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Cities are becoming smarter, but how do we make them safer and more resilient?

Genetec’s Jean-Philippe Deby highlights critical factors that make a smart city a safe city too – these include communication and collaboration as well as technology.


It’s predicted that by 2050, urban areas will see a population increase of 2.5 billion people.


This is a serious concern and will no doubt have wide-spread ramifications. In particular, it will pose new challenges of complexity to city administrators – especially when combined with the rise of smart, connected cities.


A key indicator of a city’s success is how resilient it is or, in other words, how it reacts to an unplanned event or emergency and subsequently, how quickly it can return to business as usual.


Therefore, the challenge for city officials becomes how to put systems and processes in place that keep the population safe – whilst not restricting growth, commerce or daily life.


Tokyo, the largest city in the world with a population of 38 million people, has been named the safest city in the world for the third time in a row.


How do expansive metropoles like Tokyo maintain safety whilst allowing their populace to flourish?


The role of technology


When it comes to enhancing public safety and maintaining security, having a complete picture of your environment is key. Having a modern unified platform that encompasses systems like video surveillance, access control, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), intrusion and analytics goes some way toward achieving this.


These types of systems combine all facets of security and ensure cities have the tools to bolster situational awareness. Unified security solutions offer cities the tools they can use to improve overall public safety.


When it comes to enhancing public safety and maintaining security, having a complete picture of your environment is key.


A unified system consolidates data from physical security components that enhances the overview for dispatchers and emergency responders so they can make insight-driven decisions.


By reviewing data, institutions can make predictive changes to security, create new best practices, plan for the worst, determine any weak spots, and shore up defences.


Cities need a solution that can allow public organisations to work closely with law enforcement to develop an emergency response plan, where video surveillance streams and other data from IP sensors can be correlated, analysed and shared quickly with relevant parties. Specifically, these unified systems can deliver the capability to improve traffic and mobility operations.


For example, combining traffic systems with video surveillance can help law enforcement better co-ordinate incident response. This scenario would allow responders to better spot incidents, communicate detours and respond faster, resulting in smoother traffic flow and less disruption for citizens.


Communication is key


Cities are made up of a diverse and complex mix of institutions, ecosystems and infrastructure that are interconnected. This means that disruption to one part of the system can cause failure in other parts, with far-reaching implications.


This makes assessing city security effectively an extremely challenging task. A key factor in ensuring security in cities is open communication channels between the institutions operating within it.


In this way, when an incident does occur, they can coordinate the effort to get it resolved as quickly as possible.


For instance, when a Tsunami struck Japan in 2011, a vital highway was completely destroyed by the subsequent earthquake. Amazingly, emergency responders managed to coordinate an effective strategy and repair the highway in a mere six days.


Often, however, this is not the case and stakeholders don’t collaborate with one another. When business leaders, city planners, municipal infrastructure leaders, fire departments and law enforcement end up working in silos, it ultimately leads to a breakdown of communication, missed opportunities and lapses in city security.


This issue becomes more apparent when silos turn into blind-spots that criminals can exploit – leaving a city, and its population, more at risk.


Increasing communications and sharing data across the private and public sectors should be a priority as it will improve security for everyone.


Therefore, increasing communications and sharing data across the private and public sectors should be a priority as it will improve security for everyone.


For instance, in 2016, the city of Detroit managed to curb its violent crime rate by 50 per cent with Project Greenlight. The opt-in initiative enables registered local businesses to share real-time footage from their security cameras with the Detroit Police Department, giving law enforcement better coverage of the area and local businesses the peace of mind that police can quickly be on the scene should an incident occur.


This collaboration improved crime rates by shortening response times, expediting the evidence-gathering process and acting as a deterrent to any would-be criminals. It also had the added benefit of allowing the local businesses that signed up to the programme to thrive.


At its inception, the project was only active in a few locations that were identified as crime hotspots most of which were at petrol station. However, there are now hundreds of different greenlight locations in central Detroit.


At this scale, the power of communication between different organisations, and its effect on crime, becomes a far more tangible prospect.


The bottom line


In order to ensure that urban centres around the world can safely and securely manage the increasing number of residents, it’s essential for community stakeholders, like the government, law enforcement and businesses, to leverage advances in physical security systems.


The security of cities also means the removal of impediments to their development. Cities are expected to be an engine for positive development. While advanced security systems are a cornerstone of city safety, and can certainly enhance security, successfully securing a city is determined by how city administrators pair these technologies with communication.


Improving communication and collaboration between siloed institutions drives situational awareness and allows organisations to predict, react to and resolve situations more effectively than ever.


As demonstrated by Project Greenlight, making simple changes in the way information and data are transferred between organisations can have huge benefits on preparedness, and increase situational awareness, and operational efficiency.


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