How cities can react and protect residents and small businesses from coronavirus
Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic — and as coronavirus affects every aspect of our society, changing the way people everywhere live and work — government officials on the federal, state and city levels across a wide spectrum of technological sophistication are working to comprehend and combat the severe negative effects on cities, constituents, and local businesses.
All of this while city officials work to battle misinformation, encouraging residents to support local businesses and enabling residents to participate in municipal communications.
These cities need to operate proactively, and with efficiency, across communication and planning verticals while considering the transmission patterns of COVID-19 — and they need a plan that enables them to incentivize the population to make positive healthy choices.
And in this crisis, the old cliché holds true: Time is of the essence.
For these reasons, a comprehensive, proven, and effective communication platform that can be implemented instantly is critical in mitigating ongoing risk — and future recovery efforts.
Risking the unknown
In 2020, we have viable tech that can help cities handle crises. State and city governments should be proactive in harnessing that technology to protect and serve residents. People from all walks of life are plugged into complex, fast-moving, widely-available information systems like Facebook, Instagram, Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, and various news platforms — and cities are finding it challenging to keep up.
Rather than relying only on legacy methods of civic and community engagement — town hall meetings, mailers, text alerts, radio, and public access television — many mayors, city managers, and chief information officers created Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and Twitter accounts, but important information can be lost in a deluge of competing messages. Cities don’t have control over media and messaging and therefore can neither effectively and efficiently communicate with their residents nor receive timely insight into the effectiveness of that messaging.
Government officials instead need to look for more effective technology solutions.
Without that, some experts say, “we’ll see an increase in dissatisfaction in government … [and] a general ambivalence toward civic institutions… we need an ecosystem that fosters civic innovation rather than stifling it.”
The prospect of comprehensive tech solutions that enable engagement and action before, during, and after times of crisis can seem daunting; but a proven SaaS solution, such as Colu, can make it easy by streamlining the methods of interaction and communication with residents and driving behavioral change through offering unique rewards for taking specific actions.
“I’ve seen first-hand that efficient and timely communication can be the difference between success and failure for city initiatives and struggling businesses,” said Michael Pegues, CIO of the City of Aurora, Illinois, and an expert in the smart cities space. “The kind of technology Colu provides is the key for city officials who want to build reliable, affordable and easily implemented whole-city tech solutions that can spur local growth and solve critical issues, such as saving small businesses during these unprecedentedly challenging times.”
How it works: Action plans for smarter cities
Before a crisis strikes, cities should have the ability to connect directly with residents, vital organizations, and local businesses. This will help locals understand which channel is the most reliable source for breaking news and updates; this will also reduce unnecessary panic and fight misinformation often seen on the traditional social media.
Cities can harness the power of technology platforms to create an official channel to communicate with residents. With established platforms that are viewed as a trusted source for city-wide updates, municipalities will be well-equipped to mobilize as the first signs of a potential problem arise.
During a crisis, top-down communication is crucial to avoid the spread of misinformation. City officials could curb stress, chaos, and uncertainty by ensuring residents receive only timely and accurate information straight from reliable sources — be it information on your local government’s precautionary plans, guidelines for residents, regular updates from the CDC, and more.
Cities can also take the reins by implementing bottom-up communication — information collected from people on the ground and distributed efficiently. For example, cities can utilize a platform like Colu to collect information from stores on their inventory. As stores are running low on items particular to infectious diseases, residents can see what’s on the shelves at a local business by receiving live updates through a mobile app and make informed decisions on where they should go — and these decisions can be incentivized to push residents to take specific actions.
The benefit here is three-fold: Firstly, this helps increase social distancing as residents who aren’t quarantined can minimize time spent meandering through various stores in search of a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Secondly, residents will patronize local businesses because they can ascertain, with confidence, what’s available and get it quicker than from any online retailer.
Thirdly, the revenue generated through these more confident local consumers will strengthen the businesses that are often the fabric of many of the world’s greatest cities.
The coronavirus caught cities flatfooted, exposing weaknesses in information infrastructure critical to navigating through a time of crisis. As the pandemic continues to test the capabilities of cities, local officials will look back at their responses to the outbreak and consider what could have been done differently.
With small businesses collapsing and city leaders struggling to communicate with residents and get real-time data about resident engagement levels, smart city technologies are more crucial than ever.
Researchers have found that harnessing data early on might have allowed city leaders to understand the severity of the situation earlier, potentially saving lives: “Smart cities can help lead the vanguard for communities adopting tech solutions to detect outbreaks before they become pandemics.”
Cities have to ask themselves if the current crisis response systems are effective enough and whether, in the future, they see the value in investing in tech solutions that facilitate more nimble responses.
Right now, however, city officials must understand there are readily available govtech solutions that can empower cities to help better engage residents and save small businesses in this time of crisis.
Amos Meiri is co-founder and CEO of Colu, a smart city technology company enabling municipalities to increase civic engagement by rewarding residents for actions that promote strategic goals for community good. Colu’s platform and unique City Coin unlock ways for cities to thrive, connect and become more inclusive. Amos is a pioneer in the adoption of innovative technology to help cities engage residents and boost participation.