Making 'Smart Cities' safer

Wed, 2015-06-17 14:41 -- SCC India Staff

The foundation of any smart city is the safety of its citizens and resources. Components of a smart city can only work in tandem if its social and physical infrastructure is safeguarded from any threats, be it personal or natural.

Imagine a city that operates so efficiently that it improves the quality of life of its citizens, who then work in parallel to boost the local economy. A city that is made up of a smart economy, smart environmental practices, smart governance, smart living, smart mobility and smart people. A city that gives its citizens access to civic amenities like security, healthcare, transport and cost-effective power supply in real time. Imagine a city so smart that it can enable sustainable development. Seems like a dream, doesn’t it?

While the idea of a smart city may have been a dream in India a few years ago, today they are a possibility due to resource enhancement, government awareness and active citizen participation. Various city projects are being planned and some are even underway to offer better quality of life in urban environments.

But the foundation of any smart city is the ‘safety’ of its citizens and resources. Components of a smart city can only work in tandem if its social and physical infrastructure is safeguarded from any threats, be it personal or natural. As cities expand and populations grow, they lead to anonymity and prevalence of high threat targets, presenting anti-social groups with several opportunities. Therefore new infrastructure is required not only to support the growing population, but also to manage the increased pressure they add to the city’s natural resources. The 26/11 terror attack and 2005 mega floods in Mumbai highlighted some key loopholes in the security and safety infrastructure of the city.

Thus there is stringent need for emergency services, law enforcers, corporations and individuals alike to cooperate and address the ever-growing need for security and safety. Further, intelligent management integrated with information and communication technology (ICT) and active citizen participation can also drive the creation of smart and safe cities.

Smart cities can enhance public security by deploying networked security systems across several entities, to optimise the necessary response from detection to action. Vast communication and sensor networks across cities, enable law enforcement and other government agencies related to citizen safety to gather greater quantities of data; interpret them and react effectively. Greater interoperability allows technologies and networks to be linked and advanced analytics provides departments with the data they need to make effective decisions on time. This is driving change in the way major cities across the world evaluate their security requirements.

Further, natural disasters are a major threat to safety and first response is critical to the success of smart and safe cities. With cities being susceptible to natural disasters, advanced information and communication systems must be deployed in order to minimise casualties and economic loss. Ultimately, all public safety systems – including human operators, technologies and organisations – have to work seamlessly together for a smart, safer city to function well.

Among NEC’s prominent safe city initiatives, is the first Safe City Test Bed initiative in Singapore. The year-long Safe City Test Bed has successfully tested innovative solutions and developed patent-pending technologies. These include highly accurate facial recognition video analytics, a media analytics platform, cross-site monitoring capabilities, authentication and digital signatures for video streams, as well as a pervasive display network.

Surely, technology alone does not solve problems. Leadership, foresight and political will are some of the other key attributes that contribute to a safe city. As technology advances, citizens too have to be comfortable with the privacy issues involved in data being collected, shared and processed by the relevant authorities. Ultimately, governments and city authorities will have to evolve in their planning and decision-making, as cities become bigger. With the right innovation tools, city planners can build capacity and translate all the information coming through their feeds into action.

Substantial investments made in human and social capital along with technology (communication infrastructure) will further fuel sustainable economic development and increase the quality of life. This combined with an active participatory governance will hence make a city – smarter and safe.

This article has been  authored by Andrew Chi, Head, Public Safety Solutions, NEC India.