Building better communities through effective use of technology, ORAU Annual Meeting Day 1
Research and innovation can help build better, more resilient communities. Local government and community agencies, working in partnership with research institutions, can improve the lives of citizens in all areas of the country by employing effective technology.
“Partnerships between local governments and universities are poised to help the public sector adapt to rapid technological change,” said Ben Levine, executive director of MetroLab Network and former policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Treasury. These partnerships can advance research-informed, data-driven policy changes much needed for communities to build resiliency and economic growth.
“Local governments are in dire need of expertise,” said Levine, noting that many communities do not have the resources to adapt and benefit from advances in technology. Universities can provide access to expertise and data.
Levine was the keynote speaker on March 10 at the 75th annual meeting of the ORAU Council of Sponsoring Institutions at Hilton Knoxville Airport, Alcoa, Tennessee. “Smart Cities and Communities” was the meeting theme.
Levine outlined how to create partnerships in communities and connect these partnerships into a national ecosystem that includes federal and state government agencies, civic partners and philanthropies. In noting challenges that often stand in the way, Levine said technology use is concentrated in certain regions. “We need to address that so we have better distribution across the country,” he said. Public reluctance to embrace new technologies is another challenge. Also, state and local governments have limited staff dedicated to adapting technologies to the public sector.
Four panelists continued the discussion of partnerships between universities and communities.
Rouzbeh Nazari, Ph.D., focused on a decision-making framework for assessing infrastructure and community vulnerability. He urged community leaders to assess hazard risks and inform citizens about possible ways to meet the challenges. “Every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saves the nation $6 in return,” he said. He is codirector of Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Cybersecurity and resilience are intertwined, according to Samuel Visner, director of the National Cybersecurity Federally Funded Research and Development Center, The MITRE Corporation. Safeguarding information grows more difficult every year because of expanding satellite connectivity and integrated computer networks. Hanna Hess, cybersecurity software engineer, The MITRE Corporation, described a case study done in Hangzhou, China, with Alibaba’s ET City Brain. Real-time data on the traffic grid was used to shorten response time for emergency vehicles, monitor hazardous transports, and coordinate traffic light timing based on queue length. She discussed privacy issues related to population monitoring, noting serious concerns about how data is used.
Jibonananda Sanyal, Ph.D., group leader for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Computational Urban Sciences research group, employs high-performance computing to develop solutions and bolster resiliency in communities. “Complementary technologies support us,” he said, referencing people’s daily connections to telecommunications and transportation. Transportation modeling is extremely helpful in crisis situations, such as evacuations. Government agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), use the Eagle-I national outage map to track customer power loss on electric grids during disaster response efforts.
Panelists emphasized research institutions can compile data and develop insightful white papers showing possible impact, however, local governments must have a willingness and commitment to follow through with meaningful implementation.