When the New York City Police Department commissioned a surveillance camera network based on London’s security and surveillance cordon, popularly known as the “ring of steel,” it was inevitably embarking on a game of catch up. The ring of steel was initially installed in the 1990s, largely in response to IRA bomb attacks and similar critical threats, enabling authorities to track anyone or anything going in or out of central London. Today, the system consists of nearly half a million CCTV cameras and is considered one of the most advanced city surveillance systems in the world.
Launched in 2008 – almost two decades after London’s pioneering move to utilize public space CCTV – the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative’s network of 4,000 public and private surveillance cameras today helps to ensure public safety and security, and to “detect, deter, and prevent potential terrorist activities.” Its success can be measured by the way similar city-wide initiatives are now spreading across the United States. The speed with which video footage from private cameras led to the identification of the Boston marathon bombing suspects only served to further strengthen the case for public surveillance.
Public space surveillance may not yet dominate the security agenda for U.S. towns and cities as it has in the UK for the past thirty years, but it has definitely come of age.
Same Objective, Different Considerations
Early adoption of any technology presents challenges. With public space surveillance, the limitations of legacy are significant.
In the UK, a long history of public space CCTV means many towns and cities invested heavily in analog surveillance during the 80s boom era. The move to advanced IP-based surveillance systems or HD camera technology is therefore a gradual process tempered by the need to maximize existing resource. ‘Rip-out-and-replace’ is not an option in terms of infrastructure or budget. For now, hybrid is the solution-of-choice and the dominant systems are those which enable the gradual introduction of newer technologies and deeper integrations, while also incorporating legacy analogue assets.
By contrast, though the U.S were late adopters of CCTV for public space surveillance, its position now as the innovative newcomer means it has less ‘surveillance baggage.’ Forward planning can focus more on what’s needed in the future, without being as restricted by what’s been implemented in the past.
IP-based surveillance solutions that enable truly intelligent integration, by unifying city critical operational and control systems through pairing visual evidence with data analysis from a broad range of information sources is, for many U.S. towns and cities, an immediate option rather than a technological future impeded by a series of gradual system upgrades and adaptions.
The differences don’t stop there. Public space surveillance networks in the United Kingdom are largely operated by local authorities, whereas police departments take the lead in the United States. The emphasis in the United States is on use of surveillance technology as a deterrent against criminal activity while in the UK, the emphasis is on evidence gathering.
While there are marked differences in implementation and circumstances – the over-arching objective is universal: to keep the public safe by pursuing best practice.
Adopting Best Practice in Public Space Security
The U.S. may have initially followed UK best practice, but thanks to the rapid evolution of public space CCTV across the States, it now has its own benchmark examples to emulate - the large scale CCTV solution developed for Charlotte, North Carolina is one such example.
This system, delivered by Synectics, is operated by the Charlotte-Meckenburg Police Department and is also used in tandem by the Charlotte Department of Transportation. Monitored by 900 cameras, Charlotte benefits from the watchful eye of a 24-hour-a-day, real-time crime center. Data from the network is constantly analysed to detect potential threats and crime is tracked as it happens. Police also have instant and remote access to CCTV footage which can be used for evidence gathering purposes.
Systems such as this are likely to become more commonplace, particularly as the groundswell of public support continues to grow. Last year, a poll by the New York Times revealed that 78% of people in the US support the use of public space cameras.
Support is also strong in the UK as evidenced in a recent 2014 poll conducted on behalf of Synectics which showed that 86% of people back the use of public space surveillance. With approval so strong on both sides of the Atlantic, the opportunity is there for both nations to embrace the latest developments that the surveillance sector has to offer. And for public space, wireless technology is a key part of that offer.
Why? Installation costs are lower as they require no direct cabling linking them to recording and viewing management systems. This also makes them more agile in terms of mobile deployment, enabling cameras to be re-allocated to mirror real-time needs e.g. in response to incident rates or temporary events that may require additional security.
Implementing a wireless system also often removes the need for leased lines – the network becomes an ‘owned asset’ that the local authority or police can use for potential income generation by using it to securely transmit other (non CCTV related) IP comms systems.
The level of integration now feasible with today’s open platform IP based surveillance solutions also presents huge opportunity.
In the US, for example, one predicted trend is that surveillance systems will increasingly integrate with public safety solutions, such as ShotSpotter, a program that can triangulate gunshot sounds to give exact crime locations. Integration with surveillance command and control platforms would allow this data to be immediately paired with live footage from cameras nearest the incident location. This presents huge opportunities in terms of incident response and investigation.
In both nations, network integration with third party systems protecting public schools is another distinct possibility. It is already happening with many large university campuses, with police and university security working to share data and use surveillance systems strategically and proactively to prevent and detect threats.
One thing is clear. Security professionals on both sides of the Atlantic have never had a better opportunity to seize the tremendous opportunity that exists within the public space sector to utilize the latest and greatest surveillance technology.