Leverage ‘Smart City’ Technology and Automate Flattening the COVID-19 Curve

To enhance efforts that minimize the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the U.S. needs to leverage “smart city” technology. The COVID-19 crisis identifies the value of accurate data and the ability to move it to the right place at the right time. Cities that implement networks of physically and logically connected devices to exchange data can deploy a stronger shared system focused on defeating the virus.

Countries like China and South Korea are already instituting smart and connected systems in their COVID-19 mitigation strategy. China is using built-in thermal imaging capabilities connected to alerting systems to screen the body temperatures of crowds. South Korea has a mandatory government-run smartphone app that tracks individuals arriving to the nation.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is using many of the same methods and processes to manage and measure data that were prevalent 20 years ago. The U.S. needs to take advantage of available newer technologies that utilize automation to provide increasingly intelligent platforms. Considering there is no COVID-19 vaccine, the smart management of community reintegration is paramount to resuscitating our economy.

Health experts and technology professionals must work together to develop a more strategic means of gathering, processing, and analyzing data that can lead to better results. Sensor improvements and database integration provide advanced technologies that can yield access to curated data and valuable insight. While the U.S. might decide to use different technological approaches than China and South Korea, smart-city strategies for COVID-19 containment and identification will speed economic recovery while minimizing COVID-19-related deaths.

The current challenge for planners is to design winning strategies that account for daily new COVID-19 infections. The U.S. can rise to the challenge by rapidly implementing visionary concepts supported by existing interconnective networks and advanced technologies. As an example, we can now receive accurate arrival time of buses as well as the traffic speed on every significant roadway across the nation. These data management advances started with a use case and a goal to deliver better service. They now present transferrable models for how the U.S. can design mitigation strategies as COVID-19 prophylaxis.

We need intelligent and secure solutions that populate a common operating picture (COP), across a given town, city, or state. Using connected networks and tools to integrate data will ultimately save thousands of lives. Management consulting company Deloitte advises that “a successful smart city strategy will hinge on the ability for cities to innovate within six key domains: economy, environment and energy, government and education, living and health, mobility, and safety and security.”

Information is power. A winning strategy requires synthesizing critical information across these six key domains but public health and political officials are visibly overwhelmed attempting to do this. These decision-makers are inundated with ineffective information in literal life-or-death situations. COVID-19-related data in most cities is passed through an arduous system of municipal and state systems and federal analytical portals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relies on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S.-affiliated jurisdictions for information related to the virus’ spread. Unfortunately, these datasets alone are limited.

To assist decision-makers, it is time a new team manned by government, industry and academic scholars emerges to assist these overworked professionals in this new phase of COVID-19 management. With a true “smart city” approach to COVID-19 we will utilize better strategies for resource allocation. Issues like a shortage of PPE and testing kits are just a symptom of inadequate datasets. Better data management can also positively inform our logistics management.

As organizations and business enterprises devise plans to unilaterally reintegrate employees and service, customer and worker safety is paramount. Although there is no national strategy geared toward mapping results for more definitive national indicators, there is already some sensing occurring that might contribute to the COP. The question is, how do we combine data feeds to provide better guidance and direction? That is, while minimizing the trampling of privacy and civil rights.

Testing data will remain critical to populating an effective COP. Public health experts advise that testing is essential to helping officials understand who has antibodies. Widespread testing can also help identify hotspots before individuals become symptomatic and ultimately make contract tracing easier. This approach will assist in defining the saturation of potentially immune people in a specific area, as well as those who are currently infected. This data helps us understand if the rate of infection has slowed.

IBM has developed a thermal system for measuring and monitoring employee temperature in manufacturing environments. The economy is directly tied to an ability to keep critical manufacturing workers safe. The sensing technology can identify and alert when social distancing rules are violated.  Amazon is using a temperature monitoring approach to keeping critical logistics employees working by checking employee temperatures. Infrared thermometers are measuring the heat register of more than 100,000 people per day at its warehouses. Any employee with a fever over 100.4 degrees is sent home and asked not to return until the fever is below the threshold for three consecutive days.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has advised that temperature-taking is just one approach in a multi-pronged plan to reintegrating society. A quarter of coronavirus patients never develop a fever. Thus, another reason the correlation of multiple data sources is key to an effective response and recovery effort.

Knowing which neighborhood in which potentially infected employees reside is also an important data point. At present, social media platforms and cellphone companies are performing some analysis to obtain this data. Tech giants Apple and Facebook are developing software to aid users, as well as public health officials, determine more quickly who has encountered known COVID-19 victims.

As the government considers approaches to jumpstarting the economy, while simultaneously protecting businesses and consumers, we must institute a smarter approach to infection mitigation. Otherwise, the economy will swiftly shut down before it can reignite. A truly “smart city” will integrate technologies from multiple feeds to deliver output that delivers intelligence. A smart nation will lead the automation effort to “flattening of the curve.”

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Michael A. Echols is a senior cybersecurity executive and critical infrastructure protection strategist working with senior corporate leaders and government officials to make the nation more resilient. He is leading a revolution to stand-up and support Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAO). As such, Mr. Echols leads a global effort to harmonize cyber threat information sharing. Previously, Mr. Echols managed cyber resiliency programs for the Department of Homeland Security while assisting in the advancement of risk reduction. As the point person for the rollout of President Obama's EO 13691, he developed a national program for ISAOs. At DHS, Mr. Echols chaired activities optimizing national programs, cybersecurity strategy, interagency coordination, public safety and counterterrorism across federal agencies and the private sector. Mr. Echols Chaired the Communications Sector, IT Sector and managed the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. Mr. Echols' leadership has resulted in value creation and models for Government and Industry partnerships across the Communications, IT, and other critical sectors. He has aligned risk management strategies between operations, policy, and tactical to support the evolving hazards to the nation. He plays a key role in developing the programmatics, and manages the broad array of Presidential advisory, sector partnership initiatives, policy issuances, congressional testimony and technology assessments required to increase the return on investment of Government / Industry cyber efforts. Prior to joining the Government as a Federal employee, Mr. Echols advised federal officials and served DHS as a consultant on matters related to outreach, threat information management, protection of national networks, national security, emergency communications, and disaster management.

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