Smart cities still struggle to understand, use oceans of data
June 26, 2017
Technology leaders from several cities say they're concerned with staff education and privacy as their smart city efforts increasingly rely on new streams of data.
After scrambling to control last summer’s Zika virus outbreak, officials say the county is prepared to combat mosquito-borne disease with the help of integrated map and data technology.
Miami-Dade County is prepared for the quickly approaching mosquito season following last summer’s Zika virus outbreak, county officials say. This year, the county is harnessing the power of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and additional personnel training to prepare in case of another crisis, whatever it may be.
“Last year it was Zika. This year we could be faced with something different. But this year we are extremely well-prepared from a county perspective,” Mary Fuentes, enterprise solutions division director for Miami-Dade County, told StateScoop.
“The county is leaps and bounds ahead. I think the technology has really brought it to everybody’s forefront on that,” Fuentes said.
Miami-Dade has been using GIS technology from global provider Esri for more than 30 years for many government applications, including transportation and sanitation. But the platform became key to managing mosquito abatement when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the county a “yellow area” due to the concentration of Zika-carrying mosquitos in the region. The designation — which indicates a “geographic area where local mosquito-borne transmission has been identified” but where “evidence is lacking on whether the intensity of transmission is widespread and sustained” — was lifted on June 2.
GIS integrates digital maps with data pertaining to subjects including infrastructure, crime and contamination points and population demographics. According to Christian Carlson, director of Esri's state, local and provincial government sector, data is brought in from a government’s other systems through a process called full integration. The data can then be analyzed for patterns that can be used to predict future areas of interest.
“Mosquito abatement is not a new domain in government,” Carlson said. "They’ve always executed mosquito control activities in Florida and in may other places because they’ve always had to. What’s interesting to me is that governments are modernizing their business systems.”
In Miami-Dade, that means building upon a GIS-based system that was developed in the span of days for immediate crisis response. What started as a means of increasing the efficiency of a manual process now includes nearly 20 new apps, including maps that identify mosquito trap locations, mobile field applications that allow workers to input data immediately via iPad, and desktop components that receive and log this information in real time.
Though the county had begun work with Esri on a GIS template for mosquito control before August 2016, the Zika outbreak sent technology staff scrambling to transform a mostly paper-based mosquito control process into an automated system in the midst of a crisis, something that Fuentes says was one of their biggest challenges.
The first apps initially allowed citizens to report mosquito activity and standing water using the county’s existing 311 system, inputting data that would then be transferred onto a map to be utilized by mosquito inspectors.
A public-facing map displayed the locations and times of scheduled insecticide and larvicide sprayings, and a map-based interface allowed those conducting field operations to log their work while inspecting and doing treatments in the field. Instead of printing out maps to locate areas in need of inspection or treatment, inspectors were armed with iPads with GIS capabilities.
This improved efficiency immediately, according to Miami-Dade County GIS Applications Solutions Group Supervisor Patty Madrid, though she noted the limitations posed by transition during crisis.
“Everybody recognized that it was impossible in the middle of the crisis to come up with a brand new system and implement a brand new system while we were going through what we were going through,” Madrid said, explaining that these steps were meant to facilitate rather than replace the manual processes in place at the time.
Newly added capabilities also include the integration of the timeline and locations of county events. Miami-Dade uses this information to ensure insecticide sprayings aren’t performed during large events, which can include as many as 100,000 people, Fuentes said.
“Miami-Dade County is very large and our events are very dense, so when we have a football game, … [when] we have the Wine and Food festival, we have thousands and thousands of people,” Fuentes said.
Another app identifies locations of beekeepers and no-spray areas where insecticide could harm the surrounding environment, while another allows workers to log and track information as they treat one of the county’s 152,000 storm drains.
The reporting process has also been further automated to increase efficiency — when a citizen calls 311 to report a mosquito-related issue, the system automatically registers the location of that report so an inspector can be dispatched. Upon completion of inspection or treatment, that data is logged from the field and an automated email is sent to the citizen with the results.
Carlson said more than 85 percent of state and local governments in the United States use Esri’s GIS platform, and this solution is “a growing application” that is being picked up by counties in other states.
Carlson also explained that the generic template of this solution can be applied to other solutions, like septic tank inspections. Overall, Carlson said, the move toward use of GIS platforms represents the overall modernization of government.
“Part of that whole deal is this notion of maps and geography as a way to drive citizen engagement and to communicate with citizens, and for governments specifically to be able to actually optimize the work that they’re doing based on geographic awareness and knowledge,” Carlson said. "It’s just the coolest thing to watch it unfold."