How Safety Became One of The Most Critical Smart City Applications

Public safety has become a top priority for city governments across the globe

Beyond COVID-specific dangers, many community issues were exacerbated in light of the pandemic — from civil unrest to the digital divide for underserved communities. The challenges faced in 2020 have tested municipality leader’s ability to respond to the unexpected.

To help identify and act on current and potential future public safety threats, smart city technology is a critical resource for municipal leaders. These solutions, powered by IoT infrastructures, utilize correlated sensor data from devices like methane detectors, pole tilt sensors, power line sensors and air quality devices to predict imminent danger and respond more effectively to ensure community safety.

Although financing for smart city programs slowed down at the beginning of the pandemic last year, many city governments have reallocated budget to solve safety-related issues– and this trend is not expected to slow down. As cities get out of crisis mode, we will see more financial institutions take interest in the smart city industry. We will also see a flow of federal money coming in to help, considering Biden’s infrastructure plan and beyond. Below, we outline a few different applications that will help municipal leaders drive public safety initiatives.

Natural disasters

For cities, it can be challenging to ensure citizen and worker safety when natural disasters occur. Incidents such as hurricanes, floods, fires and gas leaks are unpredictable and often impossible to prevent. To put it in perspective, most people have lived through some disaster, with 87% of consumers saying they’ve been impacted by one in the last five years (not counting the COVID pandemic). Safety will only become more critical over the next few decades as natural disasters are becoming more frequent, intense and costly. Since 1970, the number of disasters worldwide has more than quadrupled to around 400 a year. Since 1998, natural disasters worldwide have killed more than 1.3 million people and left another 4.4 billion injured, homeless, displaced, or in need of emergency assistance.

Smart sensors and advanced analytics can help communities better predict, prepare and respond to these emergency situations. For example, IoT sensors, such as pole tilt, electric distribution line, leak detection and air quality sensors, can be leveraged to mitigate risk minimize damage. Using sensors in tandem with predictive analytics, city governments can detect issues and drive outcomes during and after natural disasters, such as detecting leaks and remotely shutting off water lines; detecting if a pole is down to prevent safety risks and promote quicker recovery efforts; push out alerts to communicate quickly with citizens, providing the most up-to-date information to ensure their safety; and utilize intelligent evacuation planning to best direct traffic and get people out of harm’s way quickly. For example, when wildfires threaten regional air quality, communities can use smart sensors to predict which areas will be most impacted and alert nearby populations.

Gas leaks

In areas with large numbers of people, it is vital for cities to be able to monitor gas-related hazards and keep their populations safe. Natural gas leaks resulting from earthquakes, dated infrastructure or other factors are dangerous events that cities must be vigilant in monitoring and responding. Methane detectors enable cities and utilities to predict imminent danger, react and recover quicker and more precisely, or, in some cases, even predict and prevent dangerous conditions altogether.

For example, using a built-in high flow alarm and temperature sensor, smart gas meters can help cities quickly recognize an open fuel line, heat or unusual flow conditions. In the case of a potentially dangerous event, these sensors can detect the hazard and alert the relevant parties, like first responders, to clear the area before any harmful situations occur. Additionally, to provide greater safety for first responders and other workers, smart gas meters can virtually stop the flow of natural gas in the instance of an emergency. Utility workers are usually the first to arrive when a leak or unusual situation is detected in the gas network. With remote safety shut-off, cities can prevent hazardous conditions for their workers.


A smart city is a city that integrates technology to improve the social, environmental and economic aspects of its services to the community. This is an evolutionary process that involves an ongoing commitment to innovation from the city and the community with a long-term lens-view. Besides the global impact of COVID on day-to-day operations, the U.S. also experienced the worst hurricane season-to-date and record-breaking impact from California wildfires. As cities, municipalities, and utilities look to improve their services and their citizens’ safety during these unprecedented times, smart city technology will become more important to better prepare for and react to the next safety hazard.

About the Author

Dan Evans is Head of Smart Cities and IoT at Itron. Itron enables utilities and cities to safely, securely and reliably deliver critical infrastructure services to communities in more than 100 countries. Our proven portfolio of smart networks, software, services, meters and sensors helps our customers better manage energy and water for the people they serve.