Metro Phoenix Leverages IoT to Deliver Regional Services

The sprawling desert metropolis has mined the Internet of Things to grapple with homelessness, traffic and public safety. But as tech makes this easier, the hard part is serving in an ethical and sensitive manner.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Homelessness, traffic congestion and other pervasive urban issues do not stop at the city’s edge, and neither should the approach to solving these problems. That's why regional solutions based on data and smart city technologies can have a sizable impact on the quality of life for all residents.

“When we talk about housing, there’s no city borders in housing,” said Rob Lloyd, chief information officer for San Jose, Calif., speaking Wednesday during the Internet of Things World Conference in Silicon Valley. “Homelessness, traffic, crime, transportation and transit in general, none of those have a border to them.” 

Lloyd’s point was highlighted earlier in the day by Ajay Joshi, deputy chief information officer in Phoenix, who explained how Maricopa County — home to Phoenix and the constellation of neighboring cities — became a “smart region” by using IoT and other tech to coordinate communications and other operations related to fire departments, public transit and radio communications.

“We need to work together to provide a unified experience for the residents,” said Joshi in his discussion “Charting the Course to Become a Smart City and Smart Region.”

“You call 911. You don’t need to worry about if you are in Tempe, or Phoenix or Scottsdale, or any of those towns. You’ll be taken care of,” said Joshi, calling attention to the area’s regional emergency response network.

The fire department and response organization in the Phoenix region covers 2,500 square miles across 26 cities with 160 fire stations, handling 1,200 calls a day, which makes it the second largest in the nation after New York City, said Joshi.

Technologies related to IoT and the collection and analysis of large amounts of data can help to pave the way for “smart regions,” said Lloyd.

“If you can have those technologies and those platforms that can help you, we can build up our people to use the technology, and create those processes and solutions,” he said. “Then we can actually aim at the regionality of our problems.”

But expanded reach, thanks to new technology, calls for government responsibility to operate ethically and openly.

“It’s also going to present problems around security, privacy and ethical use that we’ve never seen scaled before,” said Lloyd. 

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.