As reported by the United Nations, in 2014, 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. Population growth in urban areas is leading to higher-density populations, industrial expansion, and advancing technology, which creates more societal complexity and new public safety concerns. Law enforcement agencies are serving an increasing number of communities with diverse needs while managing new forms of conflict and evidence. More resources, such as energy, oil and gas, are required to support the daily lives of expanding populations, and as more pipelines and energy plants are set in place to accommodate city growth, both urban and rural areas are at increased risk from infrastructure failures. Growing cities also need to solve new requirements for evacuation plans and infrastructure durability to protect a greater number of resources, buildings, and people from natural disaster risks.
To address these concerns, it is important for city planners, energy sector decision makers, governments, and law enforcement agencies to continually expand and innovate their public safety initiatives. Advanced data collection, disaster prevention, and time-saving techniques are areas where IoT technology can help meet the public safety needs of expanding populations. Following are five ways that the IoT has impacted, or will impact, public safety standards.
- Smart Devices that Improve Policing and Law Enforcement
In recent years, IoT has made a major impact on law enforcement agencies across the globe. Wearable sensors on police uniforms can detect and instantly notify central agencies when a police officer removes a gun from its holster, allowing for quicker deployment of backup in escalating scenarios. Close monitoring of police interactions with gun holster sensors and body cameras can add robust evidence to criminal cases while also increasing police accountability. A similar IoT application that is improving the criminal justice system is data gathered by smart devices and used as evidence in court cases; information about a criminal or victim’s location, movement, and activity can be traced by a smartwatch or smartphone to uncover evidence in a crime, as described in a report by BBC News, where, in some cases, smart devices have offered detailed accounts of criminal activity.
- IoT Gunshot Detection
Gun Violence Archive reports a continuous increase in deaths and injuries from gun violence in the U.S. over the past four years, and many complex factors lead to this growing problem. Although technology cannot provide an end-all and be-all solution, IoT gunshot detection can be put in place to significantly impact law enforcement’s ability to administer public safety during high-stress shooting incidents to ensure less people get hurt. Public schools are at particularly high risk. According to The Center for Defense and Homeland Security, the average duration of active shooter incidents in higher education settings is 12.5 minutes, with law enforcement response times of about 18 minutes. In these situations, a call for help needs to come immediately in order to save lives. Gunshot detection uses noise and frequency cues that triangulates the noises to an exact location. With this technology in place, authorities can be alerted as soon as a weapon is fired and arrive to the scene with useful data in hand.
- Remote Monitoring that Expedites Emergency Healthcare
Healthcare IoT has made a significant impact on emergency healthcare provided in-home, which is especially important for outpatients and people living with life-threatening afflictions who require medical care on a regular basis. For example, a report from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention found that nearly 47% of heart attacks occur outside of the hospital, suggesting that people with heart disease do not act on early warning signs of heart attack. The number of these deaths could be reduced significantly with the use of a connected medical wristband that detects early symptoms of heart attacks and automates a call for help from an individual's smartphone. Similarly, smart contact lenses can generate an emergency alert immediately after a life-threatening blood sugar reading. Smart devices and wearables also can monitor and report instantaneously on respiration patterns, body temperature, and impact from falls.
With the increasing availability of remote treatment opportunities, the quality of life for outpatient and elderly individuals can be improved greatly by creating safer living conditions in their homes, reducing the cost and stress of hospitalization, and relocation to retirement centers.
- Real-Time Evacuation Routing During Natural Disasters
There are many opportunities where IoT can combat flooding and other natural disasters in urban areas. IoT solutions can provide live updates on water levels and pool data to map advancing disaster conditions throughout cities. Roadways that are susceptible to flooding can be outfitted to monitor water levels and signal for closure.
Another aspect to consider during natural disasters is evacuation planning. Houston’s 2005 hurricane Rita, for example, was reported by NPR to result in several deaths not from the natural disaster itself, but from disorganization in the city’s evacuation processes. Inadequate evacuation strategies lead policymakers to later deter individuals from evacuating during hurricane Harvey in 2017. Where asking civilians to stay in their homes during a natural disaster may be one solution, advancements in IoT may, instead, improve the implementation of evacuation planning. Routes can shift from static exit paths designated during planning stages to dynamic evacuation systems that constantly are updated in real time with GPS technology. In combination with the potential to monitor supply and demand of precious resources along designated evacuation routes, innovative thinking in IoT can lead to increases in public safety regarding uncontrollable natural disasters.
- IoT to Prevent Environmental Pollution
Environmental pollution is a huge concern, particularly in the United States, with the increase of pipeline construction. Breakages in oil pipelines cause massive damage to surrounding areas by contaminating water sources, harming fish, wildlife, and their habitats, and resulting in expensive repair costs and profit loss. The Poplar Pipeline that ruptured under the Yellowstone River in 2015, for example, was found to have unburied sections exposed in the river bed, thus considered an “accident waiting to happen” by the American Rivers advocacy group.
Consider how easily impending faults in oil pipelines can be monitored and identified with IoT technology. During construction, a pipeline can be outfitted with sensors designed to monitor the integrity of the pipeline structures. Sensors also could be set to monitor whether or not the pipelines are buried properly, or if surfacing occurs due to erosion in the surrounding environment—an application of IoT that, if deployed in the Poplar Pipeline, may have prevented the massive oil spill into the Yellowstone River. Similar remote sensors could be used in a myriad of industrial sites prone to pollution: nuclear power plants, industrial refineries, and coal mines all could be equipped with IoT technology to detect signs of possible failure. With IoT safety monitoring in place, energy providers can have robust preventative maintenance and risk mitigation plans to protect the environment and their workers.