As the COVID-19-causing virus spreads throughout the world, questions loom large over whether governments and officials had enough protection in place to defend against the threat. Countries that saw the most success in suppressing the virus credited pandemic response plans and lessons learned from other viral outbreaks such as SARS.China, where the virus began, has credited strict ordinances and smart technology as major advantages in stopping the spread. Smart cities in particular have been touted as a great defense against pandemics by using cutting edge connectivity and urban planning to survey citizens.
As an estimated 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, urban planning against pandemics will become even more essential in years to come. Here are some ways smart cities can defend against pandemics in the future:
Using artificial intelligence to track the spread of viruses and other infectious diseases improves the speed and efficiency of pandemic response. City officials, scientists, and researchers can access data to make informed decisions in real time.
So how does it work? Artificial intelligence uses big data and natural language processing to track public data and spread of information from hundreds of thousands of sources.
BlueDot, a disease tracking company based out of Canada, was first to sound the alarm about unusual cases of pneumonia in Wuhan. It picked up on this cluster of pneumonia cases and alerted subscribers on December 31, 10 days before the WHO made any information available to the public.
Social distancing is one of the greatest defenses against the current COVID-19 threat, as the virus is spread easily and can live on surfaces for up to three days. Cities, such as Wuhan, and entire countries, such as Italy, have issued “shelter in place” orders barring residents and visitors from leaving their homes to stop the transmission.
Transportation of food and other goods has required delivery drivers and other transportation and logistics employees to work through many of these orders, yet as autonomous delivery robots become more mainstream, this need will wane in the future.
Smart cities that embrace autonomous delivery options such as drones, driverless trucks, and even autonomous ships can seamlessly control the transportation of goods and services in times of crisis. This gives cities the power to prioritize needs, such as the delivery of medicine.
Your phone is already tracking your location, so why not use that information to help stop the spread of pandemics such as COVID-19? Geolocation data is a great way to predict human behavior instantly.
Important data, such as popular shopping times, can help city leaders draft ordinances and plan logistics during a crisis.
Privacy concerns over drone surveillance remain, yet this smart city response has helped areas like Wuhan enforce their shelter in place orders. Drones reduce the need for law enforcement to patrol during pandemic response, instead letting flying drones survey city streets to spot citizens defying orders.
Thermal cameras, which can also be outfitted with facial recognition software, can detect body temperatures of passersby to see if citizens are running a fever. China used this technology in Wuhan, although the technology’s accuracy remains up for debate.
A fever spike is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, so smart city technology like thermal cameras are one more way for city leaders to monitor infected citizens to slow the spread.
The digital world has transformed the way we communicate and process information, and keeping residents dialed in is a great way to keep people informed during times of crisis. New York City already offers citizens free WiFi access in public places to streamline this flow of information.
Information kiosks that can be updated instantly also help the spread of information, especially for older people or people that cannot afford their own smart devices.
The COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the world, and one of the biggest challenges for response teams, as well as researchers and scientists, has been the lack of data about the virus. Using technology to track data in real-time can be the difference between life and death. Our connected world will continue to revolutionize pandemic responses, and smart cities in particular can have a major impact.
Smart cities have a lot of benefits outside of pandemic response as well. The technology in smart cities can also be designed to conserve energy, optimize waste removal, control traffic congestion, and improve both water and energy management.
Credit: The Zebra.