Smart City Public Safety Initiatives Across the U.S.

Picture of Mary Kate McGrath By Mary Kate McGrath


Smart Cities Public Safety

What Is A Smart City?

The catch-all definition for a Smart City is a metropolitan area that invests funds and human capital in modern communication as part of infrastructure, fuel sustainable development, and data-driven use of resources to promote a high quality of life for citizens.

The defining trait of a Smart City seems to be economic efficiency. According to Techopedia, a city is “smart” when it incorporates any type of information and communication technologies to enhance the quality and performance of city services such as energy, transportation, and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs. The overarching aim of a smart city is to enhance the quality of living for its residents and visitors.

These definitions both point to the same things - data and information drive technology that increases the efficiency of a city’s resources and make it more functional. Techopedia also points out that there is no single definition for a smart city because there is a variety of technological tools and resources that offer a range of functionality that can be integrated to improve citizen’s lives in cities and communities across the United States.

Here are some examples of how Smart City technology is implemented to improve a citizen’s experience:

  1. Many cities are investing in a wide variety of digital and electronic technologies that services the city and surrounding communities. These tools take a variety of forms - emergency notification and alert systems, sensors for parking and street lights, and electronic barometers for the water supply are all common smart city installments.
  2. These communities are committed to improving the working environment in a variety of industries by encouraging information and communication technology as part of the workplace.
  3. The collaboration of information and communication technology carriers with state and local government is essential for Smart City success, and innovation is meant to be mutually beneficial.
  4. In a similar fashion, a truly innovative smart city will inspire technological advancements with funds and community initiatives. The Smart City programs are intended to improve living conditions and daily functionality of a city for everyone, and initiatives must therefore be inclusive.

Smart Cities are so difficult to define that they are often referred to in other terms. When technology innovators and local government uses phrases like Digital City, electronic communities, flexicity, information city, intelligent city, telecity, teletopia, Ubiquitous city, or wired city, they are still referring to initiatives that fall under the Smart City umbrella.

What Do Smart City Initiatives Look Like?

In 2015, the Obama Administration was the first to prioritize Smart City initiatives across the nation, deeming them necessary for progress. In the public service announcement, the administration wrote: “Today, the Administration is announcing a new “Smart Cities” Initiative that will invest over $160 million in federal research and leverage more than 25 new technology collaborations to help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services.” The initiative was considered the best way to allocate federal resources to community-led solutions, since smart city initiatives can address a variety of issues a community might face.

Smart City initiatives are especially valuable in improving basic infrastructure and managing resources. These issues are the core of a city’s livability and success, it also important for new technology to provide convenience and security to residents.

Here are some examples.

Smart-Fleet Optimization – From law enforcement agencies to trucking companies, tracking fuel costs will help save resources and increase productivity. Smart-Fleet initiatives are largely data driven, and show users where resources are being wasted.

Smart-City Parking – Many smart cities want to integrate sensor technology in to parking lots as a way to save citizens time and manage space more efficiently. The idea would be to eliminate the search time for a parking space, and encourage better space management. A smart parking system would not only be aware of the occupancy status of each parking space, but also be able to guide the user to using occupancy sensors, a server device, user touch point on smartphone or tablet, and virtual payment methods.

Smart Traffic Strategies – Cities and town want to cut down on traffic by monitoring and controlling traffic lights and alerting drivers of traffic patterns, the cut down of time by identifying available parking spaces is part of this initiative.

Energy Monitoring – The collection of energy and carbon emission data from a building’s utility and lighting systems can reduce waste and provide timely updates for residents. Data for water facilities on supply and demand would provide similar information and help eliminate waste and preserve valuable fresh water, especially for areas that experience periods of drought.

Public Safety & Information Distribution – Smart Cities are committed to supplying greater information to first responders at every step of emergency response. The Smart City Council writes: “Cities have a duty to protect the public and much of this duty is accomplished by first responders such as police, fire and ambulance. Smart technologies are revolutionizing how cities locate, mitigate and prevent safety issue.”

There is other Smart City technology that is valuable to public data initiatives. There’s potential for car-based technology that could make pedestrians and drivers more aware of each other, which could help with soft target locations. Cities are investing in data-driven mutual aid and resource sharing during natural disasters, which could allow cities to better prepare for natural disasters and weather emergencies. Law enforcement agencies are likely to benefit from cloud-based video evidence, and better sharing systems between security cameras across cities and police departments. There’s also potential for a connected car app and body cams data and analytics.

What Are Some of the Top Smart Cities? Sustainable, Connected, Innovative Cities

In 2017, Forbes put together a list of the top Smart Cities in the United States. One thing that is striking about the list is how each city deploys technology in vastly different ways, and how these initiatives can be adapted to address the unique issues a city or region faces.

  1. In San Francisco, the city embraces sustainable development, with a significant number of LEED buildings and a commitment to green city initiatives
  2. In Boston, the city has untangled itself from bureaucratic chaos and made resources more readily available to all residents. The city is one of the first to create a smart government and the Boston City Hall to Go initiative uses mobile offices and put 150 transactions available online so there would be a greater ability of residents to handle bureaucratic affairs on the City Hall website. The city also uses smart public safety tools; cameras help manage traffic and acoustic sensors identify gunshots.
  3. New York has the most noteworthy for non-motorized and public transport initiatives, New York has the largest digitized bike-sharing program in the United States. The city is working toward updating its public transit system, which is utilized by most citizens, and will likely turn to technologically-advanced options.
  4. The city of Chicago is one of the best case-studies for “digital governance”, and they have a data dictionary with over 1,000 databases that documents data across all government departments and agencies. The city also has over 28 smart city initiatives dedicated to high-speed broadband, the introduction of public displays for residents and tourists to gain access to real-time, hyperlocal data, and increase public Wi-Fi access in the city.

Other Smart Cities

In San Antonio, the city put together a committee for innovation and technology to take on Smart City goals, such as a strategy for growing the cyber security industry, making digital initiatives more inclusive, and opening digital and broadband access under one roof. The cities’ smart initiatives are more technical, and less related to physical infrastructure, than in other places.

In Atlanta, the city is trying to improve infrastructure design through a smart-city initiative. The increasing population in the city is causing traffic challenges and sustainability concerns. The city has put together an RFP outlining smart city initiatives they hope to pursue to address these issues, including fiber-optic transmission and deployment (more connectivity), smart poles (smart, eco-friendly street lamps), increased Wi-Fi connectivity, smart fleet optimization (data-driven emergency dispatch), and smart water meters (timers, sensors, data for city water use).


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Mary Kate McGrath

Written by Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.


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