How Can We Use Smart City Technology to Help in the COVID-19 Outbreak?

Author photo: Larry O'Brien
ByLarry O'Brien
Technology Trends

Data can be a powerful tool to manage disease outbreaks and pandemics, and smart city platforms and technologies can effectively leverage data to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  Let’s take a look at some of the technologies that are available for managing disease outbreaks and how data from smart city platforms and systems can be used to manage the pandemic.  

A Holistic View of Data is Required

The day to day landscape of cities around the world is changing rapidly due to COVID-19.  Here are some examples of how things have changed, what kinds of data are being generated as a result of these changes, and how we can use that data to drive some positive results during the pandemic. As we have discussed in previous blog posts and reports, smart city platforms provide the solution for managing data from a variety of sources in city operating systems in a single environment, with common visualization, and a common way to turn that data into useful information to make informed decisions.

Smart City technology can be used to combat Coronavirus

Epidemic Management and Response Solutions

Many smart city technology suppliers offer epidemic management and response solutions.  The spectrum of these offerings is wide, from full-scale epidemic management and response solutions from suppliers like Atos and Conduent to open software tools like SORMAS, the Surveillance and Outbreak Response Management, and Analysis System.  


European technology supplier and service provider Atos also offers and epidemic management and response solution that is based on Microsoft’s xRM technology.  The platform enables users to track and trace incident reports in real-time, analyze patterns and predict the risk of spread.  The system features real-time data in outbreaks, predictive analysis of likely spread patterns, and provides the ability to coordinate resource allocation.  

Conduent’s Maven Platform

Conduent Incorporated, a business process services, and solutions company, recently announced a new software module for its Maven disease surveillance and outbreak management platform that is specially configured to track, manage and report on cases of COVID-19 securely.  According to Conduent, Maven is used by around 40 organizations, including U.S. public health agencies and international clients, to manage cases of more than 90 communicable diseases.  The platform is specifically designed to support case management, information integration and coordination among epidemiologists, medical professionals, and health departments.


SORMAS is an “open-source mobile eHealth System that processes disease control and outbreak management procedures in addition to surveillance and early detection of outbreaks through real-time digital surveillance including peripheral health care facilities and laboratories.”  SORMAS was developed in 2014 during the West African Ebola outbreak by a consortium of German and Nigerian public health and research institutions as well as a major software supplier.  The overall efforts were coordinated by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI).  SORMAS was migrated into an open-source software application in 2016.  

Traffic Management and Video Surveillance Systems Can Measure the Effectiveness of Shelter in Place Orders

The first of these that comes to mind is traffic management solutions.  Many states, cities, and communities have issues shelter in place orders to reduce the spread of the virus.  Using data generated from traffic management systems can measure the effectiveness of these orders by tracking traffic density at different times throughout the day.  Data generated from CCTV and video monitoring systems can also be used for this purpose to measure reductions in both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  

Using Remote Operations to Reduce Exposure

Centralized control room environments, whether they exist in a water treatment plant, electric power distribution center, or traffic control center, are places where multiple people all have to work in a common environment.  To reduce transmission of Coronavirus, many end-user and owner-operators are already looking for creative ways to isolate operators from one another, whether it’s through physical barriers in the centralized control room or a shift to remote operations.  

In some environments, isolating operators from one another may be a more challenging task.  We have already read several reports from the FAA, for example, where infected air traffic control operators have resulted in the shutdown of control room facilities and their associated airports across the country.  There are many remote operations management solutions available from automation suppliers that can provide effective and, most importantly, secure solutions for remote operations of a variety of facilities from water and wastewater treatment plants to power distribution centers and many other applications.  

An Opportunity to Maximize Energy Savings

If there is any silver lining to this crisis, it’s that energy requirements are being reduced significantly, or at least distributed from commercial buildings and facilities to residential properties as anybody that can work from home is now working from home.  This presents some pretty unique opportunities for energy cost savings in these buildings and facilities.  Whether you can take advantage of those cost reduction opportunities with effective building automation or energy management system is another matter.  

As we discussed at our ARC Industry Forum in 2019, end-users are increasingly using remote monitoring and operations in combination with new IoT-based building automation platforms to greatly increase efficiency and reduce energy costs.  Many of these IoT-based platforms can be installed on top of existing control system infrastructure and do not always take a lot of time to implement, but proper physical and cybersecurity considerations should be taken in the selection of suppliers, project implementation, and operations.  

Time and Resources are Required

With the pace of the pandemic only quickening in the US, it is challenging to say the least to implement some of these solutions, but we also need to consider that much of what we are instituting right now will be considered the “new normal”.  Many of the technologies discussed here can be implemented relatively simply if the resources are available for procurement.  The more challenging aspect of this issue is not the technology aspect, but the people and process aspect.  Implementing new technology can be very easy.  Ensuring that people will use the technology properly and with the right processes are almost always the more formidable challenges.  

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