How Cities Across the Globe are Protecting Their Communities from COVID-19

What Cities Across the Globe are Doing to Protect Their Communities from COVID19 Featured Image

COVID-19 continues to impact every facet of society, and city departments are working together to keep citizens safe despite varying and fragmented information about the virus. 

Dr. David S. Ricketts, Innovation Fellow at Harvard TECH, along with City Possible, powered by Mastercard, together with hundreds of global government decision-makers and citizens, gathered in a digital convening to share observations, learnings, and strategies around the COVID-19 with the hope that it will help others in this time of need. 

To help assist cities that were not able to join us, we are compiling the information from the digital convening in this article.

COVID-19 and Philadelphia: Putting Technology to Work

Philadelphia activated its Emergency Management Center and currently coordinates all activities from there, shared Mark Wheeler, the city’s chief information officer.

As many CIOs have expressed, legacy equipment and systems can prove to be a major obstacle for cities when agility is key. In this case, it has been difficult to get these systems to a point where staff can work at home.

One challenge Philadelphia has encountered during the COVID-19 outbreak is an increase in cybersecurity probes. Protecting the city from cyberattacks is pulling the security team away from other needs at the moment, such as enabling remote work access.

When the team hit its limit on conference bridges, they were able to take advantage of temporary free licenses from Cisco and Microsoft. Utilizing WebX and Microsoft Teams has significantly increased the city’s ability to host large scale virtual events from the Mayor’s office and Emergency Management Center.

The next big challenge Philadelphia is facing is the city’s large population of impoverished citizens. For example, many children receive two of their daily meals at school. In addition, many single parents may have to leave their jobs in order to watch their children. To combat this, the city has been coordinating with school districts to offer meals and childcare services at alternative locations. Now those essential businesses are ordered to close, more parents may be at home to watch their children.

COVID-19 and Los Angeles: Communication is Key

The city of Los Angeles has enacted several policies designed to enforce social distancing among its roughly 13 million residents. These measures have included closing bars and nightclubs, libraries, zoos, and restricting restaurants to take-out only, just to name a few. Schools and colleges have closed, as well. 

The key now is to be empathetic on how these changes are impacting “Angelinos.” The city has significantly increased its outreach to the homeless population and the Mayor has lifted parking regulations. All evictions have been put on hold during this time, and many telcos have donated 60 days of internet access to residents with children K3-12.

Los Angeles is following its predetermined emergency activation plan, which the city reviews and practices twice per year through tabletop exercises. Major Garsetti ensures that all city departments from Culture Affairs to the City Zoo have plans to maintain a continuity of operations during an emergency, and those preparations are now coming into play.

This consistent training keeps people calm, says L.A.’s deputy CIO and mayor’s senior tech advisor Jeanne Holm, because everyone knows what to do next.

“I think a big part of helping people get through times like this is giving them a doable action that will keep them safer or in the case of city workers, make sure that services are continued,” said Holm.

Using all available resources, the city is working with a UCLA Epidemiologist to understand how best to contain the virus. City workers that can work from home are doing so. Los Angeles uses Google Suite so that documents can be shared immediately, and Hangouts allows them to conduct virtual meetings.

The Mayor is issuing television briefings daily, during which they lead social distancing messages by example, and the city is using social media to share vital information with the public. Sentiment analysis allows them to determine which messages are best received and calming, and recognize common concerns.

For example, Los Angeles has experienced a surge of panic buying. Mayor Garsetti responded with a press conference, held in a food warehouse, to illustrate that this frenzied consumer behavior is unnecessary.

COVID-19 and Dublin: Trading Parties for Preparedness

It was a very different St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland this year – no parades, open bars, or large public gatherings to celebrate the country’s most famous national holiday. But thanks to strong communication from the government, public response to COVID-19 has been swift and relatively calm,” says Michael Guerin, Dublin’s smart city innovation district lead. 

The Irish government posted its National Action Plan that relates progress on international research and steps being taken to contain the spread of disease, as well as financial aid packages for citizens. A €3 billion aid package has been made available, including €2.4 billion to fund sick pay for workers affected by COVID-19 and €435 million contingency funding for the HSE.

Dublin, in particular, has taken steps to mitigate the economical effects of social isolation. For example, the government has asked affected businesses to continue to pay staff the social welfare rate of €203 per week if possible. The government will reimburse the business, to avoid everyone funneling through one social welfare payment system.

Buildings have also been repurposed to combat COVID-19, such as Croke Park – the biggest stadium in Ireland – for drive-thru testing. Many hospitals have set up drive-thru testing, as well.

Carlsbad, California, and COVID-19: Planning Ahead

Carlsbad, a mid-sized city outside of San Diego, California, has been tracking the COVID-19 challenge since early January of this year, which allowed officials to prepare. In addition to setting up the emergency operations center, Carlsbad was able to begin making arrangements for staff to work remotely. Feeding children and the elderly has been a priority during this time.

Challenges have included a shortage of remote working supplies, such as laptops, as well as finding the right way to prepare citizens for emergency contingencies without causing undue panic. David Graham, Carlsbad’s chief innovation officer, says that figuring out the next steps once the city receives an “all clear” is going to be an “interesting horizon” as they balance the need for economic recovery with preventing additional infection.

“No one is going to want to be the first one back [into work] in a situation like this which could lead to potential flair-ups, so that’s an interesting horizon for us,” said Graham.

Additional COVID-19 Resources:

Open Source Ventilator project:

  • A group of over 300 engineers, designers, tech founders, and other determined individuals have banded together to build ventilators using readily available materials, 3D printing, and open-source hardware resources. In just seven days, they built a prototype that will be validated as a solution to the global ventilator shortage by Irish authorities as early as this week.
  • Open Source Ventilator Project has called on nurses and doctors to help develop the ventilators. Accenture, Deloitte and other companies have offered the use of their R&D infrastructure to assist.

Remote Startup Weekend – COVID-19

  • Designers, coders, innovators, sponsors, organizers, and more are invited to participate in a 54-hour COVID-19 themed remote startup event.

As we all work together to strengthen communities in this time of global need, cities are using all resources at their disposal to reduce the spread, inform the public, and prepare to rebuild. By using the information provided in this digital convening, we hope you can get a better understanding of how global cities are protecting their communities from COVID-19, celebrate their successes, and share your own learnings for the good of humanity everywhere.


  • How is your city utilizing products such as virtual desktops and conference rooms and which are working out best?
  • Is your city experiencing an uptick in cyber attack attempts and if so, how are you addressing the issue?
  • How does your city manage the spread of misinformation about COVID-19?
  • Aside from traditional TV and radio stations, how is your city reaching residents that might not be as connected?

Please share your thoughts!


Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top