Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. And it is predicted that, as early as 2030, two out of every three people will live in an urban area, as our planet becomes home to 41 mega cities with well over 10 million inhabitants each. This is hardly surprising. Successful cities attract businesses, foster innovation, and provide countless opportunities for their citizens.
As the population shifts and the number of city-dwellers continue to increase, we now have the opportunity to make important decisions about what our cities will be like in the future. With careful planning and foresight, we can begin to lay the groundwork that will ensure the continued success of our cities and our citizens.
While this task may seem as overwhelming as a giant unruly metropolis, it does not have to be. We can start making good decisions simply by understanding the true nature of our cities. And the first step is to recognize that the migration to urban areas is producing new challenges for urban planners, municipal governments, and businesses alike. But, while they may come from different sectors, these stakeholders have many common concerns.
A key concern for every stakeholder in a city is the ability to help citizens live harmoniously in a safe space. After all, when citizens feel secure, they are more likely to engage in city life, which includes supporting businesses and participating in the social structure. Technology can play a major role in making this happen.
Can We Give City-Dwellers What They Want?
It is clear that, as the number of citizens becomes more concentrated in downtown areas, cities have to ensure that they can move around easily and maintain a high quality of life. One of the top reasons people move to a city is for a more efficient lifestyle. We want to live near where we work, shop, and play, and we do not want to spend all of our free-time driving from one place to another.
To address this, cities are expanding and improving sidewalks and walk-ways and creating more green spaces. It is not enough, however, to simply provide more and better thoroughfares; we also have to ensure that these newly created and shared spaces are safe.
As our cities grow, our understanding of safety must extend well beyond police forces using surveillance to fight crime. We must also develop safety initiatives that include (1) economic safety, which relates to the infrastructure that ensures a community’s livelihood, and (2) civil or public safety, which accounts for the integrity of bridges, pedestrian and bike lanes, and intersections.
Unfortunately, more often than not, stakeholders develop their initiatives and strategies within siloes. This means that, while there are many possible approaches to ensuring public safety, the conversations required to realize these solutions do not occur between the necessary stakeholders. When planners and police chiefs are at odds and businesses and citizens are not included in planning or implementation, a city can miss opportunities to enhance the quality of life for its population.
Fortunately, attitudes are changing and cities are now starting to realize the benefit of having disparate stakeholders come together to work collaboratively.
The Advantage of Including More Stakeholders
It used to be that only the major contributors, including large property owners, convention centers, transportation, and entertainment venues were seen as a city’s stakeholders. However, by limiting our understanding of who a city’s stakeholders are, and addressing only their concerns, cities fall short on solving many important safety and security problems and, perhaps more significantly, can fail to address concerns in a meaningful way.
When all stakeholders are brought together to collaborate on planning for the future, they can ensure that efficiency, quality, and safety are taken into consideration. But, on a practical level, how can this work? How can stakeholders come together to maintain and improve the lives of citizens and where does technology fit in?
How to Build a Collaborative Approach
We have seen that one of the most effective strategies for developing successful collaborative approaches to public safety includes three separate groups. These groups bring their own specific expertise to any program and move it forward in different ways.
The first group is the police department. Given their focus and experience on crime reduction and public safety, it just makes sense to include them first. But we cannot stop there. The mayor’s office and other municipal entities must also be included to promote the program. With the ability to communicate effectively as well as the tools and systems for promotion, municipal governments play a vital role in getting the word out. The final group is the business community who have the experience and need to drive the operation. Without the commitment of these three groups, any program will not have mass adoption and will not scale, which is crucial as a city grows.
This collaborative approach also requires establishing a broad base of integrated technology that scales across multiple stakeholders and that can meet a city’s changing needs. One path to integration involves implementing one giant system that would be shared by every stakeholder. However, the cost of procuring, configuring, and maintaining such a system that would meet the needs of each stakeholder is prohibitively expensive. A more cost-effective and sustainable solution is to have individual stakeholders maintain access to their own open platform system with the option to share access with others in the municipality when there are compelling reasons to do so.
Public Safety’s Impact on Quality of Life
A public safety initiative that includes effective collaboration between stakeholders and integrated technology can dramatically improve the quality of life within a city. For example, by connecting together all the surveillance systems in an area, the data collected can be used for a variety of purposes, including investigating crime, understanding why traffic backs up on certain streets at specific times and confirming that a pothole has been fixed.
Security personnel and businesses around the world already use video surveillance to monitor and protect businesses, buildings, infrastructure, and people. Many work under the basic belief that, when it comes to preventing, mitigating, or investigating crime, more and higher quality footage is always better. This means that similar video surveillance systems are being deployed by organizations, including private enterprises and municipal governments, throughout most cities.
These systems are collecting an almost unfathomable amount of data all with the goal of reducing crime. If contributing to crime reduction and prevention was all they did, we would regard these systems as having good ROI and being successful. Increasingly, however, when we encourage stakeholders to break free of their siloed thinking, we see that these systems can, in fact, contribute so much more.
The Role of Video Surveillance
The first step to realizing public safety in our cities is to get ubiquitous coverage by taking advantage of the video systems that large and small businesses already use to monitor activity both inside and outside of their premises. These systems are installed with the single intent of protecting the security of buildings, employees, and patrons. But, as part of a larger integrated system, these same cameras can now drive business by helping to create safer shared spaces. Through collaboration with law enforcement, these cameras can become essential tools for promoting public safety within a community.
For law enforcement, the vast quantity of data collected by these connected private security systems can be an invaluable source of information. With an integrated system, police officers would be able to pull up information that previously was impossible to access, was of poor quality, or simply took too long to get. Having the data readily accessible can make all the difference when responding to a call.
By improving access to information, cities increase the probability of solving a problem while officers are responding. And, if the case needs to be taken up by investigators, they also have access to more information, which can be stored, analyzed, and used more effectively during the judicial process. The end result is greater public safety because the city’s police force is able to operate more efficiently.
Collaboration and Integration on a Large Scale
The benefits of collaboration and integration can also be seen when considering private enterprises, like sports stadiums, whose activities have a major impact on multiple stakeholders within a metropolitan area, including law enforcement, local government, and the transit authority. When it comes to hosting large-scale events, there are many factors to consider to ensure public safety. In addition to making sure that people behave in an orderly manner, it is also important to provide adequate and timely public transportation for the crowds, to control the flow of traffic around the stadium, and to maintain access to hospitals and shopping districts.
By undertaking a collaborative approach to public safety, existing traffic cameras in an area, for example, could continue to be monitored by the municipality on an ongoing basis while law enforcement could watch a separate feed only when events were scheduled at the stadium. This would allow police to monitor approaches to the venue without the need to set up roadblocks and reduce traffic flow in the area.
It would also enable law enforcement to coordinate with local government in the case of an emergency, including helping first responders arrive on the scene in a timely manner. Similarly, the municipal traffic department could work with the transit department and look at feeds from local video cameras to monitor and regulate the flow of traffic and provide easy and efficient access to the venue for public transit vehicles.
Moving Toward Smart Cities
Given the success that a collaborative approach to planning and development can have, it is unfortunate when the conversations around safety are siloed from other discussions about the future of city life. This can lead to missed opportunities and, in the worst cases, potential lapses in security. As we have seen, the goals for creating a city of the future are not in opposition to those for establishing a safe city. Fortunately, stakeholders are increasingly looking to create cities that use technology to improve efficiency and security in order to provide urbanites with better lives.
One way cities can achieve this is to embed sensors in their infrastructure that collect and share data. Ideally, these sensors would able to detect unnatural patterns, provide meaningful output, and support smart decision-making based on the data they are collecting. Stakeholders can then use this data to make informed decisions about all manner of issues or concerns, including increased efficiency and security.
These so-called Smart Cities will deploy technology to make life decidedly less frustrating, more vibrant, more transparent and accountable, and more efficient. At its core, a Smart City will be an urban space that uses a variety of technologies to pay attention to the needs of its citizens and is able to adapt to those needs based on clear data.
Ultimately, safety and security are not bound by a single discipline or stakeholder. We are at our best when we come out of our silos and work together on a broad base of integrated technology. Through collaboration and integration, we can put the systems, platforms, and programs in place now to ensure the efficiency and security of our cities in the future. As more of us move into urban areas, we will, in effect, be providing better living and working spaces for an ever-increasing percentage of the earth’s population.
About the Author: Bob Carter, Business Development Manager, Genetec Inc.