A Quality of Life

Municipalities improve networks with physical security systems

When the number of people working from home rapidly increased in the spring of 2020, organizations everywhere had to adapt quickly. Municipalities were no exception. Where many had previously resisted the idea of teleworking, the appearance of the COVID-19 virus gave them no choice. All at once, their networks extended beyond city buildings into people’s homes and onto their laptops.

As a result of the new distributed workforce, the need to secure networks against cyber threats has become more urgent. Suddenly, municipalities have to balance maintaining the security of their information with enabling people to work from home. Mitigating the threat of cyberattacks is more pressing than ever.

HARDENING NETWORKS FOR A DISTRIBUTED WORKFORCE

Hardening a network to ensure data privacy and security involves a variety of strategies, including data encryption and access authentication and authorization. For municipalities, one cost-effective method for protecting the integrity of their data is switching to software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.

What municipalities are discovering is that shifting to SaaS solutions eliminates the need to make significant upfront capital investments. These solutions also eliminate the need to continuously ensure that software is up to date with the latest version because, with service-based solutions, it’s the vendor who is responsible for keeping their solutions up to date.

SaaS solutions are ideal for a distributed workforce since individual access to the software is cloud-based. This means that a municipality doesn’t have to invest in additional hardware to manage the transition. These solutions also shift the responsibility to the vendor for implementing privacy protection and ensuring data integrity.

APPRECIATING THE VALUE OF SERVICE-BASED SOLUTIONS

Beyond helping harden their networks, municipalities are also benefiting from other advantages that come from using SaaS solutions. For instance, these service-based options give a municipality greater control over the long term. They have more leverage when signing a contract, and then, if they aren’t satisfied with a service, they can stop paying without losing an initial investment.

From a vendor’s perspective, this shift also encourages better customer engagement. It is only by interacting with stakeholders in a municipality that vendors can understand their challenges and requirements. For many, it comes down to the ability to develop relationships built on open and transparent communication.

VIDEO MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES IN THE NATION’S CAPITAL

Recently, Genetec worked with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to help improve its video request process. The MPD has its own physical security network, which includes video surveillance cameras that are monitoring everything from parks to intersections. Managing all that video can be a challenge. But responding to requests for video can be overwhelming.

Like most cities, video is an important component of how Washington, D.C. operates. In addition to its extensive video camera network, MPD can also draw on other video sources, including private businesses and personal cellphones, when conducting an investigation.

For the nation’s capital, however, video management is even more challenging because 57 other law enforcement agencies are operating in the area. Several of these entities are related to the government. While most police departments only have to share video footage within a municipality, the MPD also has to provide access to many of these other agencies. This means that the MPD can be quite literally inundated with information requests.

MEETING NEEDS AT A MUNICIPAL LEVEL

To address this challenge, you have to shift your mindset to the perspective of the individuals managing the system. You have to consider how the requests come in, where the video footage is stored, how it’s accessed, and how to share it in the safest, most efficient way possible.

In Washington, D.C., video requests were handled using a very manual process using a request form (paper). Once a request form was submitted, MPD staff had to find the video footage and copy it to a thumb drive or DVD. After picking up the disk or DVD from the MPD, the requestor then had to install a video player and watch the footage to determine if it was, in fact, the video evidence that they were looking for.

Now, using the MPD’s cloud-based digital evidence management system from Genetec, the request process is fully automated. Using the portal, anyone wanting to access video footage must first identify and select the individual video sources. After marking the appropriate time frames, the individual then clicks to submit their request through the cloud-based evidence management system.

At this point, MPD video system operators are notified through their physical security system about the request. Once the request is authorized, the evidence management system automatically pulls the video from the physical security system, fulfills that request, and saves a record for auditing purposes. With this automated process, the requestor no longer has to pick up a physical copy of the footage, install a video player to review the content, and possibly repeat the request process if the footage is not what they needed.

Automating much of the process and connecting these systems saves hours — if not days — of work. But the only way to arrive at this solution was for Genetec to understand the police department’s actual needs. Because of their open communication with the MPD, the team at Genetec understood how important it was to create a workflow that was more efficient and to ensure that the process could be audited. They also knew that the police department wanted to be able to keep a record of all their requests and needed to know when requests had been fulfilled.

EXPANDING SAAS SOLUTIONS TO INCLUDE THE PRIVATE SECTOR

Building on this solution for evidence management, Genetec has also been working on finding innovative ways to help municipalities interact with the private sector. One project has been to make it easier to construct a dedicated webpage that enables businesses to self-register their public-facing cameras.

Including business-owned cameras in a public network is beneficial for everyone. When law enforcement has access to more information, they can undertake investigations with greater understanding. These efforts can reduce crime at the neighborhood level, which benefits local business owners.

But adding private systems and cameras can increase administrative tasks for already overworked municipal employees. The solution is to create a camera registry inside the digital evidence management system that documents and organizes information. Then, when the police department investigates a particular area of a city, it can see which businesses have public-facing cameras and send those businesses an email request for their content.

In the past, everything was done manually. It required investigators to look through spreadsheets that listed businesses and their cameras. The process was built on the, often misguided, assumption that those spreadsheets were up to date. It then relied on investigators to add footage to case files on their own.

Now, businesses receive a link with the request form and can then upload their footage directly into a case file through the webpage. By automating the process within the evidence management system, Genetec has been able to increase efficiency and greatly reduce the time required to request and access footage from private businesses.

What is becoming clear in municipalities is that technology can play a key role in helping law enforcement and other entities, including private businesses, keep people safe. This benefits everyone. Safe cities attract businesses, foster innovation, and provide countless opportunities.

ALPR SOLUTIONS CAN BRING PEOPLE TO A CITY’S CORE

Technology can also help municipalities make better-informed decisions around public planning. One interesting example is how some have been able to improve the quality of life for their citizens with automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) systems. The role of ALPR in municipalities continues to evolve. In the past, most systems were used in just two ways. They were either deployed for parking enforcement, where ALPR was synced with a pay-by-plate system, or for investigations when law enforcement was looking for a vehicle involved in a crime. Now, municipalities are using ALPR solutions to improve the quality of life as well. Many have expanded their parking enforcement processes to include parking management. Curbside parking, including for deliveries and taxies, is very important in cities. Managing vehicles through these areas effectively, especially in the downtown core, can improve the flow of traffic and ensure that associated businesses run smoothly.

One of the ways municipalities do this is by using ALPR systems to ensure that people aren’t parking longer than they should or aren’t using unauthorized spots. By reducing frustrations around parking, a municipality can encourage people to visit often, which, in turn, helps local businesses to thrive.

Many have also upgraded their parking lots from traditional gates to ALPR systems. Traditional systems involve slow processes that require drivers to stop and interact with a kiosk or parking attendant. With an ALPR-based system, cameras read license plates as vehicles enter and exit a lot. In lots with limited stays, the system can notify drivers through an app when their time is up.

Municipalities are also using ALPR to manage volume in their parking decks. They use it to identify open spots on various floors and direct drivers accordingly. This reduces the amount of time people spend circling a parking deck, which, again, reduces visitor stress and encourages people to come downtown more often.

USING DATA TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE

But it’s not just about parking. ALPR solutions are also being used to help commuters get to work. For example, by reading license plates in one area of a city and then again in another, you can determine how long it takes vehicles to travel that distance. With this information, municipalities can adjust traffic lights or speed limits to improve the flow of traffic at peak times.

All of these solutions contribute to making a city operate more efficiently and allow people and vehicles to move more effectively. With less traffic and reduced congestion, you create better experiences for people and businesses in your municipality.

In our rapidly changing world, cities are discovering the importance of technology for enhancing the lives of their citizens. Whether it requires adjusting how we work or how we manage sensitive data, collaborating with vendors to develop innovative solutions to improve the flow of people and information is helping cities provide a better quality of life for everyone.

This article originally appeared in the January / February 2021 issue of Security Today.

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