This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Gig East.

A momentary lapse in a driver’s judgment and then bam, traffic is stopped in all directions.

Imagine if a city employee could see the area where the accident occurred light up on a map to dispatch a drone to assess the damage. It arrives in minutes, giving emergency services a heads up to determine that the accident wasn’t deadly, and the best ways to clear the roads and get everyone moving again.

This might sound like a scene from science fiction, but it’s a nearing reality for smart cities like Wilson that utilize advanced fiber networks to connect everything together.

The City of Wilson’s drive to become a smart city began in 2008 with the creation of Greenlight’s all-fiber-optic network, the only one of its kind in the state. Shortly after, the city partnered with ETI Software Solutions to help manage the many capabilities of the growing network that connects people’s homes, businesses and government buildings together.

“What the software does, it makes sure it provisions devices like Internet or phone,” said Brad Hine, product director of analytics and GIS solutions with ETI.

The software, which seamlessly connects the many facets of operating a fiber network together, including deploying a customer’s monthly bill. However, the connection between ETI and Wilson has grown even deeper over the years.

Internet-connected devices are popping up everywhere, from Alexa speakers in the home to cars with Wi-Fi, but cities and municipalities are joining too, updating things as mundane as trash collection as part of the growing smart city initiative.

“What a smart city does is have more smart devices,” Hine said. “For smart waste, they’re going to want to know — in all their parks and recreation centers — when all their wastebaskets are full. That’s one of the many hundreds of ways a city can be smarter, with more devices and sensors that are living on a network out there.”

That’s just one example of the benefits of a smart city.

Imagine heading downtown on a busy Friday night and hunting for a parking spot. Combining smart city capabilities with a downloadable app could create a map showing which parking spots are available. Or late at night, street lamps can be adjusted to turn on and off as necessary, saving on energy costs.

The potential benefits of a fiber-powered smart city are already attracting businesses to Wilson.

“I know some examples of companies that live between Wilson and Raleigh,” Hine said. “Companies that have set up shop within the Wilson county borders have done so to take advantage of their high-speed Internet.”

But Wilson is also providing a benefit to ETI by utilizing its services; it’s the perfect size to beta-test upcoming products and hone [in on] what a smart city can be.

“Wilson … they really have some people that are forward-thinking in terms of automation, or in a remote management way,” Hine continued. “You have to have that in the leaders of your municipality. Wilson is rare in that they want to build that. We go to them with all of our ideas.”

Those ideas are helping ETI build new tools to address things like the fast encroaching 5G model for telecommunications and a greater influx of products from the Internet of Things. It also means technology like a real-time map showing everything connected to the city’s fiber network.

ETI partners with major geographic information system company Esri to see where problems exist with more granular data than ever before.

“We’re able to visualize everything that goes on in the City of Wilson through a map,” Hine explained. “If there’s an outage, one way you would know, you would get an alarm in the system; but that’s not necessarily tied to a map. What we’ve built is a real-time command system — devices, services, subscribers and locations, all visualized on a map.”

With more information than ever, the City of Wilson can react faster.

Internet outage? Officials can see if it’s a series of houses in a neighborhood or just one home. Before, that information would require more analysis and digging, causing longer downtime for those affected.

The partnership between ETI, Esri and the city has helped usher in a new era of technological accessibility in North Carolina.

“If you can look at a map, and look at something and know what … is going on, that’s huge,” Hine said.

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Gig East.