A Quality of Life
Municipalities improve networks with physical security systems
- By Bob Carter
- Feb 01, 2021
When the number
of people working
from home rapidly
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.