A scene of devastation in Mexico Beach, Fl., in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael.

The Network Infrastructure Needed to Keep Cities Smart and Safe

FirstNet can help city governments become more resilient and help first responders and utilities bounce back after emergencies.

As cities get smarter and more locales deploy Internet of Things sensors across the urban landscape, they install more devices capable of providing critical data on transportation and utilities systems.

However, these IoT sensors are not just there to collect data so city governments can analyze it and improve citizen services, though that is a critical function of smart cities.

Those devices must communicate status and the data collected back to command centers via satellite, microwave or 3G and 4G (and soon, 5G) wireless networks. Those networks carry critical data from the edge to cities’ data centers. First responders and emergency management officials in cities need timely access to this data in the event of natural disasters or other crises

For cities and towns to be smart, resilient and secure, they need strong network infrastructures that can withstand catastrophes or be reconstituted quickly if there is a service interruption. The First Responder Network Authority can be a critical partner for cities and their law enforcement or first responder agencies. FirstNet, which oversees the nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network, can help cities make crucial networks functional again after disasters

Florida Shows Importance of Wireless Communication

Florida’s experience during the previous few months shows the importance of keeping communication up and running. The state suffered from an intense red tide algae bloom. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for seven counties affected by red tide along the state’s Gulf Coast. 

Florida also had too much water, meaning a hurricane would cause major problems, including flooding. Cites in Florida, including Palm Coast, have long used supervisory control and data acquisition systems to monitor the status of water systems and whether areas are flooding. SCADA devices must communicate that information back to an operations center, where decisions are made regarding whether to release water from dams or to evacuate people. 

Various state and local Florida agencies are responsible for monitoring water quality and water levels and can use FirstNet for priority communication during emergencies

When Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle in October, it devastated beach towns, like Mexico Beach, as well as towns farther inland in Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. FirstNet was able to help these localities recover critical communication quickly

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how the New Orleans Fire Department uses data to save lives! 

How FirstNet Can Help Restore Connectivity

In Colquitt, Ga., the city’s emergency management leaders were prepared for the storm. “We moved to the FirstNet system a few months before Hurricane Michael hit. And it was a no-brainer. Having the communications capabilities FirstNet provides was critical following the storm’s devastation,” Colquitt Miller Emergency Services Director Doug Cofty said in a FirstNet statement. “Gaining that peace of mind around our communications meant we could focus on what mattered most — supporting our community.”

AT&T, which is contracted to construct the FirstNet network, leads one of the nation’s largest and most advanced disaster recovery programs, and increased its fleet with new deployable wireless networking solutions to support the FirstNet network, the carrier says. This gives public safety agencies access to mobile cellular towers, trailers, generators and other equipment. 

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Michael, one first responder noted that “When everything else was down, FirstNet was working,” AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan said during the company’s latest earnings call, according to FierceWireless

“That’s high praise, and we’re humbled that we can play a part in helping a community recover from such a devastating storm,” Donovan said. “That’s what FirstNet is all about.” 

Getting cellular networks in cities back up and running after disasters helps emergency responders and managers get access to critical data from sensors, which can let them know how serious flooding is in certain areas, how infrastructure is faring after the storm and whether there are any immediate public safety or health emergencies that need to be addressed. Having a resilient network infrastructure in place that can withstand storms or be brought back into service in the immediate aftermath of a storm is critical to keeping those operations online

Smart cities are only smart if the network technology that supports them can function. As cities plan to be more resilient in the face of climate change and other emergencies, they need networks that help them stay smart and safe.

This article is part of StateTech's CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.

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VOA/Wikimedia Commons
Nov 15 2018