Are smart cities the answer to dealing with pandemics?
The planet is becoming urbanised, by 2025 66% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas. City living has proved less desirable during the pandemic, highlighting a fundamental issue with our preference for metropolis. Busy streets crammed with apartment blocks, restaurants and bars are not designed for social distancing. So, how do our cities need to evolve to keep the innovative hubs thriving whilst maintaining people’s safety? Even if cities have long transformed from derelict poverty stricken areas to bustling alluring places we want to live and work in, has COVID-19 changed all that?
Do cities need a rethink?
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need to implement systems that proactively manage infectious disease risks which, in our rapidly changing world, are increasing in frequency, scale and impact,” Dr. Kamran Khan, Founder and CEO of BlueDot and infectious disease physician stated. It’s true, cities do need to take a greater responsibility for public health, yet they don’t have to be the problem – if we move towards smart cities they could actually become part of the solution, a fasttrack to preventing another pandemic.
There is, of course, only so much that can be done to prevent another pandemic but were responses to the spread of coronavirus quick enough? The pandemic has highlighted we need systems to proactively manage diseases. Smart cities are what we need to move towards; the exchange of information, electric power, telecoms and infrastructure make our cities better connected and more responsive – crucial in a global crisis like this. If we build immunity into our future cities with a focus on detection and prevention, our cities will not only become better and smarter, they will help us combat future pandemics.
Pandemics, although devastating, have reduced in death rate each time with the advances of technology. Years ago, even identifying that what we are experiencing as a pandemic would have taken months, but this progress needs to be pushed further. If we reach a point where smart cities dominate, they can function in preventative mode – the best way to stop a pandemic is to never let it start.
We have seen remote health monitoring, contactless temperature guns and telehealth taking prominence during the pandemic but if artificial intelligence is deployed on a larger scale, via interactive mobile apps, autonomous disinfecting and sanitizing machines, healthcare can be encompassed in our smart cities.
Smart cities have already been helping to curb the spread of the virus, with governments and local authorities leveraging the technology to trace the contact of people infected with coronavirus. These real-time and historical look backs can be used to help citizens avoid exposure. It can also be used to ensure social distancing measures are being followed, with Newcastle University tracking that pedestrian traffic had fallen by a massive 95%, in comparison to the usual annual average. If businesses can track exposure in their offices, they can choose to let their employees work remotely, preventing the spread.
Algorithms can be used on a greater scale, to review data from electronic medical records, monitoring air in stations, even swiping a metro card that can detect a pathogen provide a realm of possibilities to prevent future spread of viruses in an intelligent way.
Smart cities are connected, they eliminate the need for multiple disconnected resources. When it is critical to act quick to mitigate the impact of a pandemic, making our cities smarter could be essential. If officials and emergency task forces had the ability to collaborate and communicate directly with the wider community, the right groups receive the right information for them, a more proactive approach to protecting those who live in cities. Smart cities effectively leverage telecommunications technologies, using Internet of Things applications to enhance the engagement cities have with their citizens.
Smart cities are the future – not only are they greener, more advanced and sustainable, they could be the key to preventing another pandemic. Cities could go from being a catalyst to spreading disease to the way the world can get ahead. According to Dr Karesh, “these pandemics are just like earthquakes and fires. People say you can’t predict them, but you can actually predict them really well.” Using the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, we may well be able to predict where they are most likely to occur and what human behaviours cause them and get ahead in fighting the infection.
This ability for cities to take an active role in managing and mitigating the impact of pandemics will not only help reduce the spread of future infections, but will also address these socioeconomic impacts even as the incidence of infectious diseases is on the rise.With access to innovative smart city and community solutions, cities will be able to unlock value for their communities and lay a foundation for future use cases. Future cities should dampen, not amplify the spread of disease.
Commhoist is a mobile telecoms network logistics contractor that aims to help cities get smarter with an end to end managed service. We use telecoms to get cities connected across the UK, helping to take a step towards the future now.