Rio de Janeiro and IBM’s Smarter Cities project


Rio operations center- interior

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – A tropical city whose name can elicit such strong images of white sandy beaches festooned with scantily clad and tanned beach goers,  it’s easy to overlook that Rio de Janeiro is regularly frequented by tropical rainstorms and floods from those rainstorms. 

Like many poor communities in Latin America, Favelas in Rio are in the least desirable locations and on the outskirts of the city.

Like many poor communities in Latin America, Favelas in Rio are in the least desirable locations and on the outskirts of the city

While this has been something that the city has weathered yearly and regularly since its founding in 1502, a more recent example from 2010, in the form of a series of deadly floods and mudslides that swept through the city’s Favelas (slum or shantytown), many of which are situated on these steeply sloped hillsides and mountains show that this still possess an issue for the city. Making these floods and landslides all the more difficult were the lack of communication and coordination between cit’y’s public service and emergency response infrastructures.

Keenly feeling these frustrations, Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, sought out a solution that would not only allow the city of Rio to prepare and coordinate for disasters like the 2010 floods but also one that would work actively mitigate them through early warning and monitoring.

Centro de Operações Prefeitura Do Rio (Operations Center for the Prefecture of Rio):

operations center exterior

In partnership with IBM and using its Intelligent Operations Center platform as its basis, the city of Rio de Janeiro created the Operations Center for the Prefecture of Rio. 

Inaugurated in December 2010, the 400 member strong operations center would consolidate 30 municipal agencies (ranging from emergency services like fire and medical to sanitation to public transportation) into a single, integrated command center that can monitor weather, traffic, and aspects of the city and react swiftly and effectively in face of emergencies and crises and would do so through cutting edge technology.  These new and cutting edge technologies have allowed the city of Rio de Janeiro to not only address or mitigate the problems in faces from sever weather storms but also addressed other lagging areas of the city’s public infrastructure.

Reaching beyond the control center-application(s) in everyday life:

Reflected in its goals to create a more efficient and sustainable city, the Operations Center of Rio (which is staffed 24/7) has done this through bringing the city’s water, electricity, gas, trash collection/sanitation, weather monitoring, and traffic monitoring  together under a single roof. But what does this mean in the life of the average (or even poor) Brazilian’s  everyday life? The answer is through making the Operations Center a system that is accessible to the public as a whole.

A large wall of monitors detail the weather and traffic throughout the city

Side by side feeds for weather and traffic feeds help city officials to respond effectively to oncoming storms and traffic issues

Using the Operations Center’s website, Brazilians can get real time weather updates and traffic advisories (both for public transportation and for the roads in general) for the whole city.

Peaceful demonstration after a bicyclist was fatally hit.

Peaceful demonstration after a bicyclist was fatally hit.

In addition, all Brazilians can also view live feeds via the Operations Center’s web page for many of the streets in Rio de Janeiro. On the ground, storm warning systems much like Tsunami warning systems alert people to severe storms for their neighborhoods and emergency tests/simulations.

Going beyond even having a standard web presence, The Operations center maintains both Facebook and Twitter accounts that regularly send out alerts and updates through the day and night.

As a final and important aspect of the Operation Center’s public accessibility is its ability to have its alerts available to Brazilians on the move during their day.

While smartphones that can easily access the Operations center and its updates via the website and social media apps like Facebook and Twitter only account for under 10% of the current mobile phone market for Brazil, nearly all Brazilians in the larger cities have some kind of cellular phone (sometimes more than one).

To address this, all the same updates that are available for non-smartphones and emergency messages are sent out to all citizens in the affected area through SMS messages, making it so that even a person still using a monochromatic display cell phone (think the greenish-grey phone displays) can still receive vital messages such as incoming storms, evacuation orders, and evacuation routes on their mobile phones.

Smarter Cities challenge and sustainability: 

Sometimes missed amidst all the new and powerful technology that comprise the Rio Operations center  is how the Operations Center contributes to the Sustainability of the City of Rio de Janeiro. Within itself, it has created a fully integrated collection and connection of the cities public services (and some Private) which has cut down on resource usage as memos and forms can be sent digitally and do not even have to leave the network. This means that instead of needing one sever per organization/company they are all integrated into one larger server (meaning less E-wasted generated when the server needs to be replaced) without a lot of the fuss of doing so over a distance (which can be difficult and taxing on networks).

Environmentally, the Operations center also helps to cut down on CO2 emissions throughout the city as the updates and advisories help reroute traffic around congestion and accidents, meaning that cars, buses, and trucks are spending less time idling in avoidable traffic jams. While city buses are tracked and equipped with cameras, so too are the garbage trucks that serve the city which contributes towards making sure less garbage is accidentally missed and reducing the amount of garbage ending up in the bay.

In the larger picture, the Rio Operations Center is one of the seven pilot projects (other pilots include 3 US, 1 Polish, 1 Vietnamese, and 1 Chinese cities) that are part of IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge. Since its 2010 launch, IBM has advised (and in some cases awarded grants) over 100 cities in how they can address some of their more challenging issues while also doing this in a way that is more efficient and sustainable through the usage of these smarter technologies.

Below is a list of all the current and completed Smarter Cities projects across the world. The numbers next to the Country show how many cities are a part of this challenge/program. The categories here are the same ones used by IBM.

Americas: Canada (5), United States (31), Mexico (2), Colombia (1), Peru (1), Chile (2), Argentina (1), Brazil (4)

Europe: Ireland (1), Northern Ireland (1), United Kingdom (2), Norway (1), Finland (1), Portugal (1), Spain (1), France (1), Belgium (1), Netherlands (1), Denmark (1), Germany (1), Poland (2), Lithuania (1), Romania (1), and Italy (1)

Africa: Morocco (1), Ghana (1), Nigeria (2), Kenya (2), and South Africa (4)

Asia: India (5), China (4), Korea (2), Japan (5), Taiwan (3), Philippines (2), Indonesia (1), Singapore (1), Malaysia (1), Vietnam (2), and Thailand (3)

Oceania: Australia (5) and New Zealand (1)


References and further reading:

Rio (general information)

Wikipedia entry

History of Rio

City Data

Rio de Janeiro

Lonely planet

Rio Flood

Wikipedia entry


The Guardian

Daily Mail

The New York Times

Operations Center Rio

Overview of IBM’s smarter city operations center

Rio’s official website for the op center (Port)

Official video and webpage on the overview of the Rio Operations Center (video cited in video section as well)

Articles, Blogs and commentaries on the Operations Center

Smart cities councils


National Geographic

The Daily Beast

US-Brazil urban sustainability initiative (EPA)

The Guardian

Instituto Nacional de Defensa Civil (Port)

Homeland Security Newswire

CS Monitor

Social Media





Ted talk with Eduardo- The 4 Commandments of  Cities (In English )

Youtube- Rio operations center and Google maps

Youtube- “Explore the Rio Operations Center” (Portuguese)