Change is a constant. We have seen several changes impacting our lives from the metal to the machine age until the digital revolution. In the information age, we are in today, the pace of change has notched up manifold.
The rigorous changes in our lifestyle have invoked us to think of ways to build a more sustainable society, one that will withstand the rapid evolution of our surroundings.
The Smart City project is one such step towards it. However, the model of the project varies from one geography to another, depending on various political, social, and economic factors. Whether the existing smart city model is agile enough to handle a pandemic-like situation is the question that now arises.
Circumstances conjured up by the COVID-19 pandemic have necessitated an overhaul of the very definition of a smart city. We need to understand that smart cities, with all the focus on digitization, are still vulnerable to known and unknown disasters.
A thorough reassessment of risks is required to evaluate a city’s readiness and preparedness in the face of a crisis. As of now, the disaster recovery programs of the Smart City project primarily focus only on known natural calamities such as earthquakes, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, tsunami, and so on. However, despite our readiness to tackle any natural disaster in a smart city model, we woefully lack preparedness against the sudden breakout of epidemics and pandemics such as COVID-19.
In a way, the pandemic has provided a new perspective on the way we plan our infrastructure. We need to draw learnings from this ongoing situation and apply those to situations on the ground to build effective and long-term solutions. The case now rests on our capability to reinvent and refine our smart City models to accommodate for the uncertain situation as we face today.
We propose shifting to an upgraded smart city model – Smartp City (p = pandemic ready). The renewed framework will improve our disaster recovery programs and help create self-sufficient cities to withstand a complete lockdown. The Smartp City blueprints must consider the following ways to deal with an uncertain situation:
Touchless delivery of goods and food items
An effective way to deliver orders without direct human contact. A thing that emerged out of the COVID-19 crisis and is expected to stay for a long time to come. Drones, for instance, can be leveraged to establish contactless order pickup and drops.
Smart supply chain setup
Trigger more industrial automation to reduce dependence on the workforce by activating alternate ways of outbound logistics and increasing visibility on inbound supplies.
Touch-free inspection of patients
The pandemic situation has necessitated the need for medical intervention without proximity. Developing touch-free facilities at local clinics and the existing online consultation apps can help achieve the objective. The data these systems thus capture on critical health indicators can facilitate predictive recommendations, such as home quarantine, isolation, or admission to the nearby First Response Hospital.
Wireless inspection of civic violations
With the growing need for social distancing, law and order maintenance surveillance methods also need to evolve. Manning a traffic signal, for instance, is a challenge in the current times and also puts authorities in danger. Activating ‘pandemic drones’ across high-risk areas to monitor violations of civic norms, such as social distancing, can prove effective.
Tackling cybercriminals and fake news
Now more than ever, we understand the perils of fake news. We have to leverage technology to tackle the problem if we want to suppress it effectively. While a few new-age companies are doing a brilliant job of fact-checking, a central registry of official information will automatically help curb the menace of fake news.
Online education and examination infrastructure
The COVID-19 lockdown has shown us that one can be located anywhere in this world and still be productive. The learning can be applied to our education system also. Establishing technology infrastructure for schools and universities should become a permanent fixture in the Smartp City model to facilitate e-learning and e-examinations.
Touch-free sanitation and waste management
Make provisions to invest in touch-free sanitary hygiene bins and rubbish disposal technology to reduce infection and maintain high cleanliness levels during lockdown situations.
A blockchain-enabled citizen tracking system
Till now, tracking the movement of people infected by COVID-19, or the potential carriers, has been a lackluster affair. Gaining clear visibility on the testing infrastructure has been the biggest challenge. A decentralized Blockchain network to track people’s movement, health records, etc., can provide useful insights in such situations.
For a long, we have been demanding an online voting system to accommodate the rapid movement of citizens from one state to another or even outside the country. A Smart City model cannot ignore the need. The new model must address the caveat by establishing an effective backend system to ensure no duplication or manipulation occurs in votes cast online.
Smart intensive care units and isolation wards
Hospitals play an important role in providing the first response to a crisis. The pandemic-ready smart City model will have to prioritize essential medical care with the use of technology. The model must enhance the readiness of health facilities by increasing bed capacity, ventilator systems, and isolation wards, among other things, to help hospitals handle rapidly increasing service demands.
While creating a pandemic-ready model, based on the learnings we have gathered, will accommodate the plethora of changes we are witnessing today. However, the most imperative aspect to keep in mind is agility and flexibility. If the upgraded smart City models are in sync with the current times but fail to adapt to new situations, the entire effort will still fall flat.