Smart technology coming to Clarendon to monitor pedestrian safety


ARLINGTON, Va. (WDVM) — On Tuesday evening, the Arlington County Board accepted a donation from the nonprofit US Ignite to implement a new data science program in the county to improve emergency response.

US Ignite, Arlington County, Comcast, and the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative will pilot a so-called Safety Innovation Zone. In about three months, the county will retrofit sensors to the top of lamp posts in the 2900 block of Wilson Boulevard. Using heat, light, and sound, the sensors track pedestrian movement and crowd flow.

The data is monitored in real-time, but it’s only numerical. “We don’t know anything about who the person is, what they look like, what they may be wearing, what direction they may be headed, or a place they’re going once they get there,” said US Ignite’s Director of Smart Communities Lee Davenport. “They won’t provide themselves dispatch responses but they’ll inform decisions and then we can track over time at the county level how those resources are deployed and we can create some efficiencies for time and energy and cost effect.” 

Arlington’s Assistant CIO for Strategic Initiatives Holly Hartell says Clarendon was selected for the pilot because of its diverse businesses, restaurants, and bars and constant foot and car traffic. 

The pilot, which will last about nine months, would focus only on pedestrian safety. If the county decides to move forward with the technology, the sensors also detect noise, environmental factors like fires, and falls. “If you think about it if you’re walking late at night and no one’s around and you trip and you need assistance, how do you make that call for help?” said Hartell. 

Since the sensors can detect other factors, when first responders help the person who’s fallen they’ll know what conditions are like when they get there. “You can get there fast, but if you don’t know what you’re walking into, it could be a more challenging space that you’re walking into and a more challenging incident that you’re walking into,” said Hartell.

Arlington will be one of more than 37 communities US Ignite has partnered with to improve crowd safety, public health, and public safety across the country. Hartell says there will be signage in the area to notify passerby of the technology.

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