Growing into a Smarter, Safer City

Growing into a Smarter, Safer City

Technology plays an ever-increasing role in smarter cities

As technologies and laws continue to evolve and more people move into urban centers, cities are looking for ways to become smarter — and safer. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in an urban area. It is predicted that by 2030, our planet will have 41 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants each. After all, a successful city attracts businesses, fosters innovation and provides incredible opportunities for its citizens. City officials are always seeking ways to become more efficient and adaptable.

In order to evolve into resilient cities, technologies that are flexible, connected and secure are needed to help stakeholders reach higher levels of collaboration. Collaboration is key to becoming a smarter and safer city that assists in improving the livelihood of communities, tourists and businesses.

The challenge is, how do we put systems and processes in place that will keep our cities safe while allowing them to adapt and grow as populations increase and technology advances? How do we ensure that our cities continue to be resilient, even as they evolve and grow?

The Role of Technology

Cities are using technology to break down siloes between key stakeholders such as law enforcement, transportation departments, schools and businesses. Together, these entities are collaborating and pooling resources to become more resilient to unplanned events and fostering a stronger sense of safety across the urban landscape. However, becoming a smart city does not come without its challenges. While most cities are taking leaps forward to work smarter, the realities of budgeting, revising policies and dealing with bureaucratic red tape can become overwhelming and taxing on resources.

In many cases, city agencies such as law enforcement, transit departments and other public and private entities are still using legacy analog technologies. These closed-architecture systems make it difficult to break through existing siloes. For example, video surveillance has its particular problems. Without the ability to securely and remotely access or share video feeds, organizations are spending considerable amounts of time retrieving evidence and taking a more reactive approach to handling incidents. Internal conflicts only perpetuate this breakdown of communication between entities. Since legacy technology has been disjointed for so long, the city departments and businesses have been too.

While these challenges can be dissuasive, the fact that many cities have successfully fostered cross-enterprise collaboration suggest opportunities are plentiful. This is partly because numerous cities and businesses are upgrading their systems to IP security technology. It provides greater connectivity and access to new capabilities that bridge once-divided public and private organizations.

From response to resolution, workflows can be simplified with decision support features. New and improved IP technologies are impacting the way cities function, flow and react, bringing police, transit, retailers, community groups and local businesses together to discuss common objectives. With new and improved support features, dispatchers can locate an event on a map, share intel from video to responding officers, push video to responding officers and record case notes in a short period of time. Equally helpful is having all entities with vested interest and permission securely access data.

For example, it could help a loss prevention manager collaborate more effectively with police investigators, compiling evidence in a central repository and closing cases faster.

Cybersecurity and Data Sharing

Increasingly, an organization’s resilience depends on the open communication and connection between a wide variety of its own systems and with other organizations. We have seen that it can be much more difficult to get back to normal quickly when systems are not connected or when stakeholders are working in siloes. With a single unified system, they can easily access and monitor all their cameras both locally and from their headquarters. They know that information gathered at one location can be easily be shared with other locations. This can be useful when it comes to both making business decisions for the company and responding to unplanned events or emergencies.

Cybersecurity and data privacy are a big part of inter-agency discussions as well. They are sharing ideas about technologies that help them stay one step ahead of privacy issues and threats. For example, police departments are considering new tools such as video redaction, which blurs out people’s faces in video while the contextual environment and background stays non-blurred.

Small businesses are looking at Software-as-a-Service models to outsource the risks of cybersecurity to top-tier cloud providers. Others are initiating conversations with vendors and integrators about cybersecurity measures, learning how encrypted communications, built-in data and privacy protection capabilities, strong user authentication and password protection help them quickly adapt to new laws.

Tools for Smarter, Safer Cities

A lot of people wonder where and how to begin. What does it take grow into a smarter, safer city? First, we need to understand the true nature of our cities. Understanding what each one needs and developing solutions is not always easy, as many stakeholders do not necessarily know where potential pitfalls or answers may lie, nor can they see how a solution or program that one group implements can help or benefit another. More people are moving to urban areas, which creates many infrastructure and security challenges for both municipalities and businesses.

Because urban spaces are complex, a city’s resilience is dependent on the successful connection and communication between many organizations and stakeholders. This means that they must develop networks, acquire new technology skills and stay current on changing regulations. Only through close collaboration between police, city officials and businesses can communities build the strategies necessary for keeping citizens safe and creating the right conditions for true resiliency.

Our task is to establish strong foundations that support and maintain the efficient flow of people, assets and ideas in our cities. These foundations must allow our city and community stakeholders to communicate effectively both now and in the future. When given the opportunity to share technology, resources and information, cities can significantly improve the way they meet challenges and solve problems, making an ordinary “everyday” possible via extraordinary technologies and collaboration.

Video Surveillance

Taking advantage of the video surveillance systems that large and small businesses already use to monitor activity inside and outside of their premises is extremely beneficial. As part of a larger integrated system, these same cameras can now drive business by helping to create safer shared spaces.

Through collaboration with law enforcement, these cameras can become essential tools for promoting public safety within a community. High-quality, detailed video not only provides timely information to responding officers but also simplifies the ensuing investigation. Rather than having to wait several hours to transfer or grant access to video, business owners will be able to quickly share a suspect’s image with officers close to the scene of a crime, helping expedite the search, investigation and resolution of the incident.

Moving Forward

As we have seen, by focusing on the healthy flow of people, products, information and ideas, institutions and organizations can provide better experiences and greater accessibility. Ultimately, we see that security can go far deeper than safety.

Where improving communication and collaboration across a single, albeit distributed, organization can be relatively easy, connecting disparate groups within or across communities can be more challenging. When we consider the benefits, however, it becomes clear that overcoming these obstacles is well worth the effort. The ability to respond effectively to an emergency and return to normal as quickly as possible is a key measure of success for both organizations and governments. With the right tools, we can free ourselves from siloed thinking and work to secure a productive, smart and safe future for both people and businesses.

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Security Today.

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