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Jakarta Post

Smart city initiatives aid COVID-19 response

  • Sausan Atika

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, August 31, 2020   /   06:51 pm
Smart city initiatives aid COVID-19 response Children play in an alley of a densely populated neighborhood in Tanah Tinggi, Jakarta, on July 23. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Data analysis and IT innovation have been central to Indonesia’s COVID-19 response, with cities across the country looking to smart city solutions to help curb the outbreak. However, challenges remain.

Prior to the outbreak, smart city platforms had mostly been used in Jakarta to distribute information to the public and to receive complaints about public services.

However, with Jakarta becoming the country’s worst-affected region, the city administration has developed innovations to aid its pandemic response. For example, the JakCorona app provides updates about the COVID-19 situation in Jakarta, while the JakCLM app allows users to take a health quiz to determine whether or not they should be tested for COVID-19.

The most important role of smart city platforms, however, has been to help the administration analyze data related to the disease, Jakarta Smart City (JSC) unit head Yudhistira Nugraha said.

“[Smart city platforms] help us analyze data series like the distribution of cases, incident rates and other information needed to inform policy making,” he told The Jakarta Post recently.

The administration has transformed the “JSC lounge”, a command center at City Hall, into what is now called the “COVID-19 war room”. Before the outbreak, the center mainly monitored and analyzed urban data, public facilities, traffic and flood risks.

“We have collaborated with startups to monitor the implementation of large-scale social restrictions [PSBB] – such as whether or not people are wearing masks, especially in crowds,” he said.

If such violations are detected, the JSC team will inform the city’s Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) to disperse the crowd.

Read also: Apps, sites you can use to detect COVID-19

A similar approach has been adopted in the neighboring province of West Java, home to 50 million people, where more than 10,000 confirmed cases have been recorded to date.

West Java Information and Communication Agency head Setiaji said the province’s command center, located in the Gedung Sate gubernatorial office in Bandung, was transformed into a COVID-19 information center (Pikobar) in March, not long after its establishment at the end of last year.

Similar to Jakarta, the West Java administration has enforced restrictions in its municipalities and regencies, and hence, analysis of data from across the province has been crucial for decision making, according to Setiaji.

The rapid rate of transmission of the deadly disease has meant those working on smart city platforms have had to stay on their toes.

The Pikobar team, for instance, consists of more than 100 personnel in charge of data cleaning and app development. There are also staff who work as hotline operators and field staff.

“Very hectic, for sure. A few months ago, we had a marathon of virtual meetings that lasted almost 24 hours when we were preparing a new feature to improve the disbursement of social aid,” Setiaji said.

The Pikobar team is currently looking to recruit 20 volunteers to ease its workload, including in helping to run the new feature, which is accessible on the Pikobar website or via the Pikobar mobile app.

The Jakarta team, particularly the staff in charge of data management and analysis, has also had to handle a heavy workload since the outbreak hit the capital. The teams claims to have developed a better working strategy and has been able to maintain its productivity.

With the rising number of confirmed cases in the country, experts say that real-time data reporting and accuracy are vital to help authorities develop and implement effective COVID-19 policies.

Read also: Data discrepancies persist five months into pandemic

But Muhammad Fikser, head of the Surabaya Information and Communication Agency in East Java, said duplication and delays in data collection and reporting, as well as discrepancies in data between local administrations, the central government, health facilities and laboratories, continued to hinder the work of Surabaya’s smart city team.

“If [data providers] were disciplined enough, we would no longer receive data from May or June at the end of August. How should we analyze outdated data?” Muhammad said.

Setiaji of West Java admitted data integration remained a challenge due to the absence of supporting regulations. For example, he said authorities had been unable to collect data from telecommunication companies for contact tracing purposes because there was not a regulation that required such data to be provided. Telecommunication companies are only required to provide such data in criminal investigations, he said.

While many regional governments have claimed their COVID-19 policies have been based on sound data analysis and scientific findings, cases continue to rise, with the country’s tally of confirmed cases reaching 174,796 as of Monday with 7,417 deaths.

The variations in characteristics between areas, complexity of the data and difficulties in translating data analysis into effective policies have presented challenges for developing effective data-driven responses to the pandemic, said Devisari Tunas, a researcher from the Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore ETH Centre and ETH Zurich.

"In the case of Indonesia, there are still gaps in the whole process – gaps relating to capabilities to analyze a series of data and to translate the results into policies,” she said.

“The [COVID-19] handling would be different in each area, if only the patterns of transmission can be seen clearly," Devisari said. "We need a more targeted response."

As an example, she said overlaying data on COVID-19 cases, poverty and access to clean water could generate insights into whether communities that lacked access to proper sanitation in crowded urban areas were more vulnerable to the disease. Different data should be used in areas with different characteristics, such as wealthy neighborhoods or sparsely populated regions, to produce more effective COVID-19 responses, she said.