By Bala Mahadevan
India has a big project underway at the moment – the 100 Smart Cities initiative, designed to bring next generation services, infrastructure, commerce and living to cities, powered by digital technology and state of the art networks. It is an exciting time.
To make a personal point however, I’m never been entirely sure about the term ‘smart cities’. There were cities around 2,000 years ago that were pretty ‘smart’. What is different now is digitization. Digital technologies are enabling services and activities which used to be just pipe dreams. Machine to machine communications (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are making the truly connected, digital city a reality. We are using information and communications technology (ICT) to make cities better places to live and work and to enjoy a more comfortable, healthy and safe lifestyle. Areas already improved by ICT include utilities, where technology is positively impacting how we can deliver clean and inexpensive energy, education, where e-learning is improving schools through connectivity and more.
Making India’s roads and people safer
That said, one of the elements that strikes me as a great development among the new digital cities projects is the impact on emergency services and their response times. India has a particular problem with road traffic accidents – in 2013, there were 137,572 road deaths in India, the highest in the world. This equates to 15 deaths per hour, every hour.
In smart digitally-enabled cities however, emergency services are less siloed and more connected. CCTV, communications networks, data centers and central viewing centers are all networked up together to manage traffic and accidents more comprehensively. What this now means is that response times to accidents can be much, much faster.
India’s 100 Smart Cities initiative has factored this into the various projects, and the program has a target of a maximum response time to accidents of 30 minutes. What this means in reality is that the cities, the states and the local municipalities must be aligned together to make this all happen at ground level. So it is encouraging to see cities, campuses and municipalities committing to putting the infrastructure in place to achieve this.
Emergency response times is a great area with which to begin. Around ten years ago there was an emergency telephone number initiative launched in Andhra Pradesh which subsequently became the ‘Dial 108’ common emergency number to call. This is now prevalent across many states in India and others are planning to implement it – and the next logical step for this program under the smart cities banner is to deploy a similar thing but using e-call.
Communications-driven digital solutions like e-call are ideal for helping speed up emergency service response times. And with research showing that a significant percentage of road deaths can be avoided when medical assistance can reach the accident scene within the first hour, it makes a lot of sense to pursue it. In fact, in as many as 50 per cent of road deaths, the victim’s survival and limited injury could be ensured if medical care can reach the scene within 10 to 60 minutes from the accident happening.
So, by utilizing technology to speed up response times, we can have a dramatic and direct impact. Further research shows that 15 per cent of India’s road deaths could be prevented through faster response times, while in Tamil Nadu province, the new, free 108 emergency services network helped save 120, 271 lives.
Disaster recovery a great development too
Disaster recovery (DR) is another area where ICT can and does have a big impact on safety and saving people’s lives. The solutions that are being developed for smart cities are by definition designed to cover large groups of people – most cities in India have significantly larger population levels than cities in Europe for example.
India is home to a number of major religious festivals where many thousands of people are gathered in one central location – so in addition to emergency response services you also need to allow for DR there too. In 2014 the Kashmir region suffered disastrous flooding for example, and cloud-based DR solutions can now be of great use in events such as that. The mobility tools developed for enhancing smart city projects and dramatically improving India’s emergency response services can be adapted and repurposed for use elsewhere.
One of the key things about using technology to improve emergency response and DR systems is that the technology is basically already there – unlike certain other smart city-related aims like traffic light management and smart parking, they don’t require much concrete and building work. So it is incremental, the tools are already there and just need to be rolled out. And India needs more of this. In the digital age, the great ideal is that everything comes together under an umbrella and works in harmony – and digital technology is making it a reality.
The author is the CEO at Orange Business Services, India