Richmond smartens up with data-driven emergency plan

The City of Richmond is showing an acute awareness to the dangers of being a multilingual island city, on a flood plain, and next to a major fault line, by applying to the federal government for $10 million to fund an Intelligent Operation Hub.

The city’s application was part of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities’ nationwide Smart Cities challenge “to develop bold and ambitious ideas to improve the lives of their residents using data and connected technology.”

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After receiving 200 applications for three prizes, the federal government announced its finalists this week. As a finalist, Richmond is now competing against nine other finalists (with a population under 500,000) for one of two $10 million prizes. It has received $250,000 to develop a more detailed final submission.

The proposed Intelligent Operation Hub aims to use communication technology to integrate emergency response plans from all levels of government and businesses, in order to better streamline and organize communication, decision making and asset mobilization — for both small-scale incidents such as traffic congestion or a rare, but imminent, major earthquake (within an estimated 200 years according to local experts).

“We believe our proposal for an Intelligent Operation Hub is of both local and national importance and offers huge opportunities to improve our residents’ overall quality of life, while ensuring our community and economy are resilient in the face of any level of emergency,” said Mayor Malcolm Brodie, via a news release.

Stated goals of the city are to: integrate emergency data platforms; improve emergency response rates; and bridge language barriers.

In Richmond, 44.8 per cent indicated Chinese as their mother tongue, 33.1 per cent stated English, 3.9 per cent said Tagalog (Filipino) and 2.7 per cent claimed Punjabi. About 11 per cent of residents cannot speak English at all — the highest rate in Canada.

Emergency responders come from all levels of government. The city has a contract with the federal RCMP for police services but controls its own fire department, Richmond Fire Rescue. Meanwhile, ambulance services are provided by the provincial B.C. Emergency Health Services. In a major disaster, the federal military would be called upon.

Richmond’s roadways are also controlled by three levels of government, although the vast majority of the network is municipal.

The city acknowledges in its submission that a lack of integration between governments impedes response efforts, be it for small events or potentially more serious ones.

The case for emergency preparedness has previously been made clear by the city. Due to global warming-induced sea level rise, the city says it must raise its dikes by over one metre within the next 100 years, a process that has already commenced. As well, Lulu Island will sink 20 centimetres in that time and Fraser River spring freshets could become greater if snow pack and precipitation patterns change.

The city stated the Intelligent Operation Hub is likely to piggy back off the city’s Digital Strategy, a document that outlines how the city is advancing the likes of digital documentation, online customer service, access to e-services and an expanded free public WiFi system. The city is also expanding its own fibre optic network for inter-municipal communication.

Richmond’s proposal will be challenged by eight other cities, such as Greater Victoria, which is proposing a “multimodal transportation network.”

Meanwhile, the City of Saskatoon has chosen a social empowerment theme by proposing to use innovative technology to support Indigenous youth at risk of incarceration.

Winners are to be announced in spring 2019.

See finalists here

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