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  1. Science and Technology Directorate
  2. News Room
  3. Snapshot: SCIRA Smart Cities St. Louis Leading Example

Snapshot: When it comes to Smart Cities, St. Louis is Leading by Example

Release Date: July 7, 2020

St. Louis, Missouri, is home to a lot of traditional Americana, including the Gateway Arch, Major League Baseball's Cardinals and many domestic beers. It is now also home to the first Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) SCIRA exercise pilot.

“SCIRA is the Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture. It’s a framework to facilitate the integration and operability of disparate IT systems,” said Norman Speicher, S&T’s SCIRA program manager.

St. Louis Fire Department ambulance responding to an emergency. In catastrophic disasters, as well as everyday emergencies, having a connected and efficient smart city can save time, property and lives. Speicher added, “SCIRA should facilitate greater situational awareness across municipalities, counties, cities and states.”

The goal: assess smart city technology solutions and develop common standards to ensure they meet the needs of jurisdictions of different sizes. This way, rural areas can leverage the same tools as large, urban centers. Through SCIRA’s findings, cities could have open, interoperable methods for incorporating technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) sensors into everyday public services and have unified standards across the spectrum of smart cities.

Robert Gaskill-Clemons, Chief Technology Officer for the City of St. Louis, also explained that tools like SCIRA can help him do his job even better, “I spearhead the city's smart city initiative. Technology is vitally important to protecting citizens, delivering emergency services and supporting public safety. It allows us to be much more proactive when it comes to protecting our citizens, versus primarily being reactive.”

It is forward-thinking leadership like this that helped S&T single-out St. Louis for the pilot.


S&T is seizing the opportunity to introduce new smart city technologies to agile-minded decision makers, emergency managers and first responders. In addition to organizing and funding a two-day SCRIA pilot in mid-January, S&T sees its role as lowering barriers, so it is easier to integrate these technologies into a community’s IT infrastructure. Speicher noted that, “The City of St. Louis wanted to expose their departments to some example technologies for the purpose of expanding their understanding of what might be technically possible.”

St. Louis Police and other officials conferring about emergency response and the SCIRA exercise. To accomplish the exercise, SCIRA used Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) technologies and multiple vendor products that were competitively selected by S&T and OGC.

The SCIRA exercise included five realistic and interrelated scenarios that would test new technologies and demonstrate to stakeholders how powerful an asset smart cities technologies can be. An important component of that testing is integrating standards and a common operating language for the products being used.

The smart city sector is new and evolving quickly, so proving that smart cities can operate efficiently and improve city services is essential. 


The pilot was not a “fully dynamic operational exercise,” but more a first step in seeing how smart city tech could be deployed while a complex scenario unfolded throughout the city. The objective was to test and prove smart city capabilities in five major areas: (1) situational awareness for emergency managers, (2) Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) for emergency response, (3) dynamic routing for emergency response around obstructions, (4) agility for workforce mobility tasking/re-tasking and (5) in-building navigation for first responders.

One of the most critical components of a smart city response to crisis is fast and efficient communication between agencies. All too often, first responders in the field get only partial information before arriving on scene.

St. Louis Fire Department Paramedic Joshua Polinsky pointed out that when arriving at an incident, “Having that instant communication with everybody—police, fire, and EMS—that's great. Because [currently] if we need to talk with police, we have to call dispatch on the radio, then we have to wait a couple minutes for them to get ahold of police dispatch…”

In the field, during an emergency, every second counts and each one can be the difference between life and death. Polinsky continued, “The biggest thing is just knowing your area. Knowing where other people are because there are many times when we go in blind. We don’t know where anyone else is… but with this technology, you know where everyone is.”

SCIRA attempts to streamline communication because saved time means saved lives.


A mock City Operations Center was created in downtown St. Louis inside the T-Rex office building. T-Rex is a non-profit incubator for technology start-ups and a hub for innovation-minded entrepreneurs. Local stakeholders were invited to participate in the exercise at the multi-purpose venue.

Speicher described the pilot as, “A series of operational scenarios including flooding, auto accidents, fires as a means of bringing together multiple city departments in a unified way that tests and evaluates the SCIRA architecture.” The scenarios began with a (fictitious) major storm hitting St. Louis, after the city had previously endured weeks of heavy rain. As often happens, with the soil already saturated, the Mississippi River began to swell.

Scenario 1 – River Monitoring

Emergency managers in the City Operation Center were alerted to the rising Mississippi River waters on their SCIRA dashboards. IoT flood sensors that were deployed around the river, as well as other connected assets, not only gave city personnel an early warning that the river was breeching its banks, but also visually displayed where it was happening via the dashboards. This type of monitoring offered the city a head start, so they could pre-position assets to respond.

Scenario 2 – Flash Flooding

During the SCIRA exercise, a 3D flood analysis model shows city flooding. As flash flooding inundated the city, computers (connected with even more strategically placed IoT sensors) mapped the extent of the water incursion. SCIRA provided citizens in the community the opportunity to send pictures of flooded areas through an app. Then, computer systems at the Operations Center analyzed the information and published emergency action alerts. Meanwhile, smart mapping of emergency routes for citizens and emergency responders (which may be different than those for the general public) was done so they could all avoid flood waters.  

Scenario 3 – Assisting Vulnerable Populations

Floods are incredibly dangerous and result in scores of deaths each year in the U.S. Those at the greatest risk are vulnerable populations that may be living on the streets, disconnected from news and public safety information, as well as those that are physically or otherwise challenged. Through historical data about where these populations may reside and street camera confirmation, proper authorities were (in simulation) dispatched to offer assistance when it was determined that water was heading in that direction.

Scenario 4 – Building Fire

Next in the simulation, flood waters seeped into the mechanical room of an office building basement. The water caused a short circuit and resulted in a fire. As the building fire alarm triggered, first responders were dispatched and automatically smartly-routed to avoid the flooded streets. When they reached the building, IoT sensors in the walls helped some firefighters with in-building navigation to the blaze, while other responders were directed to rescue trapped office workers. When a firefighter battling the flames experienced irregular heartbeats, a physiological monitoring device on his wrist informed the incident commander of his physical distress, and he was assisted immediately.

Scenario 5 – Vehicle Accident

Standing water can make roads treacherous. The simulation called for a car to lose control, hydroplane and smash into a fire hydrant, sending fountains of even more water into the street. The SCIRA CAD smartly prioritized and re-routed the closest first responders around flooded areas so they could attend to the victim and deal with the accident scene. Meanwhile, city water crews were sent to shut off the hydrant source.


During the SCIRA exercise, multiple officials discussing SCIRA technology. The St. Louis SCIRA pilot brought tech providers and stakeholders together in a first-of-its-kind exercise so they could get a glimpse of the future. Gaskill-Clemons pointed out that the future is now, “The other piece to this was making sure that we were engaging tools that are real, that are available today and that can add value in day-to-day operations.”

Though many individual smart city technologies are readily available, having access to a larger framework of how they all tie together and complement each other is a major advancement. SCIRA will allow emergency managers and public officials far greater real-time situational awareness, so they can make better, more informed and more efficient decisions—that can save lives.

Gaskill-Clemons concluded, “This pilot fits into our mission to protect our citizens, but also fits into a mission to protect our first responders as well… The types of technology that are available today, that were demonstrated during this pilot, allow the city to overcome challenges we've had. Multiple departments being able to respond at the same time, all departments having the same information, the ability to speed up our response times, especially when multiple departments are involved… It was just amazing to see how this exercise played out.”

Watch the SCIRA Video

Last Updated: 03/17/2021
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