blueprint of city (Panimoni/Shutterstock.com)

Building an interoperable smart city architecture

The Open Geospatial Consortium’s (OGC) Innovation Program is testing ways to increase public safety by sharing data that smart cities collect.

The project, called the Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture (SCIRA), is part of a long-running partnership with the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate. The program aims to develop standards and practices to improve first responders’ awareness and communication by studying how shared data can drive decisions and make disaster response more effective.

“That really rests on being able to build a framework of systems that work together,”  Innovation Program Director Josh Lieberman said.  The plan is to bring together data from sensors and other sources along with insights from people. "People are very good sensors, but most often, what they sense gets stuck in some written notes or gets passed over a radio and forgotten. Bringing that together and coming up with a design to do that was really the core of this project.”

The SCIRA project began in 2018 with workshops where first responders and other stakeholders determined what communications gaps needed filling. The final phase, which runs until a demonstration at the beginning of December, is a pilot test to build a 3D model of St. Louis.

The hypothesis is that the model -- which has components that aggregate both sensor data and predictive observations and includes flooding and inundation modeling -- will help responders, residents and visitors navigate the city during street closures caused by flooding or other emergencies.

“Observations can be current, they can be historical and [they can] give you perspective on how to do things better or look at trends, but they can also be predictive,” Lieberman said. “Those [observations] are aggregated and then visualized in dashboards that make use of a 3D city model. The idea is that you really want to understand what’s going on in a city.”

The technology involved in the test includes tracking sensors that lets commanders know where first responders, street crews and health workers are; flood sensors that combine data from river gauges, weather stations and forecasts to determine where flooding is mostly likely to occur and how deep it might be; and cameras that use machine learning algorithms to detect floodwater on streets by looking at video imagery. The pilot is also modeling buildings’ interiors using an OGC standard called IndoorGML and Bluetooth beacons to guide responders to locations inside buildings.

“OGC focuses on the use of location information,” Lieberman said. “That’s really the expertise that we try to bring to information exchange, to situation awareness, to operating pictures.”

The consortium issued a call for participation in the SCIRA project in March and the pilot began in mid-May. OGC originally chose Virginia Beach, Va., and St. Louis, but decided resources would be stretched too thin to cover two cities, Lieberman said. St. Louis was selected in part because of its longstanding work with OGC and because it is home of the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the three-year-old T-REX Innovation Center, a nonprofit incubator.

After the pilot ends, Lieberman said, the next step will be developing standards and an engineering report detailing what was learned in addition to creating a reference architecture and deployment guide that other cities can use to build similar setups.

“Enabling that propagation of experience from one city to another is really the way that work we will have done becomes valuable,” Lieberman said, adding that the documents will likely be publicly available in March 2020.

Other OGC’s Innovation Program accomplishments include a pilot for developing and exchanging navigation routes. It would allow, for example, responders to use one app to pull up five routes from different datasets and compare them in one place. This is part of the SCIRA project and will be made into an open standard, Lieberman said.

“We as IT specialists look at this broader picture of information flows … systems and security and interoperability and community and personnel in St. Louis,” he said. “That balance between helping at specific points in time and space and planning a broader and more long-lasting capability is a considerable challenge in smart city development." Lieberman said. "You want to help people at the beginning, middle and end of the day, so figuring out what technology helps and what technology doesn’t is really an ongoing challenge.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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