IOT in Crisis Management

Thomas Chin's thesis

IOT in Crisis Management

– Executive Summary

The availability of the internet of things (IoT) continues to grow exponentially, including IoT systems used by governmental agencies. The data collected by IoT systems increases with every evolution of connected systems, and emergency management should leverage appropriate data sets to gain and maintain situational awareness.[1] From consumer-grade household appliances to industrial controls and emergency response apparatuses, an increasing number of systems rely on connectivity every day.[2] As devices and systems continuously gain connectivity and consistently “talk” to one another, the emergency management industry has an opportunity to leverage the data. At the First International Workshop on the Internet of Things for Emergency Management (IoT4Emergency 2020), researchers acknowledged “determining the damage and the situation of endangered people following a natural or a humanmade disaster can be effectively handled by reliable IoT systems.”[3] Although the intentional deployment of emergency response IoT devices will help response agencies, limited research has explored using consumer-grade IoT or the integration of industrial IoT devices. Internet-connected systems used by public works, utility providers, and other non-traditional responders typically remain separate from emergency operations centers (EOCs) and rely on decentralized access to the systems.[4] The future of emergency management may depend on its ability to adapt to IoT and integrate data-based decision-making to predict and maintain situational awareness during a disaster.

This thesis assesses whether IoT technologies can help local emergency management agencies predict an emerging threat or maintain comprehensive situational awareness. The first part of the thesis provides a descriptive analysis of emergency management processes and IoT’s current and near-future state. This thesis offers scholarly perspectives on the types of systems used by local municipalities that provide real-time, everyday indicators of functionality. The first section closes with an analysis of signal intelligence tools in use by emergency management agencies. The second part of the thesis evaluates three IoT-based systems used by “smart” cities (one international and two American cities) and how emergency managers utilize IoT systems to predict emergencies or maintain situational awareness. This thesis provides a comparative analysis of the emergency management capabilities of each jurisdiction using smart technologies, including IoT systems as signal intelligence. The third part of this thesis compares the newly developed city of Songdo, South Korea, and NEOM, a futuristic city in development in Saudi Arabia.[5] The analysis of NEOM assesses the use of IoT technologies for emergency response in a city without the need to adapt pre-existing built infrastructure.

Implementing IoT technologies can revolutionize emergency management and response by providing real-time data, improving communication and coordination, and leading to more efficient and effective emergency responses. IoT can provide signals intelligence to inform situational awareness in EOCs, provided the organization prepares for and uses the technology intentionally and integrates systems from daily processes. The case studies presented in this thesis demonstrate how IoT systems used for daily processes can facilitate ongoing monitoring and status updates. Cities can use IoT systems to set baseline data readings and machine learning to detect anomalies within the community. The IoT systems can signal a change detected to a human intermediary or automatically initiate an emergency response. Early detection and assessment of a change in the environment can help mitigate the intensity of an emergency by sending emergency responders before the emergency worsens. Finally, IoT sensors deployed in the community can similarly identify when an affected area has returned to its baseline, allowing the community to return to normal more quickly. While concerns regarding privacy and civil liberties remain prevalent, the case studies also demonstrate a roadmap to mitigate potential risks through the careful documentation of policies and procedures. Looking ahead, Songdo, South Korea, and NEOM in Saudi Arabia provide examples of how new cities can use technology to build a smart foundation while engaging with anticipated residents to meet their needs. As IoT technology evolves, emergency managers must adapt and utilize these advancements to enhance operations and protect communities.

IoT has the potential to revolutionize emergency management by providing real-time data and improving communication, coordination, and decision-making. Using consumer and industrial-grade IoT sensor networks, environmental monitoring, location tracking, and communication networks can help emergency management predict and prepare for disasters. Integrating IoT systems used by various departments within a jurisdiction may allow emergency services to respond rapidly, lessen the overall intensity of events, and provide recognition for a return to normal quickly. Using the available data from a network of IoT systems represents a possible next phase of IoT for cities and government entities. Implementing smart city technologies using IoT may improve the efficiency and effectiveness of city services, infrastructure, and quality of life for residents. IoT-enabled smart cities may provide emergency managers with real-time intelligence about traffic, energy usage, and other factors affecting emergency response, the goal of which is to flatten the intensity curve.

Emergency management maintains a central leadership role in maintaining situational awareness as the facilitators of EOCs, which maintain situational awareness by collecting, processing, and sharing data effectively among response agencies. The following recommendations provide guidance for emergency managers seeking to adopt IoT systems for their jurisdictional partners.

  • Emergency management agencies should assess the IoT systems currently used by jurisdictional agencies and evaluate whether those systems serve as sources of information for essential elements of information (EEIs). During the emergency planning processes, agencies should assess EEIs for new systems as technology improves or gets implemented. Emergency management agencies should fully engage with information technology departments to remain aware of systems used daily by agencies.
  • Upon cataloging the systems used daily by response agencies, emergency management agencies should integrate processes and systems into citywide emergency planning, training, exercises, and response. The Rio de Janeiro and Songdo models prove that citywide data and system integration can aid in response to an emergency. This integration solution requires frequent training opportunities and dynamic exercise events to educate staff and test the assumption that the right staff will operate the appropriate systems at emergency operation centers.
  • Additionally, the emergency management agency staff must familiarize themselves with departmental systems by developing closer relationships with external departmental staff and learning the complexities of each organization better to anticipate barriers to the successful use of each system.
  • Finally, training and exercise development must include heavily resourced imagination to test each departmental system in a coordinated fashion. The city departments and partner agencies must participate in training and exercises. This solution could be enhanced by identifying staff from each department as liaisons to develop training and exercises. Only internal knowledge of functions and processes can genuinely inform the development of complex and practical exercises. The city can identify problems and implement solutions with properly tested capabilities before an emergency. Properly tested systems and trained personnel are more likely to succeed during a catastrophic event.

In every case study presented in this thesis, privacy remains a significant concern regarding the type and amount of data government agencies collect. Addressing the privacy challenges requires the engagement of internal and external stakeholders with a supporting communication strategy to affirm that concerns will be met ethically and with integrity. As Chicago’s Array of Things and New York’s Domain Awareness System have demonstrated, proactively engaging with community members and organizations with documented policies governing IoT systems shows a necessary level of transparency. Ensuring the public remains aware of integrated public data is the first step to mitigating privacy concerns. Additionally, using and demonstrating publicly available data during exercises and special events may prove to the community that the agency will use the data only as described in the policy. In a book on governing technology, Andrew Barry describes how exercises, pilot implementations, and special events provide opportunities for governments to demonstrate the use of technology “otherwise impossible to demonstrate in public by other means.”[6] The technological challenges involve the technical connection to systems, vulnerabilities to cyber threats, vulnerabilities to physical disruption, and a need for redundancy. Mitigating the technological challenges requires total organizational commitment, from leadership to the frontline staff, including budgetary and training commitment.

The implementation of IoT technologies has the potential to revolutionize emergency management and response by providing real-time data. By detecting changes in the built environment early, emergency management agencies can initiate emergency response before a situation worsens, potentially mitigating a disaster. While privacy and civil liberty concerns persist, cities can reduce risks by carefully documenting policies and procedures. Future technologies will change how residents and cities interact with their natural or built environments. As IoT technology evolves, emergency managers must adapt and take advantage of these advances to improve operations and safeguard communities.


[1] John Davies and Carolina Fortuna, introduction to The Internet of Things, ed. John Davies and Carolina Fortuna (West Sussex, UK: Wiley, 2020), 1.

[2] Emiliano Sisinni et al., “Industrial Internet of Things: Challenges, Opportunities, and Directions,” IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics 14, no. 11 (November 2018): 4725, https://doi.org/10.1109/‌TII.2018.2852491; Davies and Fortuna, Introduction, 2.

[3] Julie Dugdale, Mahyar T. Moghaddam, and Henry Muccini, “IoT4Emergency: Internet of Things for Emergency Management,” ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes 46, no. 1 (January 2021): 33, https://doi.org/10.1145/3437479.3437489.

[4] Jason P. Lappin, “Homeland Security Enterprise and Public Works: Improving the Relationship” (master’s thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2015), 53, https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=788522.

[5] Alshimaa Farag, “The Story of NEOM City: Opportunities and Challenges,” in New Cities and Community Extensions in Egypt and the Middle East: Visions and Challenges, ed. Sahar Attia, Zeinab Shafik, and Asmaa Ibrahim (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2019), 41.

[6] Andrew Barry, Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2001), 178, https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474213110; Francisca Gromme, “Provocation: Technology, Resistance and Surveillance in Public Space,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34, no. 6 (2016): 19, https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775816649183.

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