

  • Gunshot detection

  • Smart surveillance

  • Emergency response optimisation

  • Body-worn cameras

  • Disaster early-warning systems

  • Personal alert applications

  • Home security systems

  • Data-driven building inspections

  • Crowd management

Bringing all of this data into the control room could help prevent and reduce crime, attend incidents more quickly and ultimately save lives.

Crime and public safety

Real-time crime-mapping utilises statistical analysis to highlight patterns, while predictive policing goes a step further, anticipating crime to address incidents before they occur.

When incidents do occur, applications such as gunshot detection, smart surveillance, and home security systems can accelerate a police or first responder response. But smart technologies in policing have to be deployed in a way that protects personal privacy and avoids criminalising specific neighbourhoods or demographic groups.

2. Emergency response

Every second counts when lives are in danger, making it crucial to get first responders to the scene of emergencies quickly. Smart systems can optimise control rooms and field operations, while traffic signal pre-emption gives emergency vehicles a clear driving route. A city with an already low response time of eight minutes could shave off almost two minutes. A city starting with an average response time of 50 minutes might be able to trim that by more than 17 minutes according to McKinsey estimates.

Technology in large scale emergency scenarios

Preparedness, prevention, and quick response can minimise the toll of a terrorist event or natural disaster—and technology can help. The most effective strategy for dealing with a terrorist attack is stopping it before it takes place. Cities such as Chicago, London and Singapore have installed extensive networks of cameras to monitor their streets for suspicious behaviour.

Social media platforms make it easier than ever for gangs and terrorists to organise; it has become vital for law enforcement agencies to monitor these communications for warning signals. Researchers have built algorithms that can analyse social media to detect plots and identify people who may have been radicalised. However, the trend towards increased surveillance raises concern about personal privacy and the potential use of these tools to undermine civil liberties and inhibit free expression.

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Cities now have to treat major public gatherings as potential targets. Police can use stationary cameras, drones, and facial recognition technology to scan for threats in crowds and at transit stations. Machine learning is beginning to be able to isolate an individual voice from crowd noise.

Thousands of calls for help can strain a city’s resources and first responders to the limit in an emergency, and a lack of information sharing across agencies and neighbouring jurisdictions can hamper efforts.

Command centres with ‘big data’ dashboards and data visualisation tools can help authorities monitor rapidly evolving situations, allocate help where it is needed, and coordinate multiple agencies. Drones are increasingly being used to survey damage over large areas, while drones and robots are beginning to assist with search-and-rescue efforts.

In emergencies, people now jump straight to their smartphones. Where cities once relied on the news media to inform communities in danger, they now supplement those efforts by using social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. The flow of information runs two ways, with the public providing real-time digital updates that can help authorities assess damage and deploy resources. Cities can crowdsource data from Twitter, Waze, or specially designed websites and mobile apps to piece together a picture of which evacuation routes are passable, where power is out, and whether specific shelters or safe spaces are full.

Smart Homes, Safety and Security

The term 'smart home' is used to describe a house that contains a communication network that connects different appliances and allows them to be remotely controlled, monitored and accessed, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

As well as the obvious applications of improved home security with wireless CCTV and alarm systems, there is a huge opportunity for supporting our growing elderly population and for those with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

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According to a report earlier in 2018, the NHS could save “billions of pounds each year” by installing equipment in the homes of older people that allows them to remain mobile and independent.

Research from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (iMechE) suggests that adapting homes to suit the needs older people could prevent the onset of frailty, reducing the risk of hospital visits as a result. It argues that ‘smart’ technologies like remote monitoring systems, sensors and mobile devices could all contribute to helping older people remain safe in the home, while giving them increased independence.

Helping those with Dementia

Caregivers often get frustrated because people with dementia often repeat questions, need to be entertained, or get anxious when you’re not around. Having a device such as an Amazon Echo there to answer questions, talk about news or weather, or play music can give caregivers much-needed breaks.

For those with limited or failing memory, the ability to have simple questions answered as many times as they need is a real reassurance. Virtual assistants can also be set to set reminders, check calendars for important dates, do simple mathematical calculations and even create shopping lists for the user.

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Dementia patients are sometimes too proud to let loved ones or caregivers know when they need help, or may worry about being a burden. With some virtual assistants it’s possible for loved ones and caregivers to keep track of the person without relying on them to provide updates: it’s as easy as monitoring the history shown in the online or mobile application.

If history shows substantial activity during the night, caregivers know the individual is struggling to sleep. A dementia sufferer who’s always loved listening to audiobooks in the afternoon and suddenly stops may be feeling depressed, or experiencing some other kind of change caregivers will need to investigate.

These technologies obviously can’t completely replace human touch or real conversation, but the intelligent voice controls can make it feel like a helpful friend.

Who else would benefit from a Voice-activated Virtual Assistant?

People with mobility issues or health conditions like Parkinson’s can also benefit from a Virtual Assistant. It gives them more control over their environment and more independence.

For example, a person could easily turn on the light across the room or adjust the room’s temperature using only their voice. If they wanted to hear music or read a book, they could do it with another quick voice command.

There are numerous compatible ‘Connected’ devices such as TV’s, CCTV, door control devices, lighting and heating systems already available and more are being launched every week

Major technology firms, as well as more niche digital health and assistive technology companies, have seen the potential for significant investment in voice-activated virtual assistants and so increasing access at an affordable price for those in need of extra assistance in their home or care home environment is looking extremely positive.

There is no doubt that as Smart Home technology develops, integration into emergency services control rooms as well as coordinated care centres for monitoring vulnerable people becomes more possible. This could lead to more preventative care, swifter response times to emergencies as well as in-the-home triage for medical care.

At APD, we are constantly scanning the technology horizons to help drive improvements in our products and services for our clients and community. Smart Cities and Smart Homes will be part of our future and we’ll be at the forefront of supporting control rooms in how we can make the most of them.

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