The future of public safety: why smart cities need to look to the cloud

Public safety represents a growing challenge for cities around the globe.

As urban populations grow, smart cities are leveraging new digital technologies to monitor and optimise water and energy consumption, enhance citizen access to services, create effective transportation infrastructures and deliver the city-wide connectivity that citizens and businesses need.


The building blocks of smart cities are 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) /cloud. There is no doubt that to carry the weight of the smart city of the future, the mobile network will need to be fast, responsive and stable to handle a vast amount of data. Similarly, the growing capabilities of AI will be critical to enable data and insights collected through IoT networks to be monitored, analysed and acted upon in real time. However, I want to focus on IoT and the cloud, and its role in the public safety systems.

The building blocks of smart cities are 5G, AI and IoT/cloud

Whilst smart cities are making great strides in many areas, when it comes to citizen safety and security, achieving the real-time situational awareness and cross agency collaboration needed is still some way off. To combat crime, counter potential terrorist strikes, and create safer environments for people, smart cities need to deploy cutting-edge technologies that make it easier to prevent and respond to incidents faster and in a more coordinated way.


However, if smart city initiatives adopt the traditional ‘physical security’ approach to this, they risk undermining the whole ethos of what it is to be a truly smart city.


Laying the foundations for success


The digital transformation of the wider public safety ecosystem needs to be undertaken in the most cost effective and futureproofed way possible. The problem is that many traditional on-premises technologies, like video surveillance and management systems, are constraining how quickly and easily smart cities can achieve these public safety goals.

This is because these physical technologies lack the intelligent connectivity, interoperability and integration interfaces that smart cities need. Without the adoption of digital technologies, smart cities will struggle to leverage data from the web of interconnected devices in order to monitor events in real time, enhance cross agency collaboration and ensure a super-quick emergency response. Analysing patterns of vehicle movements to address congestion issues could also be compromised, as would the ability to build real-time crime maps and deploy data analytics which make predictive policing and more effective crowd management possible.

Many traditional on-premises technologies are constraining how quickly and easily smart cities can achieve public safety

However, today’s cloud-based systems and tools deliver all the interoperability, simple scalability and automation that’s needed to overcome these challenges. This makes it possible for smart cities to leverage their networks and establish a truly open systems architecture that facilitates interoperation with both local and other remote open systems. It can take advantage of intelligent functionality and data utilisation as well as sustainably extending its public safety capabilities and utilising the latest technologies – with minimal infrastructure investment.


Not only does a move to the cloud deliver all the compute, data storage and networking redundancy that smart cities need to evolve and bolster their emergency response capabilities, it also accelerates the creation of new secure and connected experiences that will benefit citizens and public safety decision makers alike.


Mexico City: a modern day success story


One of the world’s most vibrant megacities, Mexico City’s cloud-based security initiative has already generated some significant gains. To tackle crime, over the past three years the city has installed 58,000 new video surveillance cameras on public transport and in neighbourhoods across the city, which are connected to the City’s C5 (Command, Control, Computers, Communications and Citizen Contact) facility.


With a population of two million more citizens than New York City, the Mexico City Safe City initiative is a shining example of how a networked cloud-based surveillance system at this scale can be made a reality. The high-capacity solution enables citizens or professional security officers to quickly upload videos via a mobile app or summon help, and can easily integrate fixed, body-worn and vehicle cameras in a single interface to provide unprecedented insight into the City’s operations.


For the future, the cloud-based platform will be further extended with new functionality to enable additional public safety and security services including license plate reading, behavioural analysis software, video analytics and face recognition software.

Mexico City is a shining example of how a networked cloud-based surveillance system can be made a reality

Seven years on since the City’s authorities first launched its Safe City initiative, crime rates have fallen by 56 per cent, car theft is down by 58 per cent, average incident response times have reduced from 12 minutes to two minutes, and insurance premiums are 30 per cent lower.


Taking public safety to the cloud – adopting the right approach


Making the shift to cloud-based systems enables smart cities to eliminate dependence on fibre-optic connectivity and take advantage of a variety of internet and wireless connectivity options that can significantly reduce application and communication infrastructure costs.


To achieve the scalability and future-proofed capacity that smart cities need, system designers will need to ensure they select the right technology foundation for the future. That means selecting a true cloud application, rather than a client-server system hosted in the cloud, that can support cloud-managed local devices and automate their management. This should include handling systemwide firmware updates and certificate issuance.


To ensure the cloud-based platform can be expanded in new ways to support additional intelligent functionality, an open system architecture will be critical if smart cities hope to enhance their operations and deliver additional value-add services to citizens.


For example, citizens across Europe are now benefiting from smart cities that have adopted open cloud platforms that make it easy for them to find and pay for parking by phone in downtown zones of selected cities – and easily access these spaces via License Plate Recognition enabled through a network of smart video devices.


Accelerating into a smarter future


Today’s cloud platforms, IoT connected devices and increasingly fast connectivity speeds are providing the insights and new capabilities that city authorities need to create safer cities. Today’s cloud-ready solutions can help eliminate the cost and complexity that can impede the rapid introduction of new digital innovations or smart policing approaches. Whether that’s gunshot detection or enabling the sharing of video infrastructure and data across multiple agencies and departments in real time.


To succeed, smart cities need to ensure their digital public safety infrastructure can pay dividends for decades to come and provides a platform to more effectively engage with citizens to improve the quality of everyone’s lives.


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