Smart City Technologies
How solutions are deployed to ensure safety and security at the border
- By Kevin Taylor
- Oct 01, 2019
Two of the biggest trends today, particularly in the
security surveillance and IoT realms, are border
security and the emergence of local governments
transforming their communities into smart cities.
On the surface, these two may seem to have little, if
anything, in common. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
National Security or Humanitarian
Border security can be seen as a humanitarian issue, a national
security issue or even a combination of the two. Regardless of
how you balance your viewpoint, border security is certainly important
to countries and their citizens. Without a doubt, there
is heightened public awareness about securing national borders
around the world.
Within smart cities, there are a number of initiatives that can
be undertaken to address the challenges facing a particular community.
For some people, the most important aspect of smart cities
is a comprehensive energy plan. For others, it’s public safety.
Still others see a shared services hub, enabling bi-directional exchange
of data and information between citizens and departments
of public services, as the most crucial part of a smart city. These
are just a few of the many sub-segments that can make up a smart
city. With the increasing number of devices and systems that can
be integrated and interconnected, the size and scope of smart city
applications is seemingly only limited by the imagination, ingenuity,
and, oh yeah, the budget and/or available funding.
Based on these descriptions, it may be hard to imagine where,
if at all, the two worlds of border security and smart cities would
intersect. Upon closer examination, however, there are similarities
in some of the technologies and systems that are used for
each of these applications. So, while the actual use cases and applications
of the technology may vary, they are more similar in
function than they appear at first glance.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Digital Video
Quality Handbook recognizes three primary categories for video
analytics: real-time situational awareness and incident response,
non-real-time forensic analysis/digital media content search, and
business intelligence. For our purposes, we will examine the first
and third of these.
Real-Time Situational Awareness
and Incident Response
In border security, real-time situational awareness can be used
with perimeter detection analytics to notify an operator if an area has been breached or if there are people in an established sterile
zone where no one is permitted.
From a smart city standpoint, this situational awareness could
be provided by anything from video analytics that recognize anomalies
in patterns of crowd gathering or flow to audio analytics that
detect things such as gunshots or vehicular accidents. It could also
include environmental alerts such as flood detection, or anything
else that classifies as an event and raises operator awareness.
As important as detection analytic technology may be in both
use cases, of equal importance is the process that flows behind it
for the validation of, and the response to, detected events. To be
a true “solution,” situational awareness analytics must be supported
by pre-determined, and periodically practiced, validation
and planned response procedures.
Retailers have long employed analytics to help improve their business.
Using analytics to gather data, retailers can learn how people
move throughout their stores and how long they wait in line
to check out, among other factors. When the data is presented in
graphical form, intelligence is gained which allows them to make
actionable decisions regarding merchandising, staffing and optimizing
their floor space to create the best possible experience for
There is great potential for these types of “business intelligence”
analytics both in border security and smart cities. Stakeholders involved
in both use cases can use various IoT sensors to acquire
data, therein enabling officials to recognize trends, build effective
processes and ultimately make informed data-driven decisions.
Along a border, officials might use this information to know
how seasonal patterns and weather changes affect which paths
are taken by individuals crossing a border. This allows them to
make predictive decisions about where to position agents to produce
A smart city could deploy similar technologies to collect data
that will help make decisions for traffic and urban planning. For
example, to promote multimodal mobility, would it be beneficial
to build a walkway over a street rather than having pedestrians
cross at street level, and where would it be best located? Additionally,
data about the number and types of vehicles traveling along
a corridor could be used to determine if lane accommodations
need to be changed to improve traffic flow. Transportation agencies
have collected this data via manual processes for years, but
IoT and the emergence of analytics now allow them to automate
While the data may drive completely different decisions, the
data is converted to intelligence in both cases, justifying decisions
that increase efficiency and drive better results.
In addition to the variety of analytics that provide real-time and
business intelligence, a third key area where similarities exist between
border security and smart cities is lighting. Before delving
into lighting itself, it’s important to note that a primary challenge
with the proliferation and mass deployment of the Internet of
Things (IoT) is finding the infrastructure to both power sensors
and to then move data from the devices. Wireless technology can
accommodate data movement in some cases, but power challenges
cannot be overcome as easily without hard-wired infrastructure.
This is where lighting comes in. Light poles can provide the
necessary power infrastructure and vertical real estate to accommodate
these devices and sensors, many of which will be used to
drive the analytics that will provide valuable intelligence.
Lighting is a critical aspect not only of security in both border
and smart city applications, but it also offers a high aesthetic
value, particularly in urban areas. The trend to upgrade aging
lighting fixtures from high intensity discharge (HID) lamps, to
state-of-the-art light emitting diode (LED) luminaires, provides
gains in power efficiency, improved color rendering index from
the light source, and an ideal opportunity to deploy IoT sensors
in conjunction with lighting upgrades.
This potentially creates a network of “smart poles” that allow
sensors and communications antennae to be mounted at a
height that avoids common attempts of vandalism and provides
open line-of-sight between wireless communication antennae in
most environments. The poles are also potentially at a height
that is more likely to be a safe and healthy distance from radio
frequency (RF) exposure—though there is lots of debate regarding
this, particularly in the telecommunications and in the health
and safety fields.
In both border security and smart cities, we’re seeing greater
use of these smart poles, which offer the mounting real estate and
infrastructure to deploy a wide variety of technologies and devices—
everything from servers and processing hardware to public
Wi-Fi radios, LTE, and 5G (emerging) technology accommodations.
Those emerging technologies have use cases such as environmental
sensing, audio analysis, traffic, mobility, security and
And from a funding standpoint, because LEDs use less power
than HIDs, the resulting cost savings can be used to justify capital
expenditures on these other technologies that will enhance both
border security and smart city applications.
Although the use cases and desired results in border security
and in smart city applications seem worlds apart, the integration
skillsets, disciplines and technologies deployed can actually
be quite similar. By updating networks with IoT sensors,
analytics and LED lighting, positive results can be achieved in
Based on trends already in motion such as improved capabilities
in edge processing, advancements in machine learning-based
artificial intelligence applications, and improved performance of
wireless networks, we will only see the proliferation
of IoT devices continue to accelerate use
cases in virtually all vertical segments, including
border security and smart cities.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Security Today.