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St. Louis, Homeland Security Team Up To Test ‘Smart Cities’ Emergency System

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David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis is getting a chance to test how smart sensors can help city departments respond better to emergencies.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has spent more than a year developing ways that cities can use a network of smart devices. Now, a pilot program with the city will allow DHS to test the plans in real life.

"In what ways does it work; in what ways is it deficient?” said Norman Speicher, who is managing the partnership for DHS.

Speicher envisions a city deploying sensors that can detect flash flooding on a street, and then automatically route emergency responders to the area and other traffic away from the area. Wearable sensors could let commanders on the scene of a large building fire know when firefighters are under distress.

The pilot program in St. Louis will allow DHS to figure out how different systems from different providers talk with each other, Speicher said. That means deploying a bunch of the tools.

“The big benefit for us is we get our hands on this technology,” said Robert Gaskill-Clemons, the city’s chief technology officer. “Worst case scenario, the technology’s not ready, or it doesn’t pan out, but at least all the departments have context to have the conversation about these capabilities across departments. Best case scenario? All or part of the technology pans out. We now have access to real tools that we can pursue.”

The city is aware of privacy and cybersecurity concerns, Gaskill-Clemons said, and is drafting policies to protect data the tools would gather.

DHS officials met with city department heads last week to outline how they might use the tools in emergency scenarios like flooding or a building fire. The pilot program will culminate in a large-scale simulation in December. St. Louis was the only city selected for the pilot, Speicher said, because it fit best in DHS’ timeline.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.