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Chattanooga’s Safe City Orchestra

With: Mark Keil, CIO, City of Chattanooga • Issue: SAFE CITY – Increase Public Safety and Quality of Life while Reducing CostsCategory:

  • Chattanooga’s gigabit fiber optic and Wi-Fi mesh networks have become a powerful platform for enhancing public safety and city efficiency.
  • Innovative applications are enabling high-definition surveillance, a smart streetlight system that saves $1 million annually, superior response for police and fire departments, and scores of other benefits.
  • Chattanooga has found that leveraging assets across multiple departments and missions is the key to operational savings across the board.

Chattanooga CIO Mark Keil feels like he’s conducting an orchestra – one that involves nine separate city departments as well as other agencies across nine counties, 56 applications with 100 database and application servers, over 1,500 desktop computer users, a telephony network of nearly 2,500 voice devices, and applications and a regional audience of over 400,000 residents. All are part of a cutting-edge smart city initiative that is improving public safety while reducing operating costs.

The backbone for this management and control system is a gigabit fiber optic network deployed to a 600 square mile area as part of a smart grid project in 2010 by the regional utility, Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (EPB) working with Alcatel-Lucent. That infrastructure gave Chattanooga the greatest city-wide communications capacity in the country, and now works with a mesh Wi-Fi grid and innovative applications that enable enhanced police and fire response, a smart streetlight and camera system, superior storm water management, smart traffic control, and a slew of other regional services and benefits.

“We realized that we needed to orchestrate everything the city does to keep from repeatedly spending the same dollar when the same amount of money could have been dedicated to solving multiple issues,” says Keil, whose office serves provides centralized planning and management for the entire system.


Chattanooga’s smart city success began with careful planning and coordination among all of its stakeholders. In 2005 the City started devising a high speed ubiquitous wireless network that every department would be able to use, with public safety as the key driver. One major challenge was that it would require a robust infrastructure for backhaul. “Just when we were looking at this and realizing how expensive the backhaul would be, EPB announced its fiber project,” Keil says. “At first we stood up and applauded, and when they partnered with Alcatel-Lucent and bumped the network to a gig, you could say that we danced in the street. It was almost a perfect storm – a great solution for what we wanted to implement.”

While EPB and Alcatel-Lucent were deploying the fiber, Keil’s office worked closely with city departments to create what Keil calls “meaning of life” applications that would elegantly and efficiently serve each department’s unique challenges. “When the fiber was in place our system wasn’t just ‘shovel-ready’ – it was beyond that,” says Keil. “We didn’t wait to see if the Power Board could really deliver a gig; we went ahead and implemented everything so that we could flip a switch when the time came. EPB’s network and price estimate was a game-changer, and we trusted that they would deliver.”


Now Chattanooga’s public safety has changed forever with innovative safe city applications such as:

  • High-Definition Surveillance: A sophisticated system of 240 high-definition surveillance cameras, linked to a network that can be accessed by any police car and precinct station, provides unprecedented response time and helps preclude expensive conventional investigations and litigation.
  • Smart Streetlights: A total of 28,000 AMI streetlights throughout the entire city are planned, and already yield an 80 percent energy savings. Illumination is automatically increased when the networked cameras observe a certain number of people congregating, and police officers can turn on groups of those lights directly from their cars, dramatically reducing crime. “A local real estate developer downtown told me that these smart streetlights make her feel much safer walking to her office,” says Debbie Fisher, Director of Market and Consumer insight for Alcatel Lucent. “Previously she had to drive to work whereas now she feels comfortable walking.”
  • Enhanced Communications and Response: Using the city’s wireless mesh and air cards, police officers can connect from anywhere, access a camera, point, zoom and see what’s going on without having to first drive to the site. Fire personnel can retrieve the latest information on dangerous materials before entering buildings and instantly deploy wireless-enabled cameras for critical observations. Paperless reports can be filed and referenced anytime.
  • Regional Coordination: A nine-county system called CopLink allows free-form searches across on all of the systems across multiple jurisdictions, providing the information needed for identifying a suspect, whether police are looking for a car, a person or even a tattoo. Data is available instantly and transparently, providing unprecedented situational awareness and communication among different agencies.


Determining the return on investment from a smart city project can be a complex exercise when dealing with scores of different municipal departments that each have unique missions, operations and budgets. Yet there’s no doubt about two things: smart cities pay dividends in both operational cost savings and enhanced public safety, and the further you extend the financial horizon, the greater the ROI becomes.

Thus far Chattanooga has invested $2 million from its treasury as part of a $6 million spend overall, and anticipates a total of $9 million in grants. Of those, $1.5 million were a 50 percent match, but all of the others are expected to be 100 percent, according to Keil.

Being the central orchestrator of every technology is generating some serious cost savings for the city. “You may have two systems that do similar things, but you really get smart when you marry the two and exponentially increase the savings,” Keil says. “Our smart lighting system and cameras were funded separately, and joining them together provided even more savings at no extra cost. The lighting project alone will pay for itself in seven years without an additional increase in operating budget. After that it will generate $1 million per year in savings.”

Keil adds that the police department paid nothing to outfit its cars with multiple levels of advanced connectivity, thanks to grant from intelligent traffic system (ITS) to put up a network that supports the traffic lights, which also has been leveraged to support the police, fire and public works departments.

The people who live in Chattanooga are telling us that these changes have made a big impact in their lives,” says Fisher.

And of course there is a huge advantage in economic development when a city is a wired as this one, making it highly attractive for both businesses and residents.  The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has projected the service area’s total economic and social benefits from the fiber project at $600 million over the next 10 years.


Chattanooga, was recognized as one of the world’s seven smartest cities in 2011 by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), an economic and social development think tank that studies 21st Century growth within the global community.Thanks to its ubiquitous connectivity and robust fiber network, it has become a test bed for an array of organizations looking to try out new technologies and solutions that will further increase public safety.

The University of Tennessee’s National Center for Computational Engineering, also called the SimCenter, currently is using advanced models and thousands of sensors to conduct conducting sophisticated rainfall and flooding studies throughout the city. “Results will allow police, fire and public works departments to be dispatched in a more timely manner, and  also will allow us to determine which pipes aren’t being used in the city, and proactively route storm water where there is more sewer capacity,” says Keil.

The X PRIZE Foundation announced this spring that it is working with GigTank, a Chattanooga incubator, to develop high-bandwidth applications using the city’s network, while the city’s non-profit Enterprise Center has been brainstorming with Keil’s department on new solutions that can enhance the public safety effort.

Among the other projects under development include work with Alcatel-Lucent to deploy a cutting-edge public safety LTE system across the region’s nine-county homeland security network, an advanced search engine for citizens that Google developed specifically for cities, and a Wi-Fi enabled van service and associated database for nine to 15 counties to help efficiently transport disabled people to medical appointments. “A lot of those counties don’t even have IT departments, so we’re building a model to where there’s a larger public entity to supply critical services,” Keil says.


Ultimately, that all-important “meaning of life” approach, making sure that safe city application development is focused on solutions rather than the technology itself, is critical to Keil. “If you start your regional plan knowing what you want to end up with, with your meaning life, then you’re more successful,” he states. “It’s all about having a well-defined goal.”

Keil recalls that prior to its full network launch, the city set up a technology demo during its annual Riverbend Festival, which draws 100,000 people each day. “While we were doing a walkthrough of our command vehicle, we observed a police officer taking a call on the 911 line,” he remembers. “He talked for just a minute and I saw him sitting at the desk and using a camera remotely. When he was finished he told me that someone had called in and said that a person had thrown a rock off of one of the walking bridges which hit their boat. So the officer scrolled the video back 10 minutes and sent a picture of the suspect out over the network to all of the laptops, then called the bike police, who arrested the suspect. The whole thing took only a minute or two. Now that’s the way it is supposed to work!”

The bottom line? “By marrying the infrastructure that EPB provided with our mesh system, it gave us real-time communication anywhere, everywhere,” says Keil. “By the end of next year we should have 7,000 people using our smart network, and they’re seeing it as an enabler.”

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