Making Cities Smarter

Urban population is posing new set of complex security challenges

According to several predictions, urban areas will see a population increase of 2.5 billion people by 2050. When combined with the rise of smart and connected cities, this growth in urban population is posing a new set of complex security and safety challenges to city administrators, urban planners, municipal governments and businesses alike. How can they put systems and processes in place that keep the population safe – while not restricting growth, commerce or the fiow of daily life? How do expansive metropoles like Tokyo, the largest city in the world, maintain safety while allowing their population to flourish?

The Role of Technology

When it comes to enhancing public safety, and maintaining security, having a complete view of your environment is critical. A unified solution that provides a common operating picture enhances situational awareness and allows better planning, detection, response and prevention of incidents. These types of systems combine public safety data and technology tools to bolster situation awareness.

Unified data and sensor visualization platforms offer cities the tools they can use to improve overall public safety. And if they choose a provider that offers the latest in technology, this solution will make the city both safe and smart. A unified system consolidates data from a variety of public and private sources to enhance the overview for dispatchers and emergency responders so they can make insight-driven decisions. By reviewing data, institutions can make predictive changes to the allocation and deployment of resources to improve and create best practices, plan for the worst, determine any weak spots and shore up defenses.

Cities need a solution that can allow public organizations to work closely with law enforcement to develop an emergency response plan where video surveillance streams and other data from IoT sensors can be correlated, analyzed and shared quickly with relevant parties. Specifically, these unified systems can deliver the capability to improve traffic and mobility operations. For example, when you combine traffic systems with video surveillance, it can help law enforcement better coordinate incident response. This scenario would allow responders to better spot incidents, communicate detours and respond faster – resulting in smoother traffic flow and happier citizens.

Communication is Critical

Cities are made up of a diverse and complex mix of institutions, ecosystems and infrastructure that are interconnected. This means that disruption to one part of the system can cause failure in other parts with far reaching implications. This makes assessing public safety an extremely challenging task. A key factor in improving public safety and security in cities is open communication channels between the institutions and stakeholders operating within it. In this way, when an incident does occur, they can coordinate effort to get it resolved as quickly as possible.

For instance, when a tsunami struck Japan in 2011, among the devastation was a vital highway that was left completely destroyed by the subsequent earthquake. Amazingly, emergency responders managed to coordinate an effective strategy and repair the highway in a mere six days.

However, this is often not the case and stakeholders fail to collaborate with one another. When business leaders, city planners, municipal infrastructure leaders, flre departments and law enforcement end up working in silos, it ultimately leads to a breakdown of communication, missed opportunities and inefficiencies.

This gap in coordination and communication grows wider when jurisdictional boundaries come in to play. These issues become more apparent when silos turn into blind-spots that criminals can exploit, leaving a city, the metro region and its population more at risk.

Therefore, increasing communications and sharing data across the private and public sectors should be a priority as it will improve public safety for everyone. For instance, the city of Detroit managed to curb its violent crime rate by 50 percent in recent years with "Project Greenlight." The opt-in initiative enables registered local businesses to share real-time footage from their security cameras with the Detroit Police Department, giving law enforcement better coverage of the area and local businesses the peace of mind that police could quickly be on the scene should an incident occur.

This collaboration improved crime rates by shortening response times, improving the accuracy of incident descriptions, expediting the evidence-gathering process and acting as a deterrence to any would-be criminals. It also had the added benefit of allowing the local businesses that signed up to the program to thrive. At its inception, the project was only active in a few locations that were identified as crime hotspots, most of which were at gas stations. Now, there are now hundreds of different greenlight locations in central Detroit. At this scale, the power of communication between different organizations, and its effect on crime, becomes a far more tangible prospect.

Safe Cities are Cities that Flow

Livability is also absolutely essential to life in a city. Key components of what makes a city livable include design, infrastructure, and public safety. When these elements successfully converge, the population of a city is able to move about freely, creating positive and efficient flow. Maneuverability throughout a city informs our decisions, from which route to take to work to what roads local governments decide to build. It informs the design of safe spaces, both public and private, to ensure that a city's circulation doesn't stop at the exit of a subway or the entrance of a 70-story office tower. The need to circulate unhindered prompts questions about how we can move more efficiently and enjoyably, as well as more safely and securely, about our cities.

Take city traffic, for example. Video surveillance cameras, automatic license plate recognition and analytics can work together to improve traffic. Law enforcement can identify incidents quicker, allowing them to respond and clear the roadways faster.

When situations arise, police and local organizations can use technology to communicate detours, resulting in better traffic flow and happier citizens. These solutions can even work with transit providers like subways or buses and can be configured to notify riders in real time which route to choose based on traffic conditions ahead.

Cities that have Incorporated Technology to Improve Livability and Safety

Urban centers around the world have been incorporating technology to improve livability and keep people and businesses safe and running smoothly. Notable examples include Tokyo, Brisbane, London and New York City.

Tokyo has been called the world's safest city. City leaders have invested heavily in a public safety infrastructure that protects its citizens. From tactile paving in the streets and walkways that are designed to help the visually impaired navigate the city safely, to well-lit roadways, side streets and alleys, Tokyo has worked to improve safety and livability. Police officers are abundant throughout the city and are stationed in more than 1,200 small huts ready to be called upon in a moment's notice. These efforts – coupled with traditional security components like video and access control – combine to improve city life and keep things running smoothly.

Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, has big ambitions. Affordable, safe, and easy to get around, Brisbane is focused on delivering a good quality of life to its growing population that looks to double in the next 40 years. Huge infrastructure investments and partnerships with commercial entities are helping the city provide security and improve circulation.

The Queen Street Mall in Brisbane's central business district is the largest and busiest area for pedestrians in the city. It also happens to be one of the most safety-focused areas. Together, shop owners and Brisbane City Council have created City-Safe, a network of 100 CCTV cameras that monitor activity to ensure a safe and successful mall. Pedestrians that travel along Queen Street – one of the city's busiest areas – are safer and move about more freely as a result of the increased security. Because the camera network has helped them see where improvements can be made, the city council has also invested in improving roads, adding new bike paths, and creating green space to increase efficiency and livability.

London is known for its extensive video surveillance camera network. It includes more than 500,000 units. Obviously, video provides a great deal of information to combat crime and provide assistance in investigations which is helpful in city operations. In addition to video, London is also using another key element to help improve maneuverability: public transportation data. To get around London, travelers use a Transport for London Oyster smartcard to pay for journeys on a bus, Tube, tram, rail and other services.

City managers use Oyster card travel data to monitor where delays are and then notify the cardholder in real time of better route options. This data not only provides information on how Oyster card users typically move, but also allows for an intervention that can instantly improve the travel experience. Nestled within New York City is Hudson Yards. Located on Manhattan's "new" West side, Hudson Yards is the largest-ever private real estate development in the United States. Its designer, urban planner Anthony Fioravanti, believes it's all about flow. Fioravanti says flow of people is crucial to the success of projects like Hudson Yards because "nobody ever enjoyed the time they got stuck in traffic." It's also important economically since people who can intuitively circulate will enjoy themselves and are more likely to return.

Incorporating technology into city projects that facilitate way- finding operates like a "giant smartphone" for residents. This not only enhances flow but improves safety because a confused customer is not a customer who feels safe.

The Bottom Line

In order to ensure that urban centers around the world can safely and securely manage the increasing number of residents while improving livability, it's essential for community stakeholders, including those in government, law enforcement and corporations, to leverage advances in public systems. The security of cities also means the removal of impediments to their development.

Cities are expected to be an engine for positive development. While advanced security systems are a cornerstone of city safety, successfully securing a city is determined by how city administrators pair these technologies with communication.

Improving communication and collaboration between siloed institutions drives situational awareness and allows cities to better predict, react and resolve situations more effectively. Making changes in the way information and data is transferred between urban stakeholders can have huge bene fits on preparedness, public safety and can improve the livability of cities around the world.

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Security Today.


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