How Exactly should a ‘Safe City’ Function Today?

In my opinion the safe city objective is about creating a secure, pleasant and welcoming environment for a city’s inhabitants to prosper and enjoy improved quality of life.

Part of the wider ‘smart cities’ ethos, it’s about developing sustainable and supportive environments which are safe, responsive and effective to the needs of their user groups.

The concept has captured the imagination of governments and city leaders as our cities grapple with the challenges of urbanisation.

More than 50% of the global population lives in cities, up from 34% in 1960. As city populations swell further, it places huge burdens on governments and municipal leaders responsible for the governance and protection of growing infrastructure and assets from an increasingly diverse and unpredictable risk landscape & including natural disasters, criminal acts, terrorist threats, civil unrest, and socioeconomic rifts.

Eroding social cohesion, which creates feelings of anonymity and fuels violent acts, jeapordises prosperity and wellbeing and must be mitigated against.

Real-time intelligence

As a security integrator, my role in addressing these issues is providing real-time intelligence to facilitate the suitable response from appropriate emergency services or authorities to improve community safety and reduce the fear of crime.

This is facilitated by designing and implementing technology-based solutions that raise situational awareness and aid law enforcement and city officials to better respond to criminal activity and manage disruptive incidents and emergency situations. It’s all about ‘knowing what’s going on so we can figure out what to do about it (Adam, 1993).

I believe ‘safe city’ objectives could be addressed by adopting C4i principals. A military term, C4i started life as C2 Command and Control and refers to the ability of military commanders to direct and control forces.

C4i extends this principal to command, control, communications, computers and intelligence. It’s basically a complex ‘system of systems’ generally using high technology, commercial, off the shelf equipment and devices (COTS) that apply to both military and civilian life.

In simplistic terms, C4i is about information superiority and using this information advantage to elicit the maximum efficient and appropriate response in a given situation.

The use of technology and human resources to gather relevant information and accurately communicate this information to appropriate human and technology assets should realise the application of appropriate responses and control measures to an event based on up-to-date intelligence.

Put simply, it’s all about delivering timely and comprehensive information to commanders and enabling them to disseminate it expediently to troops on the ground.

In the safe-city concept, these same principals apply. It’s all about what information we need to collect, when and where we need that information, who needs access to it, how does it get processed and what do we do with it and what decisions does it prompt?

Moreover, who has the authority to make the decisions and ensure they are executed correctly?

Breaking down C4i we can see that command and control is applicable to any incident, be it a simple crime, public demonstration or an explosion, terrorist act or natural disaster. In any given situation, someone needs to ‘take charge’ of overall command and act on it by organising resources and appropriate responses. This is highly relevant in the case of security, of course.

Gathering as much information as possible and communicating it to relative parties is vital towards realising the correct and appropriate responses. This is where the right technology comes into its own.

Control of devolved responses must be delegated to persons of authority within their own particular sphere of expertise. In a major incident such as an explosion this could be the police commander assuming overall command, with control delegated to a senior paramedic to treat injured parties and the fire chief to make an area safe, etc.

Finally, input from people involved and information gathered by various systems should deliver intelligence on which informed decisions can be made and ‘after-event’ lessons learnt.

Computing and communications equates to data gathering and processing technologies. For a security integrator this means on one hand the placement of cameras the eyes around a city to gather visual images (intelligence) from target areas, preferably in full HD or better.

Ideally this is supplemented by video analytics, configured to instantly detect and report exceptions to the norm (ie, build-up of crowds, entry/trespass to forbidden areas, left object detection, etc) or to recognise known faces or vehicle identification plates.

Of equal importance given today’s threats is the deployment of other relevant data gathering devices as, intruder and fire detection devices, access control, gunshot detection, flood warning sensors and even CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) detection systems. The list goes on.

Big Data

It also encompasses communication infrastructure to support data collecting devices and mining ‘big data’ to predict crime patterns.

These data gathering technologies make the system multi-dimensional and place fewer onuses on the control centre operator by automatically drawing his or her attentions to specific events or issues.

On the other hand, it’s all about the software that collects, correlates and analyses data, events and alarms from disparate security and information systems, then manages incoming information to identify real situations and their priority.

The safe city control centre approach will be more proactive in that the system alerts the operator and provides him/her with the ‘intelligence’ gathered by various systems and devices.

In other words, all relevant situation information needed to make informed decisions will be presented in a consistent and logical format (along with set response parameters for verification and resolution of the situation at hand) to various control room operators not to mention field operatives via portable display devices (tablets) providing them with ‘on the ground’ intelligence.

The safe-city concept presents a number of challenges and will involve public bodies engaging with all system stakeholders police and emergency services, council departments, retailers, chambers of commerce, transport operators, educational establishments and community safety groups, etc to facilitate multi-agency cooperation in developing operational procedures and response plans that mitigate the effects of disruptive incidents.

They also need to engage more fully with technology vendors and security integrators building up a stronger partnership rather than viewing them simply as suppliers. This would result in the provision of technology-driven solutions rather than simply CCTV systems.

This article was first published on IFSEC Global at:

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