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Safe Cities: a Revolution Driven by New ICT

Urban areas worldwide have grown in population from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014 — over 5 times more people in just 64 years. Better jobs and financial opportunities continue to feed this migration. However, the costs of prosperity and urbanization include pressure on city leaders to invest in adequate infrastructure solutions, including security.

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Market Drivers and Enablers

The risks facing modern cities range from ‘high impact, low probability’ security threats and natural disasters to ‘low impact, high probability’ scenarios, such as petty crime. Protecting public spaces from extremist militant and lone-wolf attacks is a high priority that cannot be met by traditional security systems. The following market drivers are impacting public safety in Safe Cities:

  • Security threats and extremism
  • Economic growth and protection
  • Data sharing
  • Political motivation
  • Crime
  • Cost savings

In addition to these market drivers, Safe City projects require one or more enablers. These enablers include economic prosperity, economic risk, population growth, and stability. In 2015, governments worldwide spent more than USD 5.5 billion on public safety solutions and are projected to spend over USD 8 billion by 2019.

Connectivity and the IoT

Connectivity is at the core of Safe City projects in which government agencies, corporate enterprises, and, in some instances, the citizens that work and live in these Safe Cities collaborate. The Internet of Things (IoT) will significantly impact future Safe Cities due to near ubiquitous connectivity and inexpensive processing and sensor solutions. Newly connected devices and services will be integrated into a city’s control system using converged communication technology and advanced ICT platforms. New inputs — ranging from social media analysis to gunshot detection — will communicate directly to the command and control and Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) platforms. Through a consolidated IT and technology platform, cities can optimize budgets, integrate technologies, and make better informed, real-time decisions.

  • Intelligence Gathering

Before an event, city sensor systems proactively gather intelligence via the IoT. Sensor needs are determined by the scope of the territory and the required interoperability for systems and data. These systems routinely include video surveillance cameras, audio and video analytics, and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) and weather sensors. Facial recognition and License Plate Recognition (LPR) platforms also play important roles in the process.

Big Data solutions are well-suited for intelligence gathering through the analysis of numerous inputs from IoT sensors. Big Data platforms fuse multiple, simultaneous inputs into recognizable patterns. This analysis helps identify threats that would be missed if the system were to only monitor individual sensors.

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  • Enabling Real-Time Identification and Reaction to Security Threats

City authorities must quickly identify hostile events to prevent escalation. A consolidated ICT platform provides a common operational picture to all relevant agencies — raising situational awareness and boosting effectiveness. Using converged command systems, operators have easy access to command and control systems in a single user interface. Computer-aided video dispatch, Geographical Information Systems (GISs), and information and data sharing vastly improve reaction times and the quality of each response.

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  • Post-Event Examination and Analysis

Following any given event, city authorities will quickly analyze all relevant sensor data to accelerate the investigation. Video analytics often provide a source for object metadata that is used to quickly identify search targets, such as a ‘red car’ or ‘person with a blue backpack.’ Big Data is a powerful post-event tool for correlating sensor inputs and identifying patterns of behavior.

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The cloud is an effective infrastructure that is able to provide the necessary processing power to support video analytics and Big Data applications. The cloud also provides a solution for video storage, especially for body camera footage and other environments where the data payload is far out of range for any legacy system. 

Video surveillance and analytics, command and control and PSIM, and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) trunking are pivotal for Safe City evolution.

Video Surveillance and Analytics

Networks of surveillance cameras protect parks, streets, parking facilities, and other public areas. Additionally, video surveillance facilitates emergency responses through live feeds that can be used by authorities to make real-time decisions.

Video analytics add intelligence via Video Content Analysis (VCA) algorithms, which detect, classify, and track predefined objects and behavior patterns. This automates monitoring to reduce human errors that are caused by fatigue. Video analytics are particularly effective in identifying events as they happen and extracting objects from the recorded video.

Historically, the video analytics market has been damaged by over-selling the technology’s accuracy; however, this is slowly changing. The market is beginning to embrace new algorithms that more reliably track people, identify objects, and automatically detect changing weather conditions.

Command and Control

Control room systems are at the heart of every Safe City project. Safe City solutions integrate all security-related information onto consolidated ICT platforms that use the following technologies:

  • Computer-aided Dispatch (CAD) is used to deploy and track resources per incident. CAD software typically relies on databases that contain street addresses and lists of units that are equipped to respond to alarms.
  • Call-taking software allows Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to manage incoming calls. When combined with CAD, PSAPs provide information access through a variety of user interfaces.
  • GIS uses layers of geographical data to build comprehensive maps that support decision making and organize the analysis of incidents and events.
  • Records management software enables each control room to accurately recall event details and form investigation targets.
  • Video dispatch permits video conferencing through a console at the dispatch center. Real-time data from the scene can be incorporated into the primary command and control display.


LTE is the primary communication network, or trunk, for Safe Cities and control room operators who must deal with increasingly larger amounts of data. Private LTE networks enable data streaming and enhance information received from first responders in the field. In some countries, public safety private LTE networks are rapidly advancing. The U.S. in particular is leading the way with FirstNet, a high-speed broadband data network dedicated to public safety.

FirstNet’s high-speed network uses a nationwide spectrum license that creates a single platform for daily public safety communications. FirstNet was built to public safety standards using LTE wireless technology for greater coverage, capacity, connectivity, cyber security, and resilience compared to current multiple system solutions.

Predictive Crime Centers

The uptake of digital recording, evidence management, and statistical reporting from control rooms has spurred the deployment of ‘predictive crime centers.’

The convergence of Big Data in the control room is essential for transforming how dispatchers and operators manage emergencies and for gaining more statistical output from the control room. CAD platforms must be designed to facilitate this flow of information from both the caller and the first responder. Consequently, the number of CAD tenders, including a wide range of analytical capabilities and smart applications, is increasing. This is evidenced by suppliers looking for solutions that stream inputs from body cameras directly to the control room.

As users demand more-focused data, situational awareness and a user-defined operating picture are increasingly important. One challenge for the GIS/Analytics market is to hire more dispatchers to help with the overflow of information. Another challenge is the training gap. Because capabilities have expanded dramatically, successful suppliers now include training with their platforms.

Safe Cities in the Cloud

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions provide an alternative to fixed systems commonly installed in Safe City projects. In cloud architectures, software, applications, hardware, and storage are provided as services. Rather than committing upfront to a fixed cost, services are billed based on their rates of use; therefore, usage on a cloud network is scalable and elastic. Data can be accessed from anywhere and shared seamlessly on a much larger scale at any time across multiple devices.

One factor hindering adoption of Safe City projects is financing. Cloud-based technology, however, can change project funding from Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) to Operational Expenditure (OPEX), which typically covers day-to-day operating costs. This allows money to be spent incrementally with no long-term commitment. In this way, cloud-based technology shifts the responsibility and risk away from the city and onto the provider.

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Safe City Market Drivers

The Safe City market is driven by various challenges and requirements, depending on the country and region.

  • Middle East

Extremism remains a significant threat in the Middle East. In response, the region has been quick to adopt facial recognition, License Plate Recognition (LPR), and other new technologies. These solutions often incorporate video analytics to recognize vehicle type, make, model, and color.

Another driver of Safe City projects in this region is economic growth. Safer cities can attract foreign investment and help diversify oil-dependent economies.

  • Latin America

Security threats are not the primary driver in Latin America; however, crime is a major issue. In many cities, informal settlements (some very large) suffer from above average crime rates.

Natural disasters like earthquakes and landslides kill thousands of people each year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and La Paz, Bolivia, due to a lack of early warning systems.

  • North America

Many Safe City projects in the U.S. use technologies specific to counter-extremism. Larger cities using federal funding for Safe City projects are concerned not only with protecting their own citizens and assets but also with protecting visitors. Smaller U.S. and Canadian cities implementing public safety and law enforcement projects typically forgo high-end technologies. Their primary goals are to decrease organized crime and gang activity and improve response times for emergency and non-emergency services.

  • Europe

The primary driver for Safe City projects in Europe is data sharing between agencies. European cities want to centralize data through a command center, which would then be used as an operations center for various stakeholder agencies. These projects generally do not use the most-advanced technology available but instead focus on integration and connectivity. The need for sharing data is driven by budget and staff cuts, counter-extremism operations, and policing and crowd management improvements.

  • Asia-Pacific

Developed countries, such as Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, are home to mature cities facing vastly different challenges than those in developing countries, such as China, India, and Pakistan.

In developed markets, Safe City projects that follow similar drivers focus on sharing data to improve emergency response and counter-extremism operations.

Urban Security and Safety

Safe Cities represent the future of urban security and safety — a future built on data, connectivity, and interoperability. Cities around the world will continue to adopt smarter solutions to meet the challenges of burgeoning populations and emergency response preparedness.

By Thomas Lynch

Director, Critical Communications, IHS

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