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4 Jurisdictions Craft Scalable Smart Solutions for Water Quality, Flooding, Air Pollution, Public Safety

Bellevue, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Newport News, Va.; and Montgomery County, Md., use their Global City Teams Challenge grant awards from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to come up with smart tech systems that can be easily replicated.

by / August 10, 2017
Aerial view of Bellvue, Wash., which is developing a “smart city dashboard” to synthesize and highlight key pieces of water-quality information. Flickr/Brianne

Tweaking chlorine levels or even knowing where the next possible waterline break will be in Bellevue, Wash., could get a lot easier once the city completes a new smart city application to address water quality.

Bellevue is developing a “smart city dashboard” to synthesize and highlight key pieces of water-quality information. The move is a first step in a vision to bring a host of data together under one dashboard application that will collect and analyze data in six areas: water, transportation, connectivity, building, energy and public safety.

“There are times when we need to coordinate between departments. And building a dashboard allows us to have visibility into each other’s areas and better coordinate creating some efficiencies between our departments,” said Bellevue Chief Technology Officer Chelo Picardal. “So we’d start with water, and we’d specifically look at water quality. What we’re trying to do now is a piece of the overall dashboard vision that we’re trying to accomplish. And we know that it will take a while — many years to accomplish all the other pieces."

The project is one of four “smart cities” initiatives to receive a total of $350,000 in funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) during the 2016 Global City Teams Challenge, which attracted about 90 applicants from across the country. Bellevue received $75,000. Other recipients include Newport News, Va. ($75,000); Montgomery County, Md. ($100,000); and Portland, Ore. ($100,000).

NIST's goal in offering this funding is to help communities and businesses connect to improve resource management and quality of life by using effective networking of computer systems and physical devices, often called the Internet of Things (IoT) or cyberphysical systems, said Chad Boutin, a science writer and spokesman for the institute.

Another priority for challenge grant recipients is having them come up with “smart cities” technology systems that can be easily replicated by other communities or agencies.

“Many established cities have similar goals of improving air quality or delivering better health care — and emerging regions want to be smart from the start,” said Chris Greer, director of NIST's Smart Grid and Cyber-Physical Systems Program Office, via email. “But those projects often address only one city or region at a time. The Global City Teams Challenge will help communities around the world work together on shared challenges.”

Montgomery County is developing its “Safe Community Alert” (SCALE) network as a new element of the public-sector safety net. Developers are installing Wi-Fi enabled sensors to detect smoke, carbon dioxide and monoxide, toxic gases, humidity, temperature, and particulates at a senior living facility. The network senses hazardous air and water factors, as well as some facets of the physical health and well-being of the residents. The county will now take the prototype platform into a new stage of development that will allow it to be replicated locally and in other communities.

Portland is conducting lab and field test deployments of low-cost air-quality sensors for measuring urban air pollution. The city aims to produce and share a framework for how to use such sensors, with the idea that other cities could use these guidelines to design their own air-quality sensing systems.

“The idea is that no one will have to reinvent any wheels,” said Boutin.

In Newport News, officials are developing urban hydrodynamic models to predict flood events. The system will contain three elements: deployment of 12 water-level sensors, development of models to predict flooding and an app to gather crowdsourced data.

The four projects “will identify standards and measurements to guide technology innovators in creating solutions that can work anywhere and lay the groundwork for a future of smarter cities," said Greer.

Back in Bellevue, Picardal said the water-quality segment for the city’s dashboard is about 90 percent complete.

“We have all of the data identified. We are working, as part of this grant, with CH2M as the kind of developer and integrator for us,” she explained.

Brian Pugliese, smart water infrastructure and technology project manager for the city, said the team is "in the stage where we’re about to launch."

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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