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Audio should play a central role in smart city planning

Using sound effectively can help improve public safety and a city’s security, writes Kevin Taylor, Segment Development Manager, Smart Cities at Axis Communications


Ask someone to name a smart city technology and you might get answers ranging from surveillance cameras to mobile apps. Many of the technologies that spring immediately to mind revolve around sensors and cameras, but this overlooks an important instrument in the toolbox of a smart city: network audio.


A modern connected audio system can augment a wide range of sensors, providing added functionality that can dramatically boost their effectiveness. With authorities increasingly looking to deploy network-connected technologies to improve their cities, audio systems should play a central role as cities explore use cases to understand what they are capable of and where and how they can be most effectively deployed.


Adding audio to your public safety video initiatives


When most people think of security tools, they likely think of cameras. And while it’s true that these devices play an important role, their efficacy can be greatly enhanced by including modern audio capabilities. Today’s cameras, often used in conjunction with intelligent video analytics, can detect conditions like loitering, unusual crowd behaviour, or a secure perimeter being breached. But once detected, they still require a first responder be deployed and there is an inherent latency until the responder arrives on location to mitigate the situation. Unfortunately, this often leaves plenty of time for a criminal act to be completed and the guilty party to leave the scene.


Implementing audio can change this. Rather than limiting the functionality of a system to detection and reaction, adding network audio to the overall solution allows an automated audio warning to be triggered by the camera – or a centralised operator can broadcast a live warning directly. In many cases, this sort of active intervention is enough to deter unwanted behaviour.


This is a true ROI multiplier: not only is a potential criminal act thwarted, but a costly dispatch of police resources can be avoided. This time-saving consequence provides hours of manpower to often under-staffed agencies, allowing their limited resources to stay proactively engaged with the community in activities that build relationships and reinforce trust.


Modern sound detection can dramatically reduce response times


The ability to detect security incidents in real time is incredibly valuable. Regulators have estimated that reducing the average emergency response time by just one minute could save over 10,000 lives each year in the United States alone, and cities continue to search for ways to improve efficiency in this area.


Modern audio solutions can recognise specific pre-designated sounds of interest such as gunshots, breaking glass, and verbal aggression, raising automatic alerts to the appropriate authorities that a response action plan should be initiated. In this way, sound detection enables public safety agencies to see something, say something, and do something; a comprehensive approach that can truly move metrics and improve a city’s image as a safe place to live, work, learn, and play.


Perhaps best of all, these types of audio analytics are relatively light applications. This allows them to run as a software function directly on many intelligent IoT endpoints with audio capabilities. This means there is no need to transmit intelligible voice data, so there is no infringement on personal privacy.


Public services announcements save time – and lives


From hurricanes to public health and wellness issues, cities can be affected by all manner of potential emergencies. And when disaster strikes, keeping citizens as informed as possible so they can remain safe and secure is essential. Public announcement systems can broadcast messages in advance of a natural disaster, letting citizens know how best to protect themselves. With network audio, there is an elasticity to the functionality of the system: messages can be city-wide or targeted to a specific affected area.

Audio systems should play a central role as cities explore use cases to understand what they are capable of and where and how they can be most effectively deployed

Of course, there are more mundane reasons that a system capable of delivering public service announcements is a good idea. The ability to tell commuters to reroute in the event of congestion, as well as more effective crowd management capabilities, can help put a stop to minor inconveniences before they become major problems. It’s important to note that dependability is key, and it is critical to choose a solution that can be relied upon to deliver intelligible audio when called upon – what good is a message that no one can understand?


Today’s audio and video tools work best hand in hand


With so many smart city tools available to choose from, it is important for city officials to recognise which technologies offer them the most utility – especially when combined with their existing solutions. As connected cameras become increasingly common, recognising both the added value and easy scalability of IP audio systems is essential. From emergency preparedness to incident response, effective sound detection and audio capabilities can have a major positive impact on the health and safety of any city.

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