Smart Cities: How Will IoT Change How Municipalities are Managed?

How Will IoT Change How Municipalities Are Managed?

We have smart phones, smart houses, and smart cars. The next logical step is the smart city.

In 2013, IDC reported that in the not-so-distant future, smart cities will “use the power of ubiquitous communication networks, highly distributed wireless sensor technology, and intelligent management systems to solve current and future challenges and create exciting new services.”

Just as the Internet of Things (IoT) has changed the way individuals live, work, and drive, it will also impact the quality of life in our communities. We’ve already begun to see some hints of this change, with innovations like cameras that monitor our driving habits (and result in tickets for misbehavior) and utilities using smart meters to not only measure energy usage but to figure out how to best distribute power throughout the day. Here are some ways that the IoT is changing city management for the better:

Snow removal

IoT played a vital role in managing the massive snow falls seen in the Northeast and Midwest last winter. According to Emergency Management, municipalities like Buffalo and Boston used “machine-to-machine communication” to assist in snow removal, as well as monitoring weather for future storms. In Buffalo, for example, GPS sensors are attached to snow plows and city leaders can track which streets have been plowed and can automatically alert citizens with an “all clear” email. In real time, the sensors allow staff to monitor the location of every plow and using color-coded mapping, dispatchers can easily detect how well the plow operators are dealing with snow removal.

Traffic management

Cities are also using IoT to manage traffic issues. Beyond the cameras to catch speeders and red-light violators, towns have instituted IoT technology to monitor traffic flow and congestion. It can also help citizens find a parking spot. An IBM study found that searching for a parking space is a frustrating task, so much so that 60 percent of drivers admit to abandoning trying to find one all together and another quarter saying they’ve been involved in an altercation over a parking space. All of that driving around trying to find a place to pull over adds to the congestion.

Municipalities can now better manage traffic congestion and parking availability through IoT sensors strategically placed in parking lots. According to Business Today, these sensors can notify drivers of available parking locations. At the same time, they can alert city officials of parking violations.

Smart street lighting

Street lights were “smart” long before IoT came on the scene, using sensors to detect nightfall and daybreak to turn the lights on and off. So it only makes sense that street lights become even smarter with the advent of new technologies. Smart lights have the ability to sense when there is traffic — both pedestrian and vehicular — in an area and brightens and dims as needed.

Smart lighting is often used as a safety and surveillance feature, combining street lighting with video cameras or weather sensors.

Smart water meters

With many areas of the country in drought conditions and water being strictly restricted in some states, cities need the ability to better monitor water usage. Unfortunately, we don’t usually know how much water has been used until the bill shows up. With IoT technology and smart water meters, utilities are better able to monitor the way water is used — or more importantly, the way it is wasted. With smart water meters that connect with computer software, it is easier to pinpoint leaky faucets or detect broken water pipes almost instantly and alert property owners to the problem.

Using IoT to manage municipal resources can be a money saver in the long run, and that’s a good thing. However, there will be additional costs and considerations when it comes to personnel. First, someone will need to ensure that the technology is working properly. City leaders will need to determine whether or not their current IT staff is able to handle this extra work and determine if there is a need to bring in IoT implementation specialists.

Secondly, IoT generates a lot of data, which will need to be analyzed in order to make sure the technology is actually helping to eliminate problems, rather than adding to them. Will the data be analyzed in-house or will the city have to hire an outside party to monitor and examine all the information?

Finally, we’re seeing a steady increase of security breakdowns in IoT overall. Vehicles that use smart technology are being recalled because a researcher showed how easy it is to hack the computer systems. There are already concerns of the security of utility systems, which often use old and unpatched operating systems that could be easily infected with malware. The problem for  is that IoT devices were never designed with security in mind. As Jeff Williams, chief technology officer of the security firm Contrast Security stated in Business Insider, “If you take something that was designed to work in one set environment and you connect to it a much more hostile environment, you don’t have the right defenses in place. So of course it’s vulnerable.”

While IoT has a lot of positives, one small hack or malicious link could take down the entire system. These are all issues and concerns that will affect the way a community is managed from the front offices.

The world is rapidly changing and the old infrastructures that have been in place simply will not be effective in the near future. IoT is here to stay, and smart municipalities will use it to their advantage to better manage resources, traffic, and quality of life for residents.

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