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The Road to Collaborative Public Safety

Digital Economy or Digital Disruption?

We are already in the age of digital economy. Leveraging technologies, people are connecting to people directly (even things to things directly), facilitating crowd-sourcing, increasing efficiencies of traditional processes, and even creating new business models such as Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba, Facebook, WeChat, and many others. While these successful new business models are celebrating the Digital Economy, traditional companies, from taxi to hotel to telco, see this as Digital Disruption. Industries which are not already transforming themselves will soon be disrupted by this Digital Economy.

Unfortunately, the bad guys are also transforming themselves; maximizing the return on their evil doings through the use of technologies driving this Digital Economy: Social, Mobile, Cloud, and Big Data! We see some extremist groups using such technologies aggressively to radicalize people faraway online, to recruit armed men, to seek finance, and even to collect intelligence. These groups are the Digital Economy disruptors of the old extremism school.

Likewise, people with ill intent are organizing public security threats through the use of technology. Social media is a scary means of spreading rumors, and together with the pervasiveness of mobile devices, it is very easy to organize a flash mob. Thousands of people with group psychology kicking in can turn a peaceful movement to a vicious event quickly, resulting in injuries and even deaths. During the 2011 England security incidents, there was even a mobile App, Sukey, with the specific goal of frustrating police operations against the rioters.

A daily concern to all is physical crime, ranging from homicide to robbery to burglary to theft to many other street crimes. Increasingly crimes are being facilitated through digital technologies too. In 2014, about 42% of vehicles stolen in London were not by traditional brute force, but through digital hacking! Singapore saw in 2015 a decrease in traditional crimes; but there was a surge of online scams, resulting in a 4% rise in overall crime! Such a trend is not unique, particularly among developed countries.

The use of digital technologies is also giving rise to many cases of cyber attacks, especially that against critical infrastructure globally; such as the Gundremmingen nuclear power plant in Germany that was infected with computer viruses.

From acts of extremism to public security threats to physical crimes to cyber attacks, the bad guys are leveraging the Digital Economy. These are not the usual form of cyber-crime such as web defacement and theft of information, they are cyber-facilitated extremism and organized crime. As witnessed in the changing face of crime in safe cities such as Singapore, the sense of safety fostered by conventional policing for street crimes is being disrupted; more needs to be done to fight such cyber-facilitated extremism and crime. Even public safety agencies have to catch up with the Digital Economy, and avoid being at the receiving end of disruptors.

At the 13th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked that, “Like never before, terrorists and criminals around the world are coming together and feeding off each other. They are funding terror through criminal networks and growing rich through the suffering of entire populations.”

This is why we need to form a network of good guys to fight the network of bad guys. At the same time, the good guys also have to work together to deal with accidents and natural disasters. While not all accidents can be avoided, more can be done in regulatory control, enforcement and cross agency coordination. Similarly, for natural disasters, efforts can be increased to identify threats, detect and provide early warning, thereby reducing the impact, and aiding the recovery process.

The Digital Economy is also changing people’s behavior. The “Selfie” generation is likely to Tweet, Facebook, or WeChat a photograph of an accident or crime before he or she calls the emergency number. But such behavior is not exactly bad; it provided the authority with loads of valuable photographs and videos during the Boston Marathon in 2013, a great example of “It Takes a Network to Fight a Network” which will be elaborated later.

The Road to Collaborative Public Safety

Safe City

Be it against conventional threats or that arising from digital technologies, Safe City implementation remains critical globally. According to IHS Technology, video surveillance, Long-Term Evolution (LTE), and command and control solutions are the backbone of a Safe City. IHS estimated the Safe City market was worth $5.6 billion in 2015, and reaching $8.5 billion by 2019. The three key aims of Safe City are:

  • To implement reliable and all-coverage security measures to detect threats and situations as they emerge.
  • Aid public safety organizations in collecting, sharing and analyzing data more effectively to provide a common operational picture and raising situational awareness.
  • Enable key entities of a city to identify and act in real-time to security threats of any scale.

With more than 100 Safe City implementations in more than 30 countries serving more than 400 million people, Huawei’s Safe City solutions were well proven globally. Communication with real-time video in this day and age is imperative to public safety. Huawei provides such trunking capability, from backend networking to devices supporting LTE, both public (LiTRA) and private (eLTE). The devices, ranging from handsets to in-vehicle terminals, supports voice, data, and video. There is even the eLTE Rapid System, which integrates various components into a compact chassis ideal for rapid deployment in the field where limited coverage area is sufficient, especially at a disaster site after the main infrastructure has been crippled.

At the heart of Huawei’s Safe City solutions is the Integrated Communications Platform. A major challenge to inter-agency collaboration is the use of different technologies, networks, and devices. This platform supports interoperability of eLTE, and legacy TETRA and P25 devices. It can even connect to conventional telephone network and cellular network. In line with a visualized command center, this platform accepts video from multiple sources. It is also ready for the Digital Economy accepting data from the Internet of Things (IoT) and Social networking. Such voice, video, and data can then be routed to any groups of users/devices through SDN (Software-Defined Networking). This feature is critical because public safety agencies and officers form ad-hoc groups based on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to tackle different scenarios. The Integrated Communication Platform can also be integrated with the Telepresence & Video Conferencing technology, supporting video conference between commander, specialists, and even frontline officers.

Another crucial component of Huawei’s Safe City solutions is the Intelligent Video Surveillance, comprising Video Content Management, and Video Storage Cloud. This component can ingest video from many sources including those from Social networking. Scene search allows one to search, for example, a white van. Video synopsis helps to ‘summarize’ many hours of video into crucial clips for human investigation. In a major crime, 3,500 hours of video were collected and video synopsis ‘summarized’ these to just 50 hours, allowing for a quick solving of the case. The Video Content Management also comes with more than 20 intelligent analytics including entity recognition, behavior, crowd counting, and virtual tripwires. The tiered Video Cloud Storage provides cost-efficient archival of video footages, at both remote sites and centralized location. Huawei offers high definition IP Cameras that come with their own power supply too.

Existing Safe City implementations can be enhanced with various technologies such as Sensor-based Early Warning, Social Monitoring, Public Warning, and Smart Deployment. Sensors, or IoT, including buoys to detect Tsunami, CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear), and radar/electro-optics for border surveillance. Most Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Sina Weibo, allow third parties to connect directly for viewing non-private social postings. Alternatively, Social networks aggregators, such as Rola Security Solutions, SAP Social, Sysomos, and Xalted, aggregate data from across Social networking sites. As mentioned earlier, Huawei’s Integrated Communication Platform can ingest data from IoT and Social.

Examples of Public Warning include the island-wide public warning siren in Singapore, and the Japan’s earthquake warning through their cellular networks. Traditionally, fire engines and ambulances are dispatched from stations. Some emergency services are now experimenting with Big Data to predict where and when their services are needed, and deploy their resources accordingly. Such Smart Deployment ensures that first responders arrive at the scene of incident in the shortest time. With the same objective for fast response, the Argentina Federal Police adopts ‘blue force tracking’ in Buenos Aires: police officers on foot patrol and police vehicles are tracked through GPS to ensure they uniformly patrol the city as planned. Such Smart Deployment allows a good police presence to deter crimes, to improve police-community relationship, and to respond to incidents in the shortest possible time.

The Road to Collaborative Public Safety 02

Public Safety

Conventional threats to public safety, from street crimes to extremism to accidents to disasters, will always be a challenge to all cities. While a Safe City implementation is a core capability of modern policing and emergency services, it currently mainly covers detection, sense-making to response. These alone may not be sufficient to secure a sense of public safety. Also, as explained earlier, the Digital Economy is giving rise to cyber-facilitated extremism and organized crime that may not be adequately countered by a Safe City implementation.

Public Safety is more than current Safe City. It is about Preventing, and Solving crimes, Reducing loss of life and property. Public Safety is also about minimizing disruption to life. Public Safety is beyond detection and response; it includes prevention and bringing life to normalcy. It encompasses digital security, health security, infrastructure safety, and personal safety. Indeed, on personal safety, when the then British Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel established the London Metropolitan Police in 1829, he said “the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

Sir Robert Peel also said, “the police are the public and that the public are the police.” Unfortunately, this principle has not been diligently adopted by many police departments around the world for the last 180 years. In light of the Digital Economy, this principle is now even more crucial, or else law enforcement agencies risk bring disrupted as explained earlier. We need to evolve from Safe Cities to Collaborative Public Safety.

It Takes a Network to Fight a Network

To achieve Collaborative Public Safety, we need to consider the four pillars behind the Network of good guys:

  • Inter-Agency Collaboration. Extremism, criminals, and even pandemics strike across boundaries and sovereign borders. All public safety agencies in a country, and across countries, have to collaborate to fight such threats. Collaboration includes sharing of information and best practices, interoperability of communication methods, and coordinated joint actions.
  • Public-Private Partnership. Public safety agencies have to partner the community, businesses, non-profit organizations, and academia to prevent, detect, respond, and recover from threats. The bad guys are networking and collaborating, so must the good guys!
  • Partners Ecosystem. Cyber-facilitated threats in this age of Digital Economy are very much fueled by technologies. Likewise, an ecosystem of technologies is needed to enable the collaboration and partnership mentioned above.
  • Leading New ICT. Technological solutions need to run on a secured and robust platform, supporting data, voice, video, and even IoT. With its globally proven information, communication, and networking technologies, Huawei’s Leading New ICT is the fourth pillar behind this Network of good guys.

Currently, Safe City implementation remains the foundation for a good Public Safety execution. Even while basic elements of a Safe City are being implemented, it is imperative for governments to start working towards Collaborative Public Safety.

Prevention is better than cure. As articulated by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, the absence of crime and disorder is the real test for police efficiency. One cannot prevent if one cannot even identify the threats. Predictive policing, or PredPol, involves analysis of data to predict the next crime, with the objective of preventing it. With potential threats identified, governments have to enact regulations, require licensing, and carry our enforcements. For example, the US Department of Transportation has to manage more than 300,000 companies that ship more than one million daily shipments of HAZMAT (hazardous materials). The Department uses a unified risk-based data-driven approach to identify and target high-risk companies, and improve safety through risk-based enforcement and prioritizing inspection activities.

Other forms of licensing and enforcement include fire safety inspection, building code, alcohol control, traffic enforcement, etc. Even Border Protection is a form of licensing and enforcement to prevent threats. Border Protection includes visa application & screening, passenger & cargo risk management (e.g. US Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Targeting System), and entry/exit systems.

Despite best efforts, some threats just cannot be prevented. This is why simulations and forecasts are needed to reduce the loss of life and property. After the 2004 Asian Tsunami, the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) helped the Thai Government to build a National Disaster Warning Center using PDC’s DisasterAWARE solution that simulates and forecasts disasters by analyzing data including those from IoT.

Threats when actualized will lead to the Detection and Response phases (Safe City), which were described in the previous section of this paper. In line with the full definition of Public Safety, governments are expected to minimize the disruption to life. This is when we enter the Recovery phase.

During this phase, investigation and evidence collection are crucial for the following purposes:

  • To locate victims and identify remains if there are fatalities
  • To identify the responsible party and ensure justice is served
  • To learn from the threat, and to prevent its repeat occurrence

It is unfortunate that even within the investigation function, there are different specialists in a single law enforcement agency. This has often resulted in different stove-piped systems, creating inconvenience to the victims, witnesses, and even law enforcement officers. Finland Police is implementing the VITJA project to address such issues.

The Fort McMurray wildfire in Canada in May 2016 was massive. More than 88,000 people were displaced from their homes. While the fire itself was a major incident; the poor management of survivors can lead to another major event, including epidemics due to poor water and food supplies, and sanitation, and looting as had happened after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Usually neglected, a good Public Safety program needs to include assistance for survivors.

Similarly, a victim identification system is needed to identify those who are injured and their whereabouts, as well as those who have died. Families and friends of victims may pose a secondary public safety problem if they do not receive timely information about their loved ones.

As part of the investigation process, a criminal intelligence system is needed to establish links between people, objects, locations, and events, and to narrow down the suspects. With the investigation completed, an inquiry or court hearing is needed to close the loop. Rehabilitation, including punishment and imprisonment, aims to prevent the occurrence of such threats. The lessons learnt provide inputs back to the Prevention phase.

Collaborative Public Safety requires processes and technologies for Social Engagement, Crowd Sourcing and Public Communication. An interesting example is the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) myResponder. People trained in CardioPulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) can register as volunteers and use the myResponder mobile App. When there is an incident of heart attack, the SCDF control room will dispatch an ambulance, and at the same time send a message to those myResponder volunteers in the vicinity. The App will also inform the volunteers of the nearest Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Several lives have already been saved through such ‘crowd-dispatch’.

Another example is in the City of Qiqihar in China. With a population of 5.4 million, the 5,000 private taxis are equipped with cameras that can transmit video real-time through eLTE wireless network. In the event of an incident or crime, the police control room can access such video real-time from taxis in the vicinity. This collaboration has already helped solve a number of crimes.

The Road to Collaborative Public Safety

Policing Cloud and Big Data

While the backbone of a Safe City comprises video surveillance, LTE, and command and control solutions, the backbone of the wider Collaborative Public Safety is the tens, if not hundreds, of vertical applications enabling Prevention, Detection, Response, Recovery, and even Social Engagement.

Unfortunately, these vertical applications usually fall under the purview of different departments; resulting in separate stand-alone implementations with no sharing of information; going against the principle of inter-agency collaboration. Furthermore, individual implementation requires separate infrastructure, from the network to storage to server to database to middleware to device. This is clearly a waste of resources.

Therefore, governments need a roadmap for the rolling out of the different vertical applications on a common scalable Policing Cloud platform, usually private due to security requirements of public safety. Such common platform running different applications not only can better facilitate information sharing, but also dynamically allocate the appropriate computing power to different applications. For example, after a disaster, the victim identification system can be allocated more computing power since thousands of people will be using this system to check on their loved ones.

To ensure more choices of Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) for the different vertical applications, the cloud platform has to be based on open standards and even open source; the best option now being OpenStack. Huawei is a major adopter, supporter and contributor to OpenStack. In fact, by late 2015, Huawei was in the 6th position in code contribution.

Big Data and Analytics are crucial to enable many of the functions needed under Collaborative Public Safety. Examples include Threats Identification, Predictive Policing, Border Protection, Simulation & Forecast, Sensor-based Early Warning, Social Monitoring, Smart Deployment, and Criminal Intelligence.

The Road to Collaborative Public Safety

Whole-of-Government Command Center

The Collaborative Public Safety concept is applicable to all manner and scale of threats. However, Command and Control is usually exercised by agencies at the tactical level. This is why police, fire, ambulance, military, border control, etc. usually have their own Command & Control centers. Through communication and collaboration, these separate centers can usually work together to achieve their common mission in upholding public safety.

However, during major incidents, there will be a need for a Whole-of-Government Command Center at the national level, which is also a great platform for intelligence fusion and analysis. For a big country, each state, province, or even major city may have such center. During times of normalcy, such centers can be manned by a small team of officers. During a major incident, the Head of State or City will be there to exercise whole-of-government command. Usually the heads of the relevant major government agencies will be there too. Such a center will need to be connected to all the major departmental Command & Control centers.

Another issue is the cyberspace domain, as opposed to the physical realm. Traditionally, government departments have their own Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) and/or Security Information & Event Management (SIEM) centers. But with increasing complexity and scale of cyber-facilitated extremism/crime described above, countries have started to invest in National Cyber Security Operations Center (NCSOC).

NCSOC usually receives data from all these CERT/SEIM centers. The objective is for a country to detect a major attack/threat against any industry by analyzing all these streams of data via Big Data-based Network Behavior Anomaly Detection (NBAD). Examples include Israel’s Cyber Security Bureau and U.S.’s Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center. It is possible for NCSOC to be independent or part of the Whole-of-Government Command Center.

The Road to Collaborative Public Safety


The good guys have to embrace the Digital Economy and form a Network to fight against the Network of bad guys, who are already leveraging the technologies behind Digital Economy: Social, Mobile, Cloud, and Big Data. This is the spirit behind Collaborative Public Safety, involving inter-agency collaboration and public-private partnership. A Safe City implementation remains critical and it is usually implemented before the other capabilities of Collaborative Public Safety.

While Safe City has a backbone of video surveillance, LTE, and command and control solutions, Collaborate Public Safety, in respect of technology, requires an OpenStack based Policing Cloud platform to support the many vertical applications that will be rolled out over time. Many of such applications require the use of Big Data and Analytics. The apex of Collaborate Public Safety is the Whole-of-Government Command Center, which may include a NCSOC to oversee the security of the cyberspace.

By Khoo Boon Hui and Koh Hong Eng

Past President of INTERPOL and Retired Commissioner of Singapore Police/Global Chief Public Safety Expert, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.

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