Security Cameras Have Big Role in Atlanta’s Vision of a Smart City

Despite privacy concerns, city officials say residents endorse the use of video surveillance cameras to strengthen crime awareness and counter potential terrorist threats.

ATLANTA – Sophisticated video surveillance capabilities could one day play a large role in Atlanta’s plans to deploy smart city services aimed at improving public safety, transportation and water monitoring, Computerworld reports.

The terrorist bombing during the Boston Marathon in 2013 and the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., last year seem to have allayed Atlanta’s perception of public video surveillance creating a Big Brother culture.

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“We haven’t heard any issues for what we’ve communicated we’re doing thus far [with video surveillance] from the public,” Atlanta CIO Samir Saini told Computerworld. “There’s been an invitation to deploy video cameras and our citizens are asking for that. They want it. We don’t have appropriate situation awareness on the public rights-of-way. We need cameras in high-crime zones.”

Saini is working with smart city experts and other city CIOs to get the best advice from privacy experts on how to handle concerns about issues surrounding invasion of privacy.

“We’re going to be completely transparent about what technology we are deploying and what it can or cannot do,” Saini added. “We’re building privacy controls…so that any information is protected and encrypted.”

Noting that Atlanta’s smart city projects are still in their early planning, he stressed that if the city gets pushback to its plans, “we’ll do what citizens demand. If it’s an issue, we’ll deal with it. But right now we don’t have enough situational awareness” to help first responders react quickly to an explosion, a large-scale shooting, bombing or some other crime.

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“How do we manage the threat of a person on our streets who has a backpack?” Saini asked. “If there’s an explosion [from the backpack], how can we assure that emergency responders arrive as soon as possible and gain full situational awareness and quickly respond? In that scenario, how can technology and smart city solutions enable us to deal well with that?”

In addition to surveillance cameras and other sensors for public safety, Atlanta will soon test transportation and water sensors for gathering data.

City residents approved a $250 million bond authorization in 2015 to make city-wide repairs and upgrades to infrastructure and facilities, including traffic light synchronization. As part of that system, 300 miles of fiber optic cable are being laid to create a network that will be owned by the city. That network will carry data from an advanced traffic control system, as well other smart city data – probably the video surveillance data. Excess capacity will be leased to raise money.

In addition, a city Wi-Fi mesh offering free Wi-Fi is being planned that uses the fiber network for backhaul. The size of the mesh network has not yet been decided.

According to Saini, the city still is working out its costs and potential savings from using smart city tech. “The truth is that we don’t have a lot of money and we’re going in knowing that and the strategy is going to be through private technology partnerships,” he added. “Cities can’t evolve to become smart and connected without the private sector…. We’re trying to minimize any costs for citizens.”

To crunch the massive flow of data, Atlanta will be working with Georgia Tech and Georgia State University. “The objective is to leverage those schools to do the big data analytics to inform the city on how to improve operations and efficiency,” Saini said.

In January, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed bluntly told tech company executives at AT&T, Ericsson and Intel at a public forum that smart city projects have to be successful enough to help public officials get re-elected.

In addition to smart sensors like cameras for public safety, Atlanta is also piloting technology to accurately capture license plate numbers on cars and perimeter monitoring, Saini said.

Streetlights with smart LED lighting will run atop smart poles with sensors for perimeter monitoring that can be used to watch parking lots. The poles might also include environmental sensors to keep tabs on air quality. Smart poles will be erected in downtown Atlanta in the next month.

Sensors are also planned for monitoring waste water pipe leaks, which could reduce the time needed for a repair, and for water quality—even though the city doesn’t currently have a water quality issue, Saini said. Water usage can also be controlled with water meter sensors to give customers real-time updates.

There’s even a plan to deploy smart city trash cans, which will alert a crew to pick up a can when it is full; that can help reduce the number of truck runs. The trash can sensors can be interconnected to air quality sensors through a central management platform as well.

“The system could trigger us to a certain trash bin, because maybe somebody threw a skunk in there,” Saini told Computerworld.

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