ICT solutions in an emergency

Panel „ICT Solutions in an Emergency“

Chair: Matthias Hollick (Technische Universität Darmstadt)

Currently, cities find themselves in a transformation process towards digital cities (or smart cities), to sustain the ever-increasing needs in urban infrastructure. Despite their vulnerability, the functioning of ICT-based infrastructures during times of crises has only been investigated superficially. We expect that digital cities will grow organically, resulting in a very heterogeneous, amorphous, and unstructured set of ICT. In this setting, the concept of “Emergency Responsive Digital Cities” refers to the capability of future digital cities to adapt autonomously to arbitrary crisis situations. Such cities can sustain basic ICT operation during times of crisis, supporting efforts to deal cooperatively with the crisis and allowing a return to normal and efficient operation as smoothly as possible. The panel will critically discuss the role of ICT in digital cities’ emergency preparedness. It will identify open research questions and present selected solutions, and it includes contributions on making digital cities resilient, from both an academic and a practical perspective.


Florian Steinke (Technische Universität Darmstadt):
Is Resilience the Real Driver for Decentral Intelligence in Energy?

It is commonly assumed that the energy transition leads to decentral power systems. While this is true for the physical components which shrink in size, multiply in number, and spread out in space, it is not true for the logic controlling the system. Here we see a trend to ever more remote control centers and an energy economy centered around a single European power market and centrally controlled reserve mechanisms. This development is driven by the new possibilities of automation / digitalization and economic efficiency.

In the light of these developments, we will motivate the hypothesis that it is resiliency, not renewable energies, that will eventually drive a fundamental change towards decentral control solutions in energy systems. This will have consequences far beyond the technical realm.

As an example for this general discussion we present a novel algorithm for secondary control of power grids, an important coordination task in such systems. Unlike today’s solution that is centrally controlled, this scheme has no single point of failure and is thus much more resilient against random and intentional distortions. We show experiments with exemplary power systems under different modes of failure.


Antonio Jorba (COUNT+CARE, Digitalstadt Darmstadt): LoRaWAN:
The Wireless 'Nervous System' for Digital Cities

Wireless Networks such as Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) or NarrowBand-Internet-of-Things (NB-IoT) are low-power long-range networks to cover metropolitan areas and cities. With this, they enable a huge variety of (critical) services for future smart and digital cities. Essentially, they promise to become the wireless 'nervous system' within digital cities.

Wireless city-wide networks can be conceived following an open or closed paradigm. The former allows various stakeholders such as citizens, businesses and industries to participate in providing and using smart services. It is very well aligned with open data initiatives and transforms the city into an open services ecosystem. Closed systems in contrast promise to get highly integrated services from a single source, but introduce critical dependencies from this source.

Within the Digitalstadt Darmstadt, we opted for an open model for a city-wide wireless network. Our LoRaWAN network is operational and a number of services are in everyday use.

In this talk, we will discuss various use-cases and applications that are already in use in Darmstadt, currently projected or planned for the future. We will exemplify applications that can be considered critical for the smooth operation of a city. By means of examples, we will discuss some of the practical challenges in digitising physical infrastructures.


Jiska Classen and Lars Almon (TU Darmstadt): Bricked or Useful Tool:
The Role of Everyday Electronic Devices in Crises

Smartphones have become an important part of our daily life. They enable us to communicate and exchange data with almost everybody via the Internet. But during a crises, when mobile connectivity fails, our smartphones become almost useless bricks. Despite of being able to sent and receive data via different wireless interfaces, namely Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, no readily available solution exists to create infrastructureless emergency communication networks. We have developed a working prototype based on Android for such a scenario. Using ad-hoc Wi-Fi and delay tolerant networking we were able to show, that such networks can be created during crises. To evaluate and demonstrate the performance of our system, we conducted a large field test with over 125 persons on a military training ground. The results show that smartphone-based emergency networks are not only feasible, but that ordinary people without a technical background can easily use and benefit from them, increasing the resilience of the population.

We are also more and more surrounded by „gadgets“ within the Internet of Things. We use those as everyday little helpers and are often not even aware of them. In crises they can support us and get new roles. For example, a vacuum cleaner normally scans its surroundings to get a map of moving and non-moving objects and optimize its route. During crises, however, it can be controlled by humans to scan in areas that are poisoned or for other reasons should not be accessed and help with search and rescue. Fitness trackers typically have a longer battery life than smartphones and can be used to locate unconscious owners, a process that classically would require rescue dogs. In addition to such special functions, communication abilities of these devices can be leveraged to form a mesh network for data transport that is independent from the Internet.