When disasters strike, cities face immense coordination challenges. Traditional infrastructure and siloed operations often prove inadequate amid catastrophes like hurricanes, wildfires and flooding. As climate change intensifies extreme weather, the need for intelligent emergency systems becomes even more critical.

Many cities still rely on outdated, disparate systems for monitoring, managing and responding to these incidents and events. Collaboration and information sharing is critical to ensure timely and efficient risk mitigation, response and recovery. Traditional standalone closed-circuit camera systems, sensor networks and data sets that are not interconnected create a fractured approach and significantly hinder situational awareness and multi-agency collaboration during a crisis.

The limitations of these legacy systems were exposed during recent natural disasters. Hundreds of fans in Houston were stranded for hours at the Toyota Center after a 2015 playoff game due to severe flooding. Emergency responders struggled to reach those in need and advise safe exit routes. Communication breakdowns between agencies and property managers further hampered efforts.

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey provided another stark lesson. With 68 deaths and $125 billion in damage, America's second costliest tropical cyclone revealed how overwhelmed cities can become without real-time visibility and data sharing among public and private entities. Hurricane Ida demonstrated similar systemic failures in 2021, as did winter storms that crippled Texas the same year.

Managing risk data

Thankfully, new smart city technologies can offer a solution to this problem. Data-driven video management software (VMS), smart cameras, sensors, drones and video analytics are transforming emergency preparedness and response. Open platform VMS deployments are especially advantageous, providing the flexibility to integrate virtually any other data system or sensor into a single platform creating a disaster resilient single pane of glass solution for cities.

As the city of Houston discovered through its Houston Living Lab initiative, open platform video technology brings substantial efficiency, scalability and resilience benefits. The city can now swiftly share video feeds and data between its convention facilities, downtown surveillance networks, traffic management centers, police departments, fire crews and other external agencies and partners. Access to all available information in a single pane of glass enables educated decision making during high-risk events.

For example, within the city of Houston, the VMS can integrate with a situational awareness platform to ingest hazard warnings from the city’s flood sensor networks. Automated alarms instantly activate when waters reach threatening levels, enabling proactive emergency responses. As hurricanes approach, the system similarly consumes weather projection data to highlight the city's most vulnerable areas and infrastructure.

Another compelling integration comes from syncing the VMS with Houston's traffic/navigation app. The platform gets populated with crowd-sourced hazard reports from everyday commuters, delivering near real-time insights. Synchronization with security operations allows high-priority incidents to be visually investigated through nearby traffic cameras.

Collaboration and information sharing is critical to ensure timely and efficient risk mitigation, response and recovery.”

In smart cities, expansive sensor networks generate massive datasets by continuously measuring factors like air particulate counts, environmental noise levels, traffic flows, building energy loads, water usage and more. When combined with intelligent video analytics software, these rich data streams are converted into simplified status dashboards, notifications and models, revealing insights and patterns. City departments can use this intelligence to enable automated, real-time optimizations of urban systems, from transit signaling to irrigation control to emergency response.

An open ecosystem

Open platform VMS offers incredible versatility thanks to its available application programming interfaces (APIs). These interfaces allow the VMS to ingest and correlate data from virtually any sensor source. Developers can build custom integrations between new and legacy systems, spanning acoustic detection, air quality monitors, license plate readers and beyond.

The open APIs also ensure end users aren't locked into proprietary technology vendors or ecosystems. Cities can seamlessly deploy innovative new sensors and software solutions as technologies develop without needing to prematurely rip and replace their existing systems, saving substantial taxpayer funds. Relevant climate risk and emergency management may include technologies such as:

  • Flood detection sensors installed on light poles and elevated surfaces provide real-time street-level flooding data with automated alarms when waters reach dangerous levels.
  • Roadway flood warning systems use flood sensors and intelligent transportation devices to warn about flooding on roads.
  • Mobile air quality sensors deployed on vehicles monitor pollution levels.
  • Water quality test technologies monitor drinking water and wastewater.
  • Smart grease traps alert businesses to clean traps and notify the city about grease entering sewers.
  • Smart water meters monitor water usage every 15 minutes for leak detection and conservation.
  • Weather projection data highlights areas and communities most vulnerable to incoming storms.
  • Aerial drones and UAVs can survey disaster scenes from the air to guide response.
  • Mapping software for visualizing events, alerts and data geospatially on maps and dashboards accelerates response coordination. Operators can clearly see relationships and clusters of activity.

Ultimately, integrated emergency systems enable proactive preparation before disasters and faster mobilization once they strike. AI and automation handle information consolidation, threat detection and basic response protocols — freeing humans to interpret data and make more strategic decisions.

Cities like Houston show why open platform VMS architecture is becoming a requisite for climate resilience. The solutions not only provide enhanced visibility of threats but fuel smarter adaptations that communities need. Connected technologies hold the most promise for protecting lives and infrastructure as supercharged storm seasons continue to become the new normal.