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Atlanta puts smart city tech to the test for Super Bowl

At the weekend, the City Of Atlanta will host this year’s Super Bowl. Smart technology will play an important role in managing such a huge event and its impact on the city.


Atlanta expects more than a million people to be in the city for Super Bowl LIII – and not just for the game set to take place between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. Many are also expected to attend a series of related events, or just soak up the atmosphere.


Almost doubling the city’s usual population of around 486,000, this influx of people will need careful management. The city is showing how smart city technology has an increasingly important role to play in preparing for large events such as this.


Operation Shield


Atlanta’s Operation Shield video camera integration network, for example, will be put to one of its biggest tests yet during the Super Bowl.


Operation Shield is co-ordinated by the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), which was established in 2003 to support the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the Atlanta Police Department.


Marshall Freeman, Chief Operating Officer, APF, said the Foundation has been evaluating smart technologies to see how they can help to reduce crime in Atlanta and to prepare for events such as the Super Bowl.


He said: “One of the big things that we learned from a lot of cities was that the number of cameras [required] in an urban city was really starting to become a budget buster. Cities were ultimately reaching the point where they couldn’t afford to continue to make the enhancements.”

While the City of Atlanta put some surveillance cameras up, the Operation Shield initiative allows residents and businesses to integrate their cameras into the network too. Over 10,600 private and city-owned cameras are pulled into the Video Integration Center (VIC).


Over 10,600 private and city-owned cameras are pulled into the Video Integration Center (VIC).


In 2016, the City of Atlanta invested more than $350,000 in technology enhancements to the Loudermilk Video Integration Center to aid first responders during large public events such as the Super Bowl and to enhance emergency preparedness efforts.


The platform uses Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) software to pull various camera feeds from different systems together into a ‘sandbox’. This is augmented by 911 location data to help police monitor and tackle crime faster.


Freeman said: “Everywhere that we have installed a significant amount of cameras, we have [seen] crime reduction of 20 to 50 per cent.


Surveillance society?


Connected cameras are one of the smart city technologies which generate the greatest concern about a ‘surveillance society’.


Special Police Officer (SPO) Sutton, Atlanta Police Department (APD), said: “Upon the inception of the video integration centre, that was one of the biggest challenges we had. We had to get people’s understanding to adjust.”


He said APD uses the term ‘domain awareness’ rather than ‘surveillance’ to remind people that: “ [Today], everybody’s walking around with cell phones or various technology where they’re recording and live streaming things that are going on at all times. What we’re doing is not any different except that we’re not in any private areas. All of the cameras are in the public domain looking at public properties, such as intersections or streets.”


He added: “We had to keep preaching domain awareness constantly in the very beginning. But it became more common, and people understood that this is not something that’s Big Brother or an over-reach of privacy.”


Connected cameras are one of the smart city technologies which generate the greatest concern about a ‘surveillance society’.


None of the video footage from private sources is recorded – it is only viewed live to provide real-time awareness. Should there be an incident, the police can request the footage from businesses or residents. Each camera has a blue light on it to let people know it is there and hopefully act as a deterrent.


Freeman commented: “The increase in the amount of residents that call, and are actually funding these cameras, speaks volumes about getting over that hurdle of the privacy issue. They see it as something that they need to do to ultimately keep their community safe.”


“We have made some improvements to the camera network in advance of the Super Bowl, and we’ve added some cameras in areas where we wanted to ‘beef up’ the system a little bit, but ultimately the camera network has been working great all along,” he said. “While the Super Bowl is a really huge event for our city, we have had a lot of the technology in place a very long time so it’s also ‘just another event’ for us."


Traffic management


Managing traffic will also be essential to the success of the event and the safe and smooth running of the city.


To prepare for this "massive event", the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) launched an event-specific traffic command centre at its Transportation Management Center (TMC) for the ten days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday.


"Our number one goal during the Super Bowl festivities will be to keep vehicles – and pedestrians – moving," said Matthew Glasser, GDOT’s Regional Traffic Operations Program (RTOP) manager. "While we expect a lot of traffic, we also would like for everyone to arrive at their destinations safely."

Extensive traffic plans include road or lane closures near the stadium, detours to re-route traffic, cones to channel traffic, and temporary static and variable message signs to keep the public informed.


GDOT said smart signalling systems will be key to keeping the city moving during the Super Bowl.

Oversized television monitors and vehicle detection systems allow traffic engineers to survey traffic situations in real-time remotely, and to immediately tweak signal timing as needed.


GDOT’s smart traffic management system enables them to make decisions on a corridor-long basis as opposed to intersection-by-intersection. This ensures that changing the signal timing at one intersection does not create unintended consequences at another.


"Our number one goal during the Super Bowl festivities will be to keep vehicles – and pedestrians – moving."


This expands on trials carried out at Atlanta’s 2.3-mile North Avenue Smart Corridor. The ‘living lab’, launched in September 2017, incorporates many smart city technologies, including adaptive traffic signals which adjust to traffic conditions in real-time and can prioritise emergency vehicles.


Cameras have also been deployed as part of this initiative. Existing city surveillance cameras along with an image processing application provide real-time traffic data and statistics to traffic controllers and the traffic management system. Built-in analytics detect vehicle types, speed, volumes, queues and traffic data statistics.


As well as beating congestion, the technology used in the North Avenue Corridor has helped the city promote more multi-modal forms of transportation – for example, making fewer lanes available for vehicles and prioritising people and bikes at crossings – as well as improving safety.


Kevin Taylor, Business Development Manager for Smart Cities, Axis Communications (which provides many of the city-owned cameras in Atlanta’s network), said: “With a reduction in lane count, the city was still able to maintain consistent travel times and throughput in terms of the number of cars. At the same time, they reduced accidents by 25 per cent."


Around the stadium on game day, engineers will be able to lengthen the red light for vehicles, allowing people entering and exiting the stadium plenty of time to cross the intersection safely.


On a separate ’smart’ note, this year’s Super Bowl could also be the last one where cash is required. Visa, which sponsors the Super Bowl, says around 50 per cent of concession stands at Sunday’s game will be cashless and the partners are working towards a cashless Super Bowl in the near future.


A city-wide effort


Atlanta’s Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, said that preparations for this weekend have been in place for over two years. In September last year, Mayor Bottoms appointed a Public Safety Commissioner to focus on major events such as the Super Bowl, alongside day-to-day operations.


In October, as part of planning for the Super Bowl, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Police Department also held the region’s largest emergency preparedness exercise, including theatrical explosions and simulated injuries.


Clearly, smart technology is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to planning for an event the size of the Super Bowl. However, the occasion will offer an ideal opportunity to demonstrate a smart city in action.

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