How Smart Cities Can Defend Against Pandemics?

How Smart Cities Can Defend Against Pandemics
PC: Unsplash
With the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, many people are beginning to question whether governments are putting enough protection in place for their citizens. Some of the most successful countries at stopping the spread, such as South Korea, cite pandemic response plans formed after the SARS outbreak of 2003 as the reason for their success.

The country where the virus was first discovered, China, credits smart technology and strict nationwide ordinances as key to helping them slow the spread. Smart cities, in particular, are at the forefront of flattening the curve due to strategic urban planning, proactive virus response, and cutting edge technology that helps track and control community spread.

Seeing as over two-thirds of the global population will be city dwellers by 2050, it’s clear that urban planning and smart city development are going to play a key role moving forward in organizing and controlling disaster response. Below, we outline some of the major ways smart cities are using technology to defend against the pandemic.


Many people’s smartphones are already tracking their location and movements—and the impact this can have on virus control is beginning to be realized by governments and major corporations. Relevant data about popular shopping times and traffic patterns gathered from smartphones are already helping leaders craft more timely and effective response plans.

Additionally, countries such as South Korea are beginning to track the location of patients who have been infected with the virus using geolocation on smartphones. By doing this, the government is able to notify people who had come in contact with the patient, urging them to self-quarantine to reduce the chance of community spread. As South Korea is being touted as one of the most successful countries in stopping the spread of the virus, it’s clear that the measures they are taking to protect their citizens are making an impact.

It’s important to note that governments aren’t the only ones trying to come up with geolocation-based solutions to the pandemic response. Major players in the technology market such as Apple and Google are beginning research and development on an app to assist with contract-tracing as well.

Disease tracking

Many cities are turning to artificial intelligence to aid in virus tracking and response. Armed with the ability to access real-time data, city officials, researchers, and scientists are using AI to improve the efficiency of emergency response. Artificial intelligence is able to use a mixture of natural language processing and big data to track public spread and information from thousands of sources all over the city simultaneously.

Ten days before the WHO first announced information regarding COVID-19, Canadian disease tracking company BlueDot used artificial intelligence to notify officials of unusual pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China.

Autonomous delivery

With so much of the world under social distancing or stay at home regulations, autonomous delivery has exploded as a method of transporting food and goods with minimal human contact. Seeing at the virus is able to live on surfaces for up to three days, several countries have barred residents from going outside completely—leaving them reliant on delivery workers to become the unlikely heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although autonomous delivery systems are in the early days of widespread development and adoption, the strong push during this pandemic will surely supercharge the autonomous delivery industry. From driverless cars to delivery drones, autonomous delivery systems are able to minimize the human labor needed to transport goods and services worldwide.

PC: Unsplash

Drone and camera surveillance

In the past few years, drones have been an up-and-coming method of surveillance and delivery, and the city of Wuhan has capitalized on this smart technology by using drones to help enforce shelter in place rules. Drones help minimize the number of law enforcement officers who need to be outdoors, making the job of enforcing rules safer for everyone involved.

Some countries are beginning to use camera surveillance tools already in place to measure physical distancing. Different cities in the UK and India are turning to CCTV and traffic cameras to monitor and report on the movement of citizens, helping ensure safety precautions are being taken.

Thermal cameras

Thermal cameras are another surveillance tool that is being used to determine if people passing by are running a fever. Wuhan, the first city to experience a COVID-19 outbreak, has already begun adapting this technology in tandem with facial recognition software.

One of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever, so city leaders have begun capitalizing on smart technology like thermal cameras to help detect and track community spread.

Internet connectivity

In the digital age, everything from how we communicate to how we process new information has changed because of the connectivity of the internet. In New York City, free public WiFi is offered all over the city to help citizens stay connected to a constant flow of information.

For older generations, information kiosks are another form of smart technology that is helping spread information to people who do not own personal smartphone devices.

With the rise of 24-hour news and constant updates, internet connectivity has given people around the globe a way to stay connected while staying apart. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the world as we know it, and one of the biggest challenges of virus response is a lack of real-time, accurate data to help predict the future trajectory of the spread.

Technological advancements like geolocation for contact-tracing, autonomous delivery, and camera surveillance are just a few of the many ways that smart technology has positively impacted virus response.

Outside of virus response, the benefits that smart cities can have on our future are extremely valuable. From helping with energy conservation and water management to optimizing waste disposal and traffic congestion, using smart technology is undoubtedly a crucial part of becoming a city of the future. To learn more about smart cities of the future, check out this visual from The Zebra.

Infographic from
What is a Smart City?

About Author:

Karlyn is a writer who specializes in the technology and insurance spaces. She believes the best ingredients for success are passion and purpose.

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