A plan to protect Houston’s citizens – and schools – when emergencies strike

The City of Houston will equip its teachers and first responders with cloud and IoT technologies to help them respond faster to dangerous school situations, officials say.

Municipal leaders there are working with Microsoft to provide schools officials with mobile tools, connected lighting, and ambient, environmental sensors, allowing them to alert students, staff and the city network if they learn of potential threats to people or campuses.

The same tools also will be given to emergency personnel, enabling them to share critical information back to teachers and administrators to quickly understand how best to protect students in a crisis, says Lisa Kent, chief information officer for the City of Houston.

“There’s nothing more important than keeping children safe in school. It’s a tremendous challenge that all cities throughout this nation face,” Kent says.

That plan is part of a broader “smart city” agenda created by Houston’s leaders to improve the effectiveness of city employees, streamline transportation and better connect citizens to local services, particularly during and after emergencies.

Their vision is to empower 22,000 city employees through IoT sensors and collaboration tools, engage residents through connected experiences, and rely on data-driven decision-making. They will also leverage IoT sensors to provide residents real-time details on a variety of conditions such as floods or traffic snarls.

The upgrades – spanning more than 20 projects built on Microsoft technologies – follow catastrophic flooding that beset Houston during and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“They have taken what was really a tragic moment with the storms and have turned it into opportunity,” says Judson Althoff, Microsoft’s executive vice president for worldwide commercial business. “It brings together leaders of the neighborhoods with the police and with the fire departments to serve the greater good for the entire city.”