Smart Cities: a smarter Operations Centre for Rio
SecurityNewsDesk and SecurityMiddleEast lift the lid on a pioneering operations centre in Rio de Janeiro which is seen by many as a glowing example of IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative.
At the heart of a city management revolution that is now underway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, sits the multi-million dollar Rio Operations Centre (COR). The result of a December 2010 agreement between the city government and IBM, the facility at Cidade Nova brings together an unprecedented number of government departments and agencies from across the municipality – 30 in total – and, in so doing, has helped to slash incident response times by an impressive 25 – 30 percent.
Celebrated the world over for its Carnival, Rio is a large, bustling, and fast-growing city which is home to some 6.5 million people in the city proper and 11.5 million across the wider metropolitan area. In June 2012 the Rio Operations Centre (COR) really came into its own by allowing the authorities to successfully manage the logistics around the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which saw more than 100 heads of state and government – plus tens of thousands of delegates – gather in the city. More recently the Centre was called upon to act as the hub of operations for Rio’s planning and execution as one of the host cities of the soccer World Cup. This has provided valuable experience in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games – the largest multi-discipline sporting event of its kind – which crosses the starting line a mere 12 months from now.
So what makes the Rio Operations Centre (ROC) stand out from other more traditional facilities? Well, as a result of advanced urban systems for visualisation, monitoring, and analysis, the Centre – which has 500 personnel working under the one roof representing bodies as diverse as the Municipal Guard and CET-Rio (Traffic Management) – is breaking down many of the traditional barriers which have constrained the way things function, not just in South America but globally. The ROC is moving away, very much, from a ‘silo’ mentality and redefining how information is gathered and interconnected. This includes real-time data on how traffic is flowing city-wide, helping to build a, smarter, bigger-picture view of what is actually happening on the ground. Crucially, the state-of the-art facility enables the city authorities to enhance the safety and security of its citizens by offering timely warnings of potential dangers as well as coordinating responses to major incidents, as and when they occur.
Facing-up to flash floods
Pedro Junqueira, Chief Executive of the Rio Operations Centre (COR), takes up the story regarding the genesis of the Centre which has been a real game-changer for the city’s day-to-day operations. In his view one of the main drivers was the desire of Rio’s forward-thinking mayor, Eduardo Paes, to improve how the authorities could deal with natural disasters, such as flash flooding and landslides, an ongoing concern: “The mayor wanted a place that would bring together the main bodies of the municipality to make the work of street teams more agile, and efficient.” Junqueira adds that it was a heavy rain event in 2010, causing several deaths, which, ultimately, triggered the start of the Centre’s construction.
High resolution forecasting
Subsequently, part of the agreement the City of Rio reached with IBM was the creation of an advanced high-resolution weather forecasting and a hydrological modelling system. This element of the initiative – which went ‘live’ nearly a year to the day after the Operations Centre opened its doors was, appropriately enough, a major project for IBM’s ninth research lab, the first in Latin America, which opened in Brazil shortly before the Operations Centre itself.
To put the scale of Centre’s operations into some sort of perspective, it is reported that 50 controllers – per shift – in the control room area can access information management technology as well as the video streams associated with 570 cameras, plus a further 350 cameras from utility concessions and the Secretariat of Public Security. The data from these systems is displayed on the centrepiece of the whole facility, a video wall, made up of eighty 46-inch, high-resolution screens, which is reputedly the largest of its kind in Latin America. Added to the video footage, details on transportation and traffic conditions, weather, rainfall, the location of hospitals and schools, and any incidents that may impact on the people who live and work in the city are integrated into a smart map which the Rio authorities say already has over 120 layers of data. Alongside this, the Centre is even able to control all of the traffic signals in the city, invaluable in managing traffic flow should a major incident occur.
For Pedro Junqueira, as Chief Executive, the success of the Centre comes down to good, timely, communication: “This is our main tool. When we have information that a storm is approaching the city, for example, we use all our communication channels to make the citizen aware of what it takes to protect him or herself. The same happens when a demonstration closes major streets. Through our social networks we can communicate on street blockages and suggest alternative routes so the city doesn’t stop.” He also stresses that the Centre is able to ensure that every public agency is informed and striving to solve whatever the specific challenge might be: “We work to save lives, resolve problems more quickly, and minimise the impact of incidents.”
The Centre is certainly not resting on its laurels in terms of how it can gather and display data as exemplified by a recent partnership with Waze – the community-based traffic and navigation ‘app’ developer. “This allows the COR to receive, in real time, the app’s user information throughout the city. Warnings about accidents, traffic conditions, and stalled vehicles reported by the Waze community also appear on a geo-referenced map,” reports Junqueira.
Regarding a specific incident which underlines the difference Rio’s Operation Centre can make on the ground, Michael Dixon, General Manager for Smarter Cities at IBM, singles out the response to the collapse of a 20-storey office back in January 2012. “The Operations Centre, which was set-up to handle emergencies like this, took immediate action alerting the fire and civil defence departments and worked with the local gas and electric companies to shut down services surrounding the building,” says Dixon. “The Operations Centre employees handled related tasks such as halting the underground subway, diverting traffic, securing the site and nearby buildings, and alerting local hospitals.” Dixon adds that social media generated from the Operations Centre was also invaluable: “A Twitter feed alerted citizens about the incident, which helped divert people away from the site and pre-empt traffic congestion.”
Moving ahead, there is little doubt that the Rio Operations Centre has transformed the way the city handles major incidents. “Rio didn’t previously have a way to monitor emergency situations or oversee a coordinated response,” points out Dixon. “It now has a hub for information that impacts on the city’s day-to-day life.” Further, the Centre is reckoned to be the first in the world to integrate all stages of crisis management. “You have everything from prediction, mitigation and preparation to immediate response and finally the feedback from the system for use in future incidents,” explains Dixon.