The arrival of the recent Covid-19 across the entirety of the planet put public bodies on the front line, testing their capacity to respond to citizens’ legitimate concerns, to provide them with comfort and ensure their safety in the face of the spread of the epidemic. Whatever type of crisis a region needs to respond to, citizens expect that the response will be both smart and resilient. This means that the region should be able to adapt flexibly to events, reduce constraints, and limit adverse effects, thereby returning to normal functionality as soon as possible. In addition, during the current crisis we are facing, citizens, businesses and public bodies have suddenly, and in vast numbers, turned towards the use of digital services. And a smart city, whose public services for the most part are already digitalised and interconnected, will be one step ahead...
A pioneering city in terms of connectivity
Just a year ago, the town of Dijon (Côte d’Or), and it 23 districts, inaugurated the 100% connected platform ‘OnDijon’, which makes it possible to control all of the urban functions of this city with 260,000 residents from one single hub. A pioneer city in terms of being a connected area, it developed the means that would enable it to deploy some 140 kilometres of fibre-optic cable to connect urban equipment, from public lighting and red lights through to the regulation of tram traffic, water network management and citizen safety. An organisation which is today showing its efficiency in a health emergency...
The Connected Driving Seat, the brain of the smart city
The CDS, established in an anonymous but very well-protected building, on a site previously occupied by a (mustard!) factory, pilots the city’s important functionalities (the police, highways, transport) from its centralised position. All the data for these services are gathered together on the same IT platform. The data collected by 269 CCTV and video protection cameras, and by sensors on lights, bollards and other streetlamps, are also stored here. It is a space of 1,200 m2, the walls of which are affixed with screens portraying a multitude of images: video surveillance, the transport network, maps of the agglomeration with the location of municipal police officers and technical service vehicles that can be mobilised for an emergency, etc. Here, one can view the state of operation of urban equipment, the proper use of delivery areas equipped with sensors and the progress of ongoing interventions.
A more efficient centralised management of urban equipment, especially in this time of crisis.
“The organisation’s various services are used to functioning together as a whole. It’s an advantage in the face of a crisis. Communication is quicker, as are reactions,” explains Christèle Tranchant, director at OnDijon. “Tasks have been adapted quickly to the new requirements, and the tool makes it possible to limit interventions in the field to only the essential ones.”
Indeed, with the many pieces of connected equipment, instructed from afar and in real time, the city of Dijon has been able to rapidly adapt its management of its urban space to the current crisis. So, the ‘smart city’ of Dijon was able to move into a state of ‘health emergency’ in March; manage traffic lights in order to give priority to emergency vehicles, manage electric terminals for access to the city centre, trigger lockdown and ensure telesurveillance on all empty public buildings, avoiding the presence of agents on-site.
“We could have closed down buildings immediately, by deactivating access badges while also giving timely access to certain people,” explains Jean-Patrick Masson, Deputy Mayor of Dijon.
The surveillance cameras and other gatherers of information located on public equipment, which in normal times allow traffic to flow and parking to run smoothly by detecting misuse of delivery bays or bus lanes, for example, are also used. “This allows us to give buses priority at junctions so that they do not run late. This way, carers and others key workers lose the least time possible on public transport,” explains François Rebsamen, Mayor of Dijon.
Hotline number dedicated to Covid-19 calls open 24/7
The city of Dijon was also supported by its Allo Mairie service to accompany its citizens during lockdown. “This solution is fully integrated into OnDijon,” says Philippe Berthaut, CEO of town and city services. We changed it to a 24/7 hotline number so that citizens would be able to ask any questions they needed to relating to the crisis, excluding medical ones.” The telephone support service has thus evolved from an information service on municipal services (swimming pool schedules, etc.) to an information number on local and national decisions. Between the 15th March and the 13th April, almost 4,650 calls were taken (declaration forms, opening times of businesses and schools, fake news, lockdown procedures, etc.). Notably, the organisation has been able to respond to queries about waste management and has encouraged people not to all congregate at the tip when it reopens, in order to avoid bottlenecks and large groups of people. These calls made it possible for 95 isolated people, previously unknown to the Community Social Support Centre, to come forward.
Director of City Services at Bouygues Energies & Services, Mickael SUCHANEK discusses the benefits of a Smart Region in the context of a crisis.
In the case of an emergency, what advantages does a smart region have?
I would say 3 main ones:
1- Improving the coordination and effectiveness of public action
A smart region assembles several ‘driving seats’ in the same place to create one single Connected Driving Seat. The physical proximity of the services generates more transversality in exchanges and decision-making. Thanks to better coordination, synchronisation, anticipation, regional knowledge and speed of reactivity, this tool makes it possible to modernise and improve the efficiency of the public action. However, during a crisis, being more efficient is all the more important for adapting in real time to the situation, reacting to obstacles but also anticipating them, thereby avoiding them or reducing their consequences.
2 -Facilitating communications to citizens and between key regional players
During a crisis, using the correct information at the right time is essential. Thanks to this communication that was shared between the organisation’s services, using dedicated tools, and also between the public sphere and the citizens, key regional players can deliver, in the same voice and at the same time, unified information for clearer and more structured messages. This way, thanks to tools such as electronic events logs and centralised management of interventions, an event or situation is shared between all key regional players, and the information destined for citizens is relayed by a single call centre with digitalised processes.
3- Adapting the processes to the available resources
Designing a smart region project involves an upstream rethink of procedures and coordination processes between urban functions. These processes are transposed into a dedicated information system, which sends back alerts, qualifies situations, proposes actions to be taken, and instantly mobilises the available teams according to their location. In the event of any problem, as I know is moving, and when and where, I can react very quickly. For example, it is now possible to send the municipal police team which is closest to an incident, to optimise the circulation of emergency services thanks to real-time management of traffic lights, or to protect public space, particularly key sites in the area, thanks to intelligent urban video protection.
Finally, it is important to underline that the data and facts gathered today will serve not only to progressively inform the organisation about the crisis, but they will also be indispensable for the prevention of a second wave.
Grouping together teams in one place: a risk or an opportunity?
An opportunity! First of all because, as we’ve seen, when everyone is in the same place, dialogue between services is simplified and more fluid. It is also a strength, because the workplace that we’ve created is an agile one, adapted to crisis situations. We talk a lot about Information Systems when we are discussing smart regions, but not enough about the workspaces for the operators of the urban functions. We have invested in the quality of the workspaces, and this has proved to be a key action in this health crisis. Indeed, the space has been created to manage crises thanks to three key elements:
1- A ‘crisis unit’, an area dedicated to management of the crisis, makes it possible to interconnect all key players involved and to inter-react in real time with police headquarters, Civil Security and all key players in the region.
2- IT and telecommunication tools, secure, redundant in the event of a breakdown, with remote access to operate certain teleworking services; provision is also made for a ‘redundant’ space, i.e. an emergency ‘driving seat’ capable of accommodating a second team with the same tools if the first site has to be decontaminated or if quarantine is necessary, for example.
3- Optimised workspaces which integrate the necessary measures and constraints in the crisis we are facing:
- Capacity to ensure social distancing: the space and workstations may be occupied to 30, 50 or 70% depending on constraints. It is now possible for some services to work on site and some to work via telephone. We are either reducing or building without destructuring!
- A modular design in the shape of cells that can be occupied as required and activated or deactivated depending on health or safety issues. Using barriers is simpler, and everyone’s route through the building is optimised!
- A unique, adapted site, where hygiene and safety conditions are controlled, where teams may converge, instead of being dispersed throughout former unsuitable sites (access, evacuation...), whether in the event of a health crisis, riot, or other.
This crisis is making people aware of the urgency of moving more quickly towards more sustainable, human, and inclusive cities. How are smart cities responding to these challenges?
When we talk about more sustainable cities, we must also talk of ecological, economic and social challenges. These are the same challenges that are found at the heart of intelligent city projects: make the same resources work better, and therefore control the environmental impact, save money by sharing urban services tools and infrastructures, co-construct solutions designed by and for citizens... On the one hand, we have the organisation implementing a co-construction approach, and on the other, joint initiatives by citizens who are finding resources themselves without the need for guidance, whether that be community aid, circular economy, or more eco-responsibility for example.
More sustainable, more human, collaborative and inclusive, a smart city is also a more resilient city. With specific organisational methods (assembly point in a particular area, coordination...), and tools (buildings initially designed as smart, digital tools to manage the city and share information), the smart city is capable of recovering from a crisis more rapidly by mitigating the impacts. However, resident numbers are ever-growing, and it is very possible that new health, economic or social crises will arrive once again on a global scale. To be able to also offer citizens an optimal quality of life thanks to more intelligent, adaptable and efficient cities is a major challenge for the future.