Smart Cities & Public Health Emergency Collaboration Framework

By Benson Chan, Senior Partner, Strategy of Things, and Renil Paramel, Senior Partner, Strategy of Things

Benson is an innovation catalyst and formerly the Vice President of Business Development and Strategy at a networking company in the smart home industry. He has 25+ years of experience and success scaling innovative businesses and technologies for Fortune 500 and start-up companies. Benson’s current work focuses on Smart Cities, Smart Buildings, and Industrial IoT. He serves on the CompTIA IoT Industry Advisory Council, and the NIST GCTC Wireless, Smart Building and Smart Region superclusters. Benson speaks and writes regularly on IoT, smart cities, and innovation management.

Renil is an IoT strategist and formerly Vice President at Gartner Consulting. He currently focuses on Smart Cities, Smart Buildings and Industrial IoT and has co-led the development of a smart region innovation lab for a county, and a connected streetlight strategy for a major utility. Renil has over 22 years of experience, including 20 years of professional consulting experience serving clients in the public sector and in Fortune 500 companies. Renil is an active member of several industry working groups, including the NIST GCTC Wireless, Smart Region, and Smart Building superclusters.

Apr 7, 2020 | Society | 4 comments

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted cities and communities worldwide. From the loss of lives and interruption of essential day-to-day services, to disruption of the global economy, no one person, organization, or country is spared.

Cities have borne the initial burden of the COVID-19 outbreak. As the number of infections and deaths surge, governments are turning to technology and innovative approaches for help. For example, eighteen countries around the world are using mobile phone tracking and contact tracing methods.

Innovative smart city technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, open data, and analytics, offer the potential for cities to respond to the pandemic more effectively. Existing response activities can be delivered faster, with better quality and accuracy, and with less cost. Furthermore, cities and public health organizations can build on these advanced capabilities to create new services and respond in ways that were not possible before.

However, current efforts to engage the innovation communities are reactive, piecemeal, and have limited effectiveness. Some problems get a lot of attention while others go unaddressed. Many technology companies lack context of how cities and public health systems address health emergencies, and offer solutions that are not relevant. Still other solutions have limited effectiveness because they lack community support or prerequisite infrastructure.

Smart Cities-Public Health Emergency Collaboration Framework

Based on our observations and experiences, we’ve written a white paper describing a Smart City-Public Health Emergency collaboration framework. We define a structured approach to broadly consider and maximize collaboration opportunities between the smart city innovation community and municipalities for the COVID-19 outbreak. It integrates the CDC Public Health Emergency and Response Capabilities standards with components of a smart city innovation ecosystem. The CDC defined capability standards are organized into six domains (Figure One). Each domain contains a defined set of capabilities. Each capability has a set of standardized activities associated with it.

Figure One. CDC National Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities

The Smart Cities and Public Health Emergency Collaboration framework is shown in Figure Two. Each intersection in the framework represents a collaboration point where the smart city’s innovation ecosystem and digital capabilities can be used to augment the municipalities’ public health emergency response needs.

This framework broadly captures and proactively maximizes the full range of collaboration opportunities between cities, public health systems, and the technology community for a public health emergency. The more boxes in the framework that can be populated, the more effective the overall response is likely to be.


Figure Two. The Smart Cities-Public Health Emergency Collaboration framework.

The Framework in Action

There is no limit to the number of collaboration initiatives possible for each box. Some collaboration initiatives may span multiple CDC capability domains, and some initiatives may span multiple smart city layers.

We share three examples of responses, as reported in the media, and where they fit within this framework. Additional details about the framework, including other examples are in the white paper.

Example 1: Infected Individual Tracing

Collaboration Point: Bio-Surveillance (Public Health Surveillance and Epidemiological Investigation) and Data and Analytics Layer.

A number of governments are using the data from mobile phones to track infected individuals, to see where they went and whom they may have come into contact with. This information is then used to identify those who have potentially been infected, how many people were infected, and when they may have been infected.

Example 2: COVID-19 Screening Website

Collaboration Point: Countermeasures and Mitigation (Non-pharmaceutical interventions) and Community Engagement.

A life sciences company has created a website that screens for COVID-19, and directs people to local testing locations. This effort supports California’s community based testing program, and is available in four counties.

Example 3: Community Broadband

Collaboration Point: Countermeasures and Mitigation (Non-pharmaceutical interventions) and Technology Infrastructure

A national telecommunications company is providing the communities that it operates in with access to broadband Internet service. This includes lifting data caps for its existing customers, and access to its nationwide network of hotspots to non-customers.

In addition, new customers are given two months of free service. This supports the community, businesses, and others affected by “shelter in place” directives intended to reduce community spread of COVID-19.

This framework is most effective when:

  • It is used as a starting point for collaboration. Cities and health systems bring domain knowledge, while technology companies bring the digital expertise.
  • Cities and health systems use it to plot their existing responses and then identify their capability gaps and needs. They must articulate those gaps and needs to the technology companies.
  • Technology companies align their offers to the CDC specified capabilities and activities. It may be necessary to partner to offer an “end to end” solution.
  • Everyone thinks beyond individual boxes. The squares are a starting point. Some needs cross multiple capability domains and require a combination of technology, community engagement, and data.
  • Collaboration opportunities are separated into two categories. One for tactical immediate responses, and a separate set for mid-term, longer efforts.

Next Steps

With an initial understanding of the framework, the following are recommended next steps for municipalities, communities and public health systems:

  • Review the framework and understand each of the fifteen capabilities (Figure One) and the associated activities corresponding to each capability.
  • Evaluate the current state of the community’s response capabilities and activities. Identify the level of activities, as well as gaps in your capabilities.
  • Map the gaps and wants into the framework. This becomes a list of challenges that can be used to solicit innovative ideas and solutions.
  • Invite the technology and innovation community to review this list. Host various brainstorming and ideation sessions. Create open challenges and invite the community to participate.

For technology and innovative solutions providers:

  • Review and understand what each of the fifteen capabilities are, and what activities they enable.
  • Review the framework, and identify those areas of current and future potential opportunity for your solution or capabilities. It may be necessary to establish partnerships with other technology companies in order to provide an integrated offering.

Using this framework as a guide, discuss with public health and emergency operations and response planners their capabilities, gaps, and areas of potential collaboration and opportunity.


Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.


  1. I really believe D.T. is problematic, but a much greater problem is our ability to collectively find ways to resolve and address the global problems.
    We all knows by now that It is a global phenomenon. We must expand people’s ability to understand the Social,Economic, and Political realms of situations. To Find ways to balance the competing forces in the world.
    Developing this capacity capacity is to control the effectiveness in addressing and solving many of the collectives and individual challenges we face. ” Let’s realize and advance Humanity to resolve issues locally, nationally, and internationally. “

  2. Dear Sir,

    I am a Public Health Engineer working for water and sanitation sectors. I have been working in Nepal for about 3 decades. I have relatively wider network of sector professionals related to water, sanitation, public health, environment and climate change adaptation. I would like to be in touch with your network for learning and sharing on relevant matters in which I can contribute by delivering service and knowledge for public welfare in the context of COVID19.

    Best Regards,

  3. We may want to relook approach and lacks a clear understanding of how government and technology actually works today and the transformation processes for digital government tomorrow. We already have FEA2 then apply SE with standards,frameworks and best practices. It’s unnecessary to create new frameworks, we have them already and they must be used and aligned with FISMA to NIST to local and domain such as healthcare HIPPA in alignment too down and bottom up. We should stop the tech fear marketing hype in times of crisis and creating confusion and propaganda. Apply the standards we have now then modify and tailor for the crisis or function. TOGAF and Zachman frameworks are a solid look to start.

  4. This is a great initiative! Looking forward to getting involved.
    Kindly advise.
    Thanks and all the best, Michelle


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