Category Archives: analysis

Emerging Technological Responses in Emergency Management Systems

The advent of discourses around the ‘smart city’, big data, open data, urban analytics, the introduction of ‘smarter technology’ within cities, the  sharing of real-time information, and the emergence of social media platforms has had a number of outcomes on emergency services worldwide. Together they provide opportunities and promises for emergency services regarding efficiency, community engagement and better real-time coordination.  Thus, we are seeing a growth in technologically based emergency response. However, such developments are also riddled with broad concerns, ranging from privacy, ethics, reliability, accessibility, staff reluctance and fear.

This post considers one recent technological push for the re-invention of the emergency call system (911bot) and another for the sharing of real-time information during a major event (Smartphone Terror Alert).


In recent years, there has been a significant move away from voice calls towards texting and internet based platforms (eg.WhatsApp and Twitter)(see figure 1), this is tracked regularly by the International Smartphone Mobility Report conducted across 12 countries by the data tracking company Infomate. In 2015, they found that in America the average time spent on voice calls was 6 minutes as opposed to 26 minutes texting, and worldwide,  internet based platforms were the main form of communication (Infomate, 2015 and Shrapshire, 2015).


cell phone communication

Figure 1: Cell phone Communication. Source: Russell (2015).

In light of this, there is a push by both the private sector and entrepreneurs to utilise mobile phones and  social media platforms in new ways such as within the emergency call system. Within my own field research, I have questioned first responders in Ireland and the US regarding the use of social media and apps as alternative means to the current telephone system.  For the most part, this was met with disdain and confusion from first responders.  Strong arguments were made against a move away from a call-dominated response system. These included:

a)      Difficulty in obtaining relevant and accurate information regarding the event, including changing conditions and situations.

b)      Not able to provide the victim or caller with accurate instructions and information.

c)      Restrictions in contacting the caller.

d)     The system would need an overhaul for it to work, i.e. a dedicated team ensuring that these messages are not missed, and require staff training.

e)      Call systems are established mechanisms for contacting the emergency services, why change it when it works?

f)       If you use something like Twitter or Facebook to report an emergency how do we ensure that it is reported correctly and not just tweeted or messaged to an interface which is not monitored 24/7?

And as can be seen through the following conversation with two operational first responders in Dublin, Ireland, they want new technology but are also highly hesitant as to its ability to ensure a quick response.

Conversation between researcher and two first responders

R1: See the problem with a tweet and a text, I can’t get any information out of that, like I could tweet and back and then you are waiting for them to send something back, when I have you on the phone, I can question you, “What is it?”, “What is wrong?”, “What is the problem?”.

R2: If you did go with something like [social media platform for emergency call intake], you would have to have the likes of, if you are the tweet man then you would have to be 100% on the phone looking at it

R2: It probably would work if it wasn’t an emergency as such, not a full emergency

R1: I think people need tobe re-assured that someone has seen it and really knows what is happening.

R1: Jesus you could have everyone tweeting saying I have a sore stomach and that would register as a call for us so the calls would just get worse and worse. […] I think if you ring Domino Pizza now, it will know who you are, where you are and your order

R2: They can read the caller ID coming

R1:We haven’t got that

All of these are understandable concerns, but they also illustrate a resistance to innovative change that may result in cultural and institutional change which they oppose due to highly legitimate fears of effectiveness and reliability. Even so, they are welcoming of technology which has obvious benefits for them such as the “Domino’s Pizza” caller ID system, but are more reluctant towards innovations such as the 911bot whose value is overshadowed by fears of inefficiency, information gaps and reliability. However, the 911bot does potentially address some of these issues within its design.

The 911bot (figure 2) was developed during TechCrunch’s Disrupt Hackathon in New York in 2016.  It works through Facebook Messenger, which had a reported 1 billion users in July 2016 (Costine, 2016), to allow users to report an emergency.  Initially, one would be forgiven for immediately thinking of the arguments made against a transformation of the current system as presented above. However, the messenger app already offers location services based on the phones GPS thus, when reporting an incident, your exact location is immediately sent (although you can turn off your GPS signal and restrict your location being sent, when using this bot there is potential for that to be overridden).  The person reporting the incident can also send pictures or videos and the bot can provide information on what you should and shouldn’t do in that situation such as, how to do CPR during a cardiac arrest (Westlake, 2016).

Further, this bot has potential to feedback the location of the first responders to the reporter. It provides the control room with more accurate information coming from real-time videos and pictures meaning that they are not relying wholly on information from untrained and scared people.  And, most importantly, this system doesn’t take away from the control room interacting with the caller. From the information provided by the developers, it appears that once the messenger sends the request, the control room calls the phone and resumes their role but with more information.   Possibly, going forward this could even be done through Facetime so that the control room has live interaction with the event prior to the arrival of the first responders.  Although, the 911bot has only been developed and not deployed, in time and after much consultation and experimentation, it could prove very beneficial within emergency response.  For instance, if the control room operator can actually see how the person is conducting CPR, can see and hear their breathing, see the extent of the injury, fire, or road traffic collision in real time, it would inform decision-making that could create better and more efficient responses.  However, it would be remiss to discuss this without noting that there are potential privacy issues with the mass use of this type of technology outside of the remit of this post, that would need to be considered.


Figure 2: 911bot. Source: 911bot online.

Smartphone Terror Alert

Another new use of mobile technology was the mass terror alert issued on September 17th 2016, after Chelsea, Manhattan was hit with an explosion.  The alert (figure 3) was issued by the Office of Emergency Management, New York Police Department and the FBI through all phone networks. It was received by an unknown number of people and provided information about the key suspect – Ahmed Khan Rahami.  The Press secretary for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that it was the first use of this alert at a “mass scale” and as the suspect was caught within 3 hours, it presented the appearance that this alert was effective, with New York’s Police Commissioner stating “it was the future”(Fiegerman, 2016). Yet there is no evidence that the alert had anything to do with the catching of the suspect; these two factors could be circumstantial.


Figure 3: Smart phone terror Alert. Source: published in Fiegerman (2016).

Further, as illustrated by Anil Dash in Fiegerman (2016) how effective was it actually?  “Is there evidence that low-information untargeted push notifications help with any kind of crime? Seems they’re more optimised for panic”.  This is compounded by the lack of an all-clear alert, which would work to ease tensions and potential panic.  We live in a socially constructed risk society (Beck, 1992; 2009) and with innovations such as this, even if the intention is good, the potential for mass panic is created, which raises questions regarding the appropriateness of this mechanism. In this instance, sending an alert with little information, using just a name, makes everyone who could fit that name a potential target, and is an action that could create panic, fear and racial attacks under the illusion of “citizen arrest”.  However, this system has potential especially if it were utilised during severe weather events to provide information on evacuation centres and resources rather than during more sensitive events such as a manhunt.  Essentially, though, before it can be deemed thoroughly effective and safe there needs to be stringent supportive policy and agency and community training to ensure that response from agencies as well as communities is coordinated and effective rather than panicked and uninformed. So, I wonder, is this really the future, and indeed, does it need to be the future? Is it already the present with no sense of reflection on the potential consequences of such a system by the lead federal and local emergency agencies and institutions?  I don’t have the answers to these questions but examining the operational use of this alert even, at its small scale of use, provides opportunities to begin to tease out the danger of a dichotomy between effectiveness and panic and to explore issues around privacy, fear, reliability and usefulness.

In conclusion, this post has provided two different innovations within emergency management, one being experimented with and one which has been implemented. But what is clear is that changes in how we engage with control centres and emergency services are taking place, albeit slowly. But, one can only hope, especially in relation to the alert system, that lobbied criticisms will be engaged with and solutions sought.


911bot (2016) 911bot. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Beck, U., (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.

Beck, U., (2009). World of Risk. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Costine, J. (2016) How Facebook Messenger clawed its way to 1 billion users. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 8th November 2016).

Fiegerman, S.(2016) The story behind the Smartphone Terror Alert in NYC. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Infomate (2015) The International Smartphone Mobility Report [Online]. Available for download at: the International Smartphone Mobility Report (Accessed 7th November 2016).

Russell, D. (2015) We just don’t speak anymore. But we’re ‘talking’ more than ever. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Shropshire, C. (2015) Americans prefer texting to talking, report says. Chicago Tribune [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Westlake, A. (2016) Finally, there’s a chat bot for calling 911. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 7th November 2016).


Smart Docklands in a word, and smart city bingo

A couple of weeks ago I published a list of words that members of the Smart Dublin Advisory Network felt represented qualities they hoped Smart Dublin would fulfil.  At a recent meeting about a proposed Smart Docklands initiative attendees were asked to perform the same task – use one word to describe a desirable quality for the area/initiative.  Here is that list of aspiration words:

Co-creation                  Innovation                  Collaboration
Best practice               Showcase                    Testbed
Quality of Life             Community                 Engagement
Smart energy              Telecoms                     Internet of Things
Data                              Open                            Bright
Intelligent                    Optimized                    Autonomous system
Sustainability              Safety                           Resource efficient
Industry                       Startups                       Opportunity
Alignment                    Integrated                   Deploy and forget
Electricity                     Battery                         Energy
Connectivity                Smart mobility

While there is some overlap in the lists, it’s interesting to note the differences between the aspirations expressed at the two meetings.

Here are the words in the Smart Dublin list that are not in the Smart Docklands one:

Networking, Collaborative, Cooperation, Sharing, People, Well-being, Accessible, Diversity, Insight, Problem-solving, Strategic, Joined-up, Agile, Transformative, Future-proofing, International, Socio-technical, Curiosity, Easy

And here are the words in the Smart Docklands list not in the Smart Dublin one:

Co-creation, Best practice, Showcase, Smart energy, Telecoms, Internet of Things, Open, Bright, Intelligent, Optimized, Autonomous system, Resource efficient, Industry, Opportunity, Alignment, Deploy and forget, Electricity, Battery, Energy, Smart mobility

And here is the overlap:

Innovation, Collaboration, Testbed, Quality of Life, Community, Engagement, Data, Sustainability, Safety, Startups, Integrated, Connectivity

Perhaps not unsurprisingly the Smart Docklands list has more economic aspirations, but does still contain ambitions concerning community, engagement, quality of life and sustainability.  Adding the two list together, I sense, provides a kind of ‘smart city bingo’ – a full house of smart city goals.

Thanks for Jamie Cudden and Réka Pétercsák for compiling and sending the Smart Docklands list to me.

Rob Kitchin

Smart Dublin – in one word

The first Smart Dublin Advisory Network meeting took place on the 12th October in the Mansion House.  The plan is for the network to meet every six months to help guide the work of Smart Dublin as it develops and implements its strategy and programmes.  The first meeting mainly focused on introducing Smart Dublin and undertaking some initial workshop exercises to brainstorm initial ideas and feedback and to do so preliminary backcasting.  The first task was a quick introduction and for each person to say in one word a quality they hoped Smart Dublin would fulfil.  Here’s a list of those aspirational words – which I have grouped into triplets – a list against which to judge over the next few years how successful Smart Dublin has been.

Connectivity              Networking              Integrated
Collaborative            Cooperation             Sharing
People                       Community              Engagement
Well-being                 Safe                           Quality-of-life
Accessible                 Sustainable              Diversity
Data                           Insight                       Problem-solving
Strategic                    Joined-up                  Agile
Transformative        Future-proofing       International
Innovation                Start-ups                   Testing
Socio-technical        Curiosity                    Easy

Interestingly, efficiency, economy and open – which are three of the four key terms that have to date underpinned Smart Dublin’s work (along with engagement) – were not suggested. Personally, I think it’s a fascinating list in terms of what it prioritizes as key attributes of a successful smart city and it would be interesting to compare this list to other lists produced by stakeholder groups in other cities.  A brief post about the advisory board meeting and the Smart Dublin showcase that followed its first meeting can be found here.

Rob Kitchin

Impressions of Songdo, an urban growth machine in progress

On September 30th/October 1st, while on a trip to South Korea, I visited Songdo, the much discussed smart city development built in the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) at the edge of the Seoul metropolitan area.  The IFEZ, initiated in 2003, consists of three large-scale developments – Songdo (international business district, with a focus on research, education, bio-tech, conferencing), Yeongjong (aviation and logistics hub, tourism), and Cheongna (finance, component manufacturing, robotics, shopping and tourism), much of it built on reclaimed land.

My exploration mainly consisted of a long wander around Songdo and a visit to the IFEZ Promotion Centre on 33rd floor of G-tower.  Unfortunately, the exhibition in the Compact Smart City museum was ‘closed for construction’ and I also failed to see the U-City Vision at Tomorrow City as the entire complex seemed to be closed (I have a feeling that it might be permanently closed as the website was last updated in May 2010).


While Songdo is perhaps best known in the urban studies literature as model smart city and an example of testbed urbanism on a grand scale, my sense is that its creation really has to be contextualised with respect to IFEZ as it is predominately an economic development initiative aimed at driving domestic growth and establishing South Korea as a North East Asian hub for particular industries and thus consolidating its position as a key player in the global economy.
Seen from this perspective, the focus on creating a smart city is an implementation strategy designed to attract investment capital, anchor tenants, and global workers, with a side benefit of creating a potential exportable model of development.  Indeed, the smart city is one of four such implementation strategies used by IFEZ to bring the vision of being a ‘global business frontier’ to life, the others being: creating ‘a global economic platform’, becoming a ‘hub of service industries’ and a ‘hub of convergence’.

These strategies have been quite successful in attracting Korean and global investment, with over $US 8.3 billion being invested in the IFEZ by June 2016.  This has led to rapid growth.  In 2003 the population of the IFEZ (3 areas) was 25,778; by June 2016 it stood at 253,465.  Of these, 4,281 were international residents.  Songdo’s population exceed 100,000 in early 2016.  In the same period the number of companies operating in the IFEZ had grown to 1,737, of which 80 were foreign-owned, and there were 4 international universities and 14 international organizations who had opened campuses/offices in the IFEZ, including branches of the United Nations.  The plan is that by 2030 investment will have reached $US 15 billion, the number of foreign invested companies will have reached 150, the number of international organizations 150, the number of international universities 10, and the population will have grown to 536,000, of which 60,000 will be international residents.

Songdo 2

To aid such growth, the IFEZ has a number of development, planning and social policies.  For example, each district has their own design theme, with Songdo specializing in ‘night landscape, high end architecture landscape, mountainous skyline and waterside network’, along with the theme of being a smart city, or what they have termed ‘U-City’, an intelligent city that utilizes ubiquitous computing to manage urban infrastructures and city services.  In the IFEZ case, the U-City seeks to provide the coordinated management of transportation, environment, crime prevention, fire prevention, and facility management in an integrated manner across the three areas from a single control room.  In terms of social policies this includes trying to produce a ‘trouble free life for foreign residents’, including a ‘real-estate investment immigration system’, in which non-Korean investors are given resident status and after five years permanent residence status.

ucity centre

Recently they have established a plan to develop the IFEZ U-City model into what they term ‘the K-Smart City model’ to ‘more aggressively reinforce its presence in the overseas market.’  Utilising a public cloud system to ‘to securely store the massive amount of information flowing in from the CCTVs and sensors installed across the city’ and an approach to ‘drastically reducing construction and maintenance costs’, this model, it is anticipated, will not only ‘enhance the quality of life of citizens but also serve as a new growth engine as an added-value industry.’  In other words, the IFEZ wants to firmly establish itself as a model of smart city development and governance and to export this model, their expertise and new technologies globally, as made clear by Government official Kim Jong-won of the IFEZ U-City Division: “We plan to develop the knowhow, technology, and expertise regarding the construction of IFEZ and U-City into a brand and commercialize it on a global level.” Songdo is thus a means to showcase top-tier infrastructure and to create an exportable set of knowledges and technologies.

So, what were my impressions of the Songdo?  Having been led to believe that the place is half-built and mostly empty, it is clear that while one section is under-construction a substantial chunk is complete and occupied and all the major infrastructure (in terms of roads, rail, air, energy) are in place.  The part that is complete while quite quiet during the day is reasonably busy during the night with lots of people on the street and in the park, loads of kids playing in courtyards of tower blocks, and there are hundreds of restaurants and shops.  As the empty lots attest it’s a project in development, but far from being a ghost town.  Indeed, 13 years ago there was little but reclaimed land, but now there are over 100,000 people living in Songdo and in the areas that are complete the built environment feels relatively mature.

However, my sense was that it’s all very new, clean and wealthy, and there was little organic about the city – it has clearly been planned and developed to a masterplan, with centrally managed clustering of shops, restaurants and services, and some signature architecture around Central Park.  Moreover, the nascent city is a gated community at city-scale.  Given that the land was reclaimed there was no local community to displace and the cost of living in the private apartment buildings works to exclude lower-income households.  Indeed, Songdo is reputed to be one of the largest privately developed and financed urban developments globally and it aims for a certain degree of exclusivity that will attract additional international investment.

As for the smart city technologies these are difficult to spot, which is no surprise given they are designed to work in the background.  As such, the place does not particularly feel very smart (but rather a newly constructed city district) and since I struggled to get online outside the hotel I couldn’t access what information is made publicly available.  Moreover, what is highlighted in the Promotions Centre might have been pushing the smart city envelope in the mid-2000s but is now pretty middle of the road (real-time passenger information, sensor networks and CCTV, smart parking, traffic and accident information, e-government services, energy-efficient buildings, urban control room).

My overall impression then is that Songdo is more about economic development, free trade, global capitalism, real-estate development, cities as a target market for tech development, and gated community at a city scale, than it is about creating sustainable, diverse and smart communities and citizens.  And despite the global financial crisis it’s making a pretty good fist of the former, having now seemingly gained enough critical mass in terms of investment, infrastructure, companies and population to become an urban growth machine.  I’m not convinced, however, that this is the kind of smart city that other places should seek to emulate given it’s the vision of private interests largely for the benefit of private interests.

Rob Kitchin

A number of the quotes in this blog post are from the IFEZ journal (Sept/Oct 2016, vol 71).

Post-script – I’ve had a search around after I posted this piece.  There are a number of academic articles/book chapters concerning the development of Songdo, including:

Carvalho, L. (2012) Urban competiveness, U-city strategies and the development of technological niches in Songdo, South Korea. In Bulu, M. (ed) City competitiveness and improving urban subsystems. Information Science Reference, Hershey, PA. pp. 197-216.

Halpern, O., LeCavalier, J., Calvillo, N. and Pietsch, W. (2013) Test-Bed Urbanism. Popular Culture 25(2): 272-306.

Kuecker, G.D. (2013) Building the Bridge to the Future: New Songdo City from a Critical Urbanism Perspective. Paper prepared for the workshop: New Songdo City and South Korea’s Green Economy: An Uncertain Future.

Kim, J.I. (2014) Making cities global: the new city development of Songdo, Yujiapu and Lingang. Planning Perspectives 29(3): 329-356

Kim, C. (2010) Place promotion and symbolic characterization of New Songdo City, South Korea. Cities 27(1): 13-19.

Shin, H., Park, S.H. and Sonn, J.W. (2015) The emergence of a multiscalar growth regime and scalar tension: the politics of urban development in Songdo New City, South Korea.  Environment and Planning C 33(6): 1618-1638

Shwayri, S.T. (2013) A Model Korean Ubiquitous Eco-City? The Politics of Making Songdo. Journal of Urban Technology 20(1): 39-55.

Smart Moscow

Last week I visited Moscow to teach a short course and deliver a public lecture on smart cities hosted by the Moscow School of Social and Economic Studies.  In addition, I met some folks from Smart Moscow (part of the Administration of the Mayor and Government of Moscow), Yandex (the Russian Google), Habidatum (urban big data company), Strelka (an institute focusing on media, architecture and design).

smart moscow2The vision of a smart city, as articulated by the city administration, is based on three pillars of smart urban governance: (1) strategic planning using big data to develop and implement real-time adaptive management solutions; (2) sustainable, continuous development based on co-evolution of society and nature aimed at making life better while also reducing the negative impact on the environment; (3) engaging residents in the city’s administration through dialogue and collective decision-making using websites and mobile apps.

The programme has been running for about five years and now consists of suite of different e-government and management services (see Figure below).  These have been developed across a number of departments and agencies and like Dublin the Smart Moscow initiative has drawn these together to create a more coherent narrative, though it is not clear the extent to which they work in any coordinated way or their continued development is being undertaken cooperatively and in alignment.  It also seems that, as yet, there is no fully developed smart city strategy, advisory board or network, or communications programme (for example, the initiative does not appear to have a website in either Russian or English).  There is also a Smart City Lab within the Moscow government that is responsible for an innovation strategy.

My sense was that while the groundwork for Smart Moscow has been laid and there are a number of operational initiatives that Moscovites are familiar with they are largely unaware of Smart Moscow initiative itself.  It will therefore be interesting to see how Smart Moscow unfolds over the next few years and it would certainly be an interesting case study to examine in depth and compare to other European cities.

smart moscow

Rob Kitchin

Working paper – Crafting code: Gender, coding and spatial hybridity in the events of Pyladies Dublin

A working paper by Sophia Maalsen and Sung-Yueh Perng on the subjectivity and spatiality of coding, prepared for Craft Economies: Cultural Economies of the Handmade, edited by Susan Luckman and Nicola Thomas, is available to view.

In the paper, we look at the integration of the digital and the resurgent interest in crafting artefacts. We do this by focusing on the work, relationships and spaces occupied by Pyladies Dublin – a coding group intended for women to learn and ‘craft’ code in the programming language of Python. Pyladies offers an interesting and fruitful case study as it intersects gender, relations of making and places of making, nested firmly within the digital world. The relations of making within the Pyladies group provides salient insight into the production of code, gender and space. Pyladies is predominantly attended by women with the focus to encourage women to become more active members and leaders of the Python community. By producing code in a friendly space, the group also actively works towards producing coding subjectivities and hybrid, mobile spatiality, seeking to produce coding and technology culture that is diverse and gender equitable. We base our ethnographic study to suggest ways in which Pyladies Dublin is consistently engaging in crafting code and crafting coding subjectivity and spatiality.

We thank the generosity of PyLadies Dublin for accommodating us and engaging in very productive conversation in the process.

Sophia and Sung-Yueh