What It Takes to Build a Safe City

To combat criminal activities, cities across the country are looking to partner with technology solutions providers to help safeguard their communities.

What It Takes to Build a Safe City

The security industry has the systems, knowledge and expertise to lead the way where it comes to safe cities.

More than half the world’s population currently lives in the city, and that number is on the rise. Cities themselves are growing bigger every day. This is good news as cities offer unique opportunities for innovation and collaboration.

This is especially true for those of us in the security sector. While providing security systems for developing urban centers can be challenging, it’s important work to be done.

It’s clear that the nature of security is changing. Where a systems integrator (SI) used to provide isolated organizations with the cheapest commodities, they are now thinking about how to align themselves with safe city programs.

But this is not easy. Further complicating this evolution is the fact that cities themselves are complex entities. With public transit and water systems, schools, businesses, infrastructure, and housing, cities have a lot of moving parts that must come together to provide services and opportunities to their inhabitants.

While this complexity can foster innovation and collaboration, it can also lead to unique challenges that intensify as a city grows. One such challenge is the ability to create and maintain a secure environment.

Part of a Greener City Solution

The move toward greener cities is a driving force of change for safe cities. One example is the shift in street lighting. In recent years, many cities have moved from traditional to LED lighting.

The new lights are safer, require less energy, and last longer. They also reduce operational cost as they help “green” the environment.

These new LED streetlights can also be part of a secure city. In addition to increasing safety through better lighting, LED lights can also enhance operational capabilities by providing data collected through their lighting nodes.

The data collected by nodes on a street lights can, for example, help traffic engineers understand the flow of vehicles through their city’s streets.

This data can be used to update traffic signals and signage and to modify speed limits, which, in turn, helps reduce carbon emissions. When traffic flows more efficiently through a city, the citizens of that city feel — and are — more secure.

This challenge is compounded by the fact that, within each city, there are many stakeholders in a variety of positions across multiple sectors. We know, for example, that, in addition to the mayor’s office and municipal government, the list of a city’s stakeholders includes police, traffic and fire departments, public utilities, parking enforcement, schools, hospitals, large employers, business owners, and private citizens.

Each has their own specific needs; all have the common goal of living and working in a safe environment. So, how do we help these various stakeholders build a safe and safe city? The first step is understanding what we mean by “a safe city.”

What Is a Safe City?

At its most basic level, a safe city is one in which citizens feel safe in their daily lives. This means that police departments work to keep crime rates down and the legal system works to prosecute criminals to prevent crimes from reoccurring.

But an urban center that focuses exclusively on crime can fall short of being a truly safe city. A sense of security can also be derived from a feeling that things are operating efficiently.

When traffic flows smoothly, when there are enough parking spots in the downtown core, when public transit runs on time, citizens feel safe.

After all, citizens want to be confident that emergency vehicles can arrive quickly and that infrastructure is functioning at its optimum level so that they do not have to think about these things at all.

Given that a safe city encompasses so many disparate elements, it makes sense that there is a wide variety of stakeholders. Unfortunately, many of these stakeholders are stuck in siloed thinking and ways of working.

It then falls to SIs to understand their goals and requirements and to help them work together to create the safe city they want.

What’s in Your Toolbox?

In order to be successful, SIs are having to acquire new skills and develop new approaches to their work. Increasingly, they are having to operate as an account management team that can work with multiple areas of a city.

They have to get involved with the civic process itself in order to help identify problems a city currently faces or understand an issue a city would like to address.

These issues can run the gamut from poor IT infrastructure to social issues. Or it could be the wish to implement a new technology. Whatever the issue, the SI must be able see multiple perspectives and ramifications in order to provide a solution — including technology, approach, and collaboration — that can help move all the stakeholders toward a truly safe city.

This means that they must develop networks, acquire new technology skills and stay current on changing regulations.

New Approaches for Law Enforcement

Traditionally, the main push for changing security technology has come from law enforcement. And they continue to be an important driver in developing a safe city as they often have the most obvious need for video surveillance.

It remains true that, for both police and prosecutors, having access to as much information as possible, particularly video information, is an important element for success. But, as budgets shrink and need expands, law enforcement itself must find new ways to access the information they require.

One of the ways that cities are improving access to video is through the development of collaborative relationships between law enforcement and private industry.

Given that private businesses benefit enormously from reduced crime rates and that many of them deploy video surveillance cameras in and around their premises, it just makes sense that they would help law enforcement by sharing their footage.

Recently, cities have been developing programs that will allow them to access the video footage being collected by private businesses. The city of Detroit’s Project Green Light is a great example of this.

Based on an analysis of data collected in 2015, the city discovered that about a quarter of all of its violent crimes happened within 500 feet of a gas station. To address this alarming statistic, they established a Real-Time Crime center that provides access to video cameras installed around several businesses.

With this more comprehensive view of the areas surrounding gas stations, the police are able to intervene faster and more knowledgeably when an incident occurs. This has allowed them to de-escalate situations in progress, and, when a crime does occur, prosecutors have more and better information at their disposal.

approaching security problems

Systems integrators are having to develop new approaches to their work, including becoming involved in the civic process, to help cities identify security problems.

Protecting and Sharing Data

It is clear that bringing groups and stakeholders together dramatically increases security across a city, but it also raises new challenges, particularly around the sharing of data. When private businesses share data with the police department (PD), there is potential risk for both sides.

PDs cannot have outside people accessing files and systems, but the private businesses also have to protect themselves. The PD’s concern can be solved by deploying a security system that includes authorization capabilities.

This would allow them to set permissions for every user — including outside entities — in order to protect data and information. In the best case, these systems would also allow the PD to track access to verify who has seen what and when.

On the other side, the situation is not as straightforward. There are more restrictions and ramifications to take into consideration. For example, in the United States, when a corporate entity shares video footage with a public safety department, that video may then be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiries.

This means that, in addition to proposing the right technology, an SI also has to understand the context in which it will function. In this example, an SI might be tasked with orchestrating agreements between the public and private sectors to make video sharing possible and beneficial for all involved.

Understanding What Stakeholders Want

It’s not always law enforcement or security that drives change in a city. An important skill that SIs must have in today’s climate is the ability to connect with a wide variety of stakeholders within a city in order to determine everyone’s specific needs and challenges.

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 reside. Nor can they see how a solution or program that one group implements can help or benefit another.

For example, one Midwestern city in the U.S. is looking to improve the flow of traffic through its downtown core. Because two separate municipal departments were able to work together, part of this project now includes a conversation with the parking authority to use the newly developed surveillance system to increase parking efficiency citywide.

In another city, the tourism department is putting up way-finding kiosks around tourist attractions. The kiosks include cameras to help assist, but these cameras have also become part of the city’s surveillance system.

The challenge here is deploying the right IP camera that will allow the kiosks to wirelessly transmit the data back to the proper group or groups. Once groups start sharing data, they then have the opportunity to use analytics to gain a greater understanding of their environment.

Video analytics could be used to help private businesses improve customer experience and help traffic departments establish speed limits that can reduce car exhaust. And, at the same time, this increased understanding could be shared with law enforcement to help them manage large scale events or unplanned incidents.

The opportunity to provide meaningful solutions for safe cities is undisputed. To be successful, SIs need to expand their skillsets in order to identify and support the increasing number of stakeholders in our growing urban environments.

In addition to maintaining a solid foundation in an ever-growing list of technologies, SIs must now have skills that allow them to — among other things — network with members of business development and develop a good understanding of the legal requirements around data sharing.

But the reward for this effort is not just increased business and profitability. Ultimately, this work helps transform our growing cities in to safer, more efficient spaces, which is beneficial to everyone.

Pota Kavanaros is a Product Marketing Manager for Genetec.

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