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DHS asks for tech community's help to build smart city resiliency

Resilient smart cities can improve public safety, but which technologies will provide the resiliency needed? And which companies are making said technologies? Even the U.S government isn’t sure.

“One of the things that’s becoming increasingly apparent,” said Dr. Reginald Brothers, Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, at this week’s IoT Security Summit in Boston, “is just how broadly we have to look.”

Citing the fact that most applied research today is industry versus government funded, Brothers added that finding innovative companies and technologies was challenging. However, with its Science and Technology Directorate’s Homeland Security Innovation Program (HSIP), the government is changing its way of thinking — and it may just be onto something.

Looking beyond government laboratories and large companies, the HSIP is building up a presence in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs across the country, including Boston, Austin, Dallas and Chicago. The goal, Brothers said, is to cultivate relationships with accelerators, innovators and companies of all shapes and sizes to adopt, adapt and develop technologies that create and boost smart city resiliency.

The first program launched by HSIP was focused on the internet of things.

Specifically, in its Next Generation First Responder Apex Program, the DHS took a look at wearables that could help emergency personnel become more connected and aware. The program, which started in January 2015, had 100 companies apply and 25 enter the program, 18 of which completed it. Nine of the companies have since received follow-up funding, and three of the 18 products developed are currently being sold in the first responder market.

“Public safety professionals have to make the right decision at the right time based probably on incomplete information without knowledge of problems with that information,” Brothers said. “We’re trying to improve that.”

Another project involves three small businesses developing flood sensors to improve decision making around evacuation versus shelter-in-place recommendations during disaster scenarios. Using sensor data, first responders will be able to make more informed decisions that could potentially reduce the number of fatalities during a flood.

While HSIP has seen successes, the conversation must continue — and broaden — to truly achieve smart city resiliency.

“We need your input,” Brothers said. “We want to hear from you. What is the bigger picture? What is this larger fabric, this architecture that we can think about that’s going to make us a more secure and safe community?”

“Think broader,” he added. “The conversation I’ve had is really small. Let’s have big conversations and talk about what we can do together to start integrating these things to make much more safe and secure cities.”