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It’s Mardi Gras week in New Orleans and this year’s celebration promises almost constant parades, unending music, and streets filled with costumes beyond imagination. During a recent visit, we saw first hand just how exciting the party can get. But we also caught a glimpse at just how effective the IoT is in helping to keep the party safer.

Visiting the French Quarter

Recently, I took my wife to New Orleans for her birthday. It was the first visit for both of us. With its reputation for 24/7 fun, we expected quite a bit of chaos, a smidgen of intrigue, and definitely a lot of adventure. We decided to stay in the French Quarter, and enjoy the walkable nature of the area. No rental car. No parking hassles. Just another couple in the mass of partiers on Bourbon Street. We just wanted to blend in . . . and so we did.

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Above: Joan of Arc in full Saints regalia for NFC Championship weekend.

The first day we noticed how calm and well behaved the crowds were. We were a little surprised – after all, it was both a holiday (MLK) and NFC Championship game weekend (featuring the hometown New Orleans Saints). So we expected people to be a little more adventurous. And while everyone was definitely having fun, they appeared to be doing so in a positive way.

As we walked along the worn streetscapes, we saw reassuring scenes as curious travelers uncovered their first taste of authentic Creole cooking, or nipped at their first beignet. And we were constantly welcomed by the friendly and open smiles of the 8th District’s residents. As day turned into night we continued our walk, feeling completely safe and unhindered. And, I’m glad to report, that throughout our entire stay, that feeling never wavered.

That first night I reflected on that “feeling” of security and how the city of New Orleans helped create it for me and my wife. I’ve been to many large cities around the world and that’s not always the feeling I’ve gotten as I walked their streets. Since I work for Cisco, I understand how hard the City of New Orleans works to keep their citizens and millions of tourists safe each year. This includes a partnership with Cisco to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) for greater public safety by creating an extensive real-time wireless camera network throughout the French Quarter and beyond. It’s pretty discreet. Very few visitors would notice every camera. But those out to cause trouble would, so it works great as a preventive medicine for them.

 

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What is IoT?

There are a lot of ways to define the IoT. A pretty broad but accepted one (courtesy IoT Agenda) is that “the IoT is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.” Or basically, almost anything connected to another thing, via a network.

During this year’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the IoT is serving as a force multiplier, helping to increase the reach of public safety officials in the French Quarter and along parade routes. By providing a live street-view perspective of events as they unfold, public safety teams can respond faster and more accurately, helping to improve physical safety for everyone. And while visitors like my wife and I benefit greatly from increased physical security, we also gain reassurance psychologically. For as we walked the narrow streets of Royal, Decatur . . . Chartres, we felt great comfort in knowing we were not alone in their gas lit shadows but were being watched over and protected through the power of the IoT.

 

IoT for public safety

According to George Barlow Brown, IT Manager for the New Orleans Real-Time Crime Center, “Cisco was the only company that could provide a complete, secure, expandable solution for our technical needs.” This is due, in part, to the Cisco 829 Industrial Integrated Services Router that serves as the backbone of their new network. With the IR 829, the city has the power to deliver real-time video with increased security and connectivity from cameras high above the street, back to the city’s crime center 24/7, 365 days a year. There, operators can manage and analyze the data so that public safety officials can better allocate resources and relay critical information to personnel on-site.

As one of America’s favorite vacation destinations, Bourbon Street has an energy all its own, built upon layers of living history driven by a cultural mix found nowhere else in the United States. Making sure that mix continues to thrive is critical to the economic growth of New Orleans. Add to that the experience of Hurricane Katrina (that parts of the city are still rebuilding from), and their need for a reliable and industrial-grade real-time video network that can survive a variety of conditions becomes clear.

 

Using the IoT to preserve culture and history

One of the most unique aspects of New Orlean’s use of the IoT to enhance public safety, is that they’re doing so without disrupting tourists’ adventures. The compact and easily placed devices (ruggedized routers, cameras, etc.) that create the network are designed to keep the technology off the street – and above instead – with minimal footprints and visual interference. This helps preserve the cultural and historical experience that is the French Quarter for a new generation of visitors.

IoT networks can also be expanded with a variety of sensors. Their data can then be gathered, aggregated, and analyzed to identify cultural trends, preserve historic areas, enhance planning for new infrastructure and economic development, and to increase urban resilience. Therein lies the value of innovation. In our increasingly mobile world, we will see increasingly unique technologies that can leap frog from their initial use to others. While this technology can help improve public safety, it can also help preserve the sense of place which makes a community worth living in. And during this year’s Mardi Gras and beyond, help provide a safer, more vibrant experience for tourists like me and my wife.

 


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