Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

3 Emerging Technologies That Will Impact Emergency Management

2. Intellistreets

What if lampposts could detect rising floodwaters and even display the evacuation route to help citizens and visitors safely leave an area? That is what Ron Harwood is trying to do with Intellistreets, an emerging technology that outfits streetlight poles with wireless technology to provide emergency alerting, homeland security and public safety functions as well as energy conservation.

“The system was invented as a response to the chaos created at street level during 9/11,” said Harwood, president of Intellistreets. The company can retrofit existing streetlights if a community isn’t ready to purchase brand-new, high-tech poles, and while the features vary depending on an area’s needs, they can include: emergency alerts, digital signage, hazardous environment alerts, two-way audio, vehicle impact detection and a pedestrian counter.

Image courtesy of Intellistreets

At its heart, the technology consists of a dual radio mesh wireless system that has embedded microprocessors, which Harwood said allow for information gathering, such as analysis of what a streetlight is hearing, seeing, smelling, etc., a method known as edge processing. “The advantage is that first responders get real information interpreted into English or graphics that comes right from the site instead of analytics that happen through backhaul technology and processors,” he said.

Accessed via a Web-based system, operators and first responders can receive an alert when an environmental factor triggers the system. Because the technology is built into each streetlight, the government representative can take action from a remote location to make pedestrians aware of a situation. Harwood gave the example of outfitting streetlight poles with water sensors. In an area that has flooding or water main issues, a streetlight with the built-in intelligence would activate a warning light when water reaches a certain depth like being detected above the curb. Other streetlights in the area that have the technology would begin to flash, warning traffic to slow down.

Intellistreets’ audio features also increase public safety in a two-way fashion. Emergency blue light buttons allow people to signal for help, and speakers provide a way for government officials to make announcements or issue emergency alerts. Digital signs can display standard information, such as civic announcements, and then be updated with crucial information like an evacuation route when necessary. The system features built-in signage and announcements for standard situations that allow a public safety representative to click a button on the Web-based system to start audio alerts or change what’s being featured on the digital signs. Harwood’s goal is to have an iPad in each patrol vehicle so officers can easily update the messaging when needed.

The technology is not widespread yet, but is being used at Sony Pictures in Culver City, Calif., where the digital signs provide departure routes during the movie lot’s weekly evacuation exercise.

Additionally, a demonstration of Intellistreets was installed in Farmington Hills, Mich., last year. Although the local government isn’t using the system’s high-tech tools, its officials think the features would be beneficial. “I think the potential for them is huge,” said City Manager Steve Brock. “We haven’t used much of the technology that I think is available with regard to messaging, signage and things like that. But when we went through the demonstration of them, when they sort of christened them, if you will, I was very impressed with their capabilities and what it could mean in all sorts of environments.”

Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.

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