1 EmTech Global, Inc. (Albuquerque, NM) 2 SensorComm Technologies, Inc. (Albuquerque, NM) 3 Rejuvenan Global Health, Inc. (San Francisco, CA) 4 University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)
Disadvantaged communities (aka opportunity zones, marginalized communities) are often the hardest hit during any disruption or disaster. The adage when the economy “coughs,” disadvantaged communities end up with the “flu” applies here. Words like “resilient”, “sustainable” and “thriving” are not usually associated with disadvantaged communities. However, both state governments and the federal government recognize that there is a fundamental need to improve the situation because, as a Nation, we are only as good as our weakest link. Structures and strategies have been proposed, created and even implemented to improve the situation. However, current initiatives are not sustainable.
There are three goals that a sustainable strategy must achieve:
The strategy must include a comprehensive solution that addresses key needs of the community including energy, environment and health.
The strategy must have a path to sustained growth. In other words, the community cannot require continuous investment.
The strategy must include education (i.e. “…teaching someone to fish is better than giving that person a fish…”). Typically, the education component of any strategy is usually overlooked thus making it unsustainable.
The figure above depicts how we envision the innovation cycle. Entrepreneurs (or any individual) will take what they have learned in school (or otherwise) and innovate. The trouble is that innovations generally lead to some form of unintended consequences, and thus cause damage (e.g. environment, health, privacy, etc.). Consider, for example, information technology (IT). The information technology age has increased productivity and created new industries that include everything from social media (e.g. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram) to electronic currencies (mobile payments, Bitcoin, etc). However (for example), the data centers running the services lead to significant disruptions in everyday life. Consider the case of electronic currencies, such as Bitcoin. Mining Bitcoin consumes almost one quarter of the electricity produced globally and produces approximately 20 MTons of carbon dioxide (which is approximately the amount of annual carbon footprint of Las Vegas). This new capability has a significant impact on the environment, provides transparency (but anonymity for nefarious activity), and significant volatility, all in the name of faster transaction speeds, lower cost transactions and enhanced cybersecurity.
We have realized early on that this law of unintended consequences hinders most innovation cycles, creating an absence of feedback into the education system on lessons learned. Cases like the combustion engine, which propelled the world into a new era of productivity advancement, continue to destroy the environment and are responsible for a significant percentage (up to 80%) of the pollution. These were not the intended consequences of the technologies, capabilities or innovations. Therefore, we must teach the next generation to think past the intended consequences and employ systemic level thinking that includes predicting the broader unintended consequences.
COVID-19 AND DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a spotlight on disadvantaged communities. The strategies that are working in the COVID-19 response, such as social distancing or the use of masks to protect against virus transmission, cannot necessarily be (easily) implemented in these communities. Strategies like “shelter in place” to even “full lockdown” initiatives have severe implications in disadvantaged communities (in execution, implementation and enforcement). As a result, alternatives must be identified and implemented. The goals of an effective response needs to include funding, resources and viable strategies.
In response to the crisis, the Federal Government issued the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides fiscal aid to help support the communities through the crisis. Although a potentially useful stop-gap solution, it is not sustainable in the long term.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH STRATEGY – HEALTH
A sustainable healthcare strategy must be developed for disadvantaged communities. In the midst of the expanding healthcare crisis, and uncertainty relating to COVID-19, there are a number of strategies that will help prevent or curb the epidemic and make the healthcare system more efficient, especially in disadvantaged communities. The most effective solutions for COVID-19 includes:
Remote screening and monitoring of patients that may be at high risk of exposure prior to arrival at the hospital, emergency room or urgent care
Sequestration or quarantine of exposed patients that includes remote physiologic monitoring (RPM) so that they can continue to be cared for, but outside the main healthcare system
Virtual medical consultations via telemedicine by a Qualified Healthcare Professional (QHCP) to avoid unnecessary public and/or healthcare system exposure
These are all focused on a data-centric care™ model, where patients are directly accountable for active participation in their own healthcare. The early results are showing that self-quarantining (e.g. personal sequestration or quarantine) helps to significantly reduce the spread of the virus, if an individual is at high risk of exposure, whether symptomatic or not. The question is whether or not we can determine if an individual will become symptomatic without having them arrive at an urgent care facility or emergency room, putting not only the healthcare workers at risk, but themselves and other patients. This problem is exacerbated in cases where there is an epidemic or a cluster of illness that occurs more frequently in disadvantaged communities.
One proposed solution is to utilize remote patient monitoring and telehealth care by a QHCP for initial patient evaluation, interview and care, with a focus on wellness. If these steps can be taken, we can significantly reduce the spread of the virus by keeping carriers (symptomatic and asymptomatic patients) sequestered.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH STRATEGY – ENERGY
What does a sustainable growth strategy look like for energy? The needs of the community are driven by the basics. Providing energy from the grid (subsidized or not) is not sustainable. Alternative strategies must be developed that can take the place of grid energy. Microgrid technologies, where energy is generated (preferably from renewable sources) locally and can operate together with (or independent of) the grid is a possible approach. The proposed technology can be based on a DC microgrid technology that revolutionizes energy management. It takes renewable energy (solar, wind, etc) and stores it so that it becomes usable energy for the home during non-sunlight hours for example. The advantage of DC microgrids is that they operate at a higher efficiency than conventional AC microgrids (because there is no need to convert from DC to AC). The distributed generation systems are scalable and can be individual units per household or larger units for multi-family dwellings/apartments.
For disadvantaged communities, the energy can be generated and used based on demand. Any excess energy that is generated can be sold back to the grid operators through power purchase agreements (PPA), which makes the strategy for energy usage sustainable. This concept is being implemented for military bases and can directly be applied to disadvantaged communities.
Alternatively, the energy can be stored in different forms, such as ammonia. Solid-state ammonia synthesis is a new technology that is currently being commercialized by various companies. The ability to generate ammonia from excess energy, and convert it back when you need it, is a sustainable alternative to battery technology. In addition, any excess ammonia generated in the community can be sold and used for fertilizer for food, and for gas for the transportation sector.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH STRATEGY – POLLUTION
The environmental impact on disadvantaged communities is extreme. “Disadvantaged communities suffer from disproportionate amounts of poor health outcomes. As a result, tenants in rental housing, for example, disproportionately suffer the negative health effects–including asthma, respiratory distress, carbon monoxide poisoning, high blood pressure, heart disease, lead poisoning, mental health impairment, and cancer, among others–that result from environmental hazards…”. This being said, environmental impact must be taken into account when developing a sustainable growth strategy for the disadvantaged communities.
There are two main sources of pollution in most disadvantaged communities, stationary and mobile. The stationary sources (e.g. power plants or factories) are typically regulated and these companies can be provided additional incentives to reduce their pollution footprint.
The greater problem is with mobile sources (e.g. vehicles). Vehicle emissions are already a leading cause of air pollution contributing to health and respiratory issues like asthma and heart disease. Recent studies have shown a strong correlation between air quality and same-day violent crime, adversely affecting peace and safety on a localized level. Overall, the transportation sector plays a major role in global air pollution with mobile sources contributing up to 80% of NOx emissions.
To date, no study has been able to identify: 1) which vehicles are causing the pollution, and 2) how much pollution are those vehicles contributing to the problem. While some of the pollution in disadvantaged communities can be attributed to economics (e.g. older vehicles), the question that arises is whether the local population can be incentivized to engage in pollution mitigation solutions on an individual basis.
A NOx monitoring system (Wi-NOx™) captures the real-time pollution footprint of vehicles in the transportation and smart city segments providing predictive maintenance, performance and driver behavior information. This system, installed at the tailpipe of vehicles, can be the cornerstone of a pollution mitigation strategy that includes incentives for lower emissions on a per vehicle basis (e.g. maintenance or less usage), lower fuel consumption (due to additives or better driving skills), and direct accountability of individuals.
The Wi-NOx™ system is being piloted in the Philippines as part of the Public Utility Vehicle upgrade program.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH STRATEGY – EDUCATION
Education is the most important part of the strategy. In disadvantaged communities, the key is to provide tools for learning. With the sequestration strategy for COVID-19, distance learning techniques and technologies are being effectively deployed. Video conferencing technologies, like Zoom or Google classroom, are being perfected to enhance the learning experience.
For disadvantaged communities, successful implementation of the strategies outlined in this paper requires the taking of next steps. In addition to remote classrooms for children in the communities, the education system must include classes in management, entrepreneurship, law, technology, healthcare management and even economics.
In addition, we will leverage partner academic institutions, and networks,to not only collect and analyze data, but to also provide content for 1) education and policy, 2) research assets and capabilities, and 3) commercialization.
Leveraging strong community ties, the goal of the community is to become stronger and more self-sufficient. By enhancing the education system along with sustainable strategies in energy, pollution, and health, community leaders and members will engage in the needs of the community through cross-training, skill and service development.
These concepts are currently being implemented by the team in Mesa del Sol, New Mexico, which is considered an opportunity zone. The enhanced focus on sustainability is allowing Mesa del Sol to become a “smart city” laboratory, where other smart city concepts (like lighting, parking management, and others) can be tested live in the community. Other concepts like mandatory monitoring of all vehicles entering the city limits provides alternative revenue sources that offset costs that are incurred. Through private-public partnerships, the city is being built from the ground up.