by Rebecca Merrett

Big data key to preparing Rio for the FIFA World Cup

May 16, 20146 mins
Big DataData Center

The countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil has begun. As fans around the world get pumped up for the event, Rio de Janeiro’s Operations Centre works intensively with government agencies to ensure public services will run as smoothly as possible.

CIO Australia speaks with the chief executive of Rio’s Operations Centre, Pedro Junqueira, about how the team is working with data during the World Cup.

Real time data is crucial to the management of Rio de Janeiro, and as a host city of the World Cup, it will be even more so.

“With the World Cup, an international event, if something bad happens, it’s almost like it’s multiplied by 10 just because of the risks involved in having more people concentrated in a specific area,” Junqueira says.

He says the amount of work involved in taking care of a city is like training for the World Cup or Olympics.

“We are exercising every 30 minutes [on average]. Every day, we have five, 10 and even 50 difficulties to solve in urban matters. We have lots of small crises and they will develop into a huge crisis if we don’t solve them.”

The Operations Centre brings together 30 agencies into one central command location where data from sensors, video feeds and social media is collected and analysed. Video data streaming is done in real time from 570 cameras from utility providers and the Secretariat of Public Security.

It includes an 80 square metre video wall – the biggest in Latin America – made up of 80, 46-inch screens. A smart map of the city has more than 120 layers of data. Around 30,000 metres of fibre optic cable connects the infrastructure in the centre.

In addition to these technologies, the centre also uses the people of Rio as sensors for sending alerts and also notifying other citizens when incidences happen in the city.

Junqueira gives the example of journalists in the press room within the centre, who receive updates from their sources when there’s an incident. The journalists are not employees of the centre; they work for their own media companies.

“A specific radio station, for example, might get information from a listener that there’s a car crash. This radio station works as a sensor when they tell us about it, when they ask us if we know about this car crash and what are we doing to solve the problem. Sometimes we don’t always know, so sometimes the person who tells us is a journalist.”

People are just as important running things smoothly in the city as is data, says Junqueira.

“We work for people/citizens and we are managed by people. Many people have been working for the city for 30 or 40 years. They are not servers, they’re not hard disks or computers, but they have their knowledge and their history.

“So together with business intelligence, big data, computers and sensors, we all the time focusing our success with the work of the people together with technology.

“I don’t see an intelligent city working without conversation, without those connections. They are both technological and human connections.”

In preparation for the World Cup, the centre has developed a more integrated, coordinated approach to data sharing and resolving incidents.

It works with government agencies and around 100 public services companies, which will connect to the centre to update staff on their activities and report incidents.

“What we have done differently for the World Cup, and this will become kind of a rule for the Olympic Games and in future, is how can we document every need, risk, interdependency between the departments, as well as the cleaning company, traffic engineer company, electricity supplier, the company that fixes pot holes, water supply, etc,” Junqueira says.

“We are now producing this compilation of information. It’s for our operations, so it’s not published or shown to others yet. But we are talking about hundreds of pages that we will input into our technology platforms.”

This also allows the city to easily pool together its resources to share the workload during the games, and gives the centre better visibility over who is working on what at any point in time.

“It’s how we can go into different databases, how we can use APIs to see different services and applications, and bring that data together to be able to decide. But before that, it’s how – and in as much detail as possible – every plan of each different department is going to work during the World Cup in terms of routines, the crisis situations, the plan B and C.”

When it comes to transport, the subway or train service is expected to be the most popular way for people to get to the World Cup games, Junqueira says.

Going off data from FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013, Junqueira says 50 to 60 per cent of people used the train service to travel to Est?dio do Maracan? (the main stadium in Rio de Janeiro), with buses being the next most common form of transport.

The team at the centre has been looking at the fastest way to get people to where they need to go through optimisation techniques and data modelling, as well as planning for worse case scenarios. A worst case scenario would be if several buses were break down around the same time across the city.

“We also have the press here spreading the message so that drivers can take a different route, we have the cameras measuring the impact, we have people on the ground connected to us so we can direct them to the specific areas,” Junqueira says.

“We can split the city into slices and give responsibilities to specific people, and they will monitor only a neighbourhood, or only the area of Maracan?. By watching the cameras, by seeing Google traffic information, by listening to Twitter, by having people on the ground, we know things almost the second they happen.”

Junqueira plans to use the FIFA World Cup as learning experience for the Olympic Games, with analysis on what could be further improved to ensure the city runs smoothly during such a big event.

“Of course it serves as a test of engagement, integrations, telecommunications, planning, transport systems, and so on.

“But we are not in test mode; we are in real live mode. We plan, plan and plan but it’s nothing like playing the game. Training is training, playing the finals is playing the finals.”

Read: Smart cities: using data to shape our urban environments.