World Cup Security Woes Spurs Crowd-Sourced Innovation

July 7th, 2014

By CHHS Research Assistant Laura Merkey

Hosting a World Cup is expensive – among other costs, the infrastructure and security needed to prepare the 12 host cities for the roughly 800,000 fans expected to flood into Brazil this summer has cost the country a stunning $11.3 billion dollars.  To further complicate the logistics and security concerns, citizens angered over the significant government expenditures have turned to rioting in the streets, while other key employees, such as airport and subway workers, have gone on strike.  As can be imagined, these complications have caused the traffic in Brazil to become a foremost concern; visitors have experienced frustration and delays from the moment they arrive.  Brazil’s travel fiascos include over two-hour-long waits for taxis at the airport terminal, a 214 mile-long traffic jam, and gridlock so bad that it even caused a scrimmage between the U.S. and Belgium teams to be cancelled.

Brazil has gotten innovative in their response to these issues, turning to technology and social media for a solution.  Brazilian officials have enlisted the help of the Israeli-created computer application “Waze” to help drivers navigating the gridlock and accidents choking the country’s roadways.  Waze currently has 50 million global users who utilize the app in their everyday lives to navigate traffic and for directions.  As a result of its unique crowd-sourcing feature, Waze, purchased by Google for $1 billion just days before the start of the World Cup, has helped to enhance Google’s online mapping and navigation products in Brazil and elsewhere.  The application aggregates data reported by smart phone users, in real time.  Users can report anything that may impact traffic, such as accidents, roadwork, potholes, low gas prices, or police presence.  The app’s users benefit because they can avoid troublesome or gridlocked areas, and it allows officials a means to monitor what is happening on the ground.

While the app is utilized by Brazilian civilian and World Cup tourists alike, security officials in Rio have found another innovative use for Waze – the data collected from the app is being relayed to Rio’s command center, where it is monitored in conjunction with live feed from over 560 video cameras placed throughout the city.  The mayor’s office in Rio even uses the Waze data to gain faster information on accident reports and thus more quickly direct emergency services to the location of the incidents.

It is too soon to tell how effective the app has been in alleviating or improving Brazil’s traffic woes, but it is clear that this is a form of technology that is here to stay.  The rapid growth of Waze and similar technologies begs the question of how far it can go – will the app be regularly employed at other future major events, such as the Olympics, or even on a more local scale, to assist in coordinating traffic caused by sporting events, concerts, or festivals?

Another possibility for expansion is the emergency management field.  The application could be used, as the Mayor’s Office in Rio has been, in coordinating and effectively deploying emergency medical services, fire personnel, and other first responders to a variety of crisis situations.  Recently in Oklahoma, after a category five tornado hit the area, Waze was used to route drivers away from the impacted areas.  Information such as the location of downed electric lines, electrical power outages, roads blocked from debris and downed trees, and flooding could all be invaluable to first responders and civilians alike. The app could also be useful prior to a major storm or emergency event by assisting in the coordination of evacuations or major metropolitan areas to prevent blocked roads for those exiting a city.  The possibilities seem endless, and one can only hope that the gains from implementing this type of crowd-sourced technology will be similarly infinite.

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