Smart Cities: Betting the Future of Public Safety in the Cloud

The world’s urban population is predicted to grow by 1.56 billion between 2020 and 2040.

With so many cities containing so many people, public safety is becoming a significant challenge. But alongside this rapid urbanisation is the development of new digital technologies that can help keep these communities safer and more secure. These innovations can monitor public places and infrastructure, provide insights into the data that’s collected, and will allow smart cities to enhance citizens’ experiences.  

The foundations of these cities are 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) / cloud. There is no doubt that to ensure the success of the smart city of the future, the mobile network will need to be fast enough and stable enough to handle a vast amount of data. Similarly, as AI continues to develop it will be critical to enable data and insights collected through IoT networks to be monitored, analysed and acted upon in real time. However, the focus of this article will be specifically on IoT and the cloud, and the role it plays in public safety systems.

Whilst smart cities are advancing in many areas, for citizen safety and security, achieving the real-time situational awareness and cross agency collaboration needed is yet to be achieved. To combat crime, counter potential terrorist strikes, and create safer environments for people, smart cities need to deploy innovative technologies that make it easier to prevent and respond to incidents faster and in a more coordinated way.  

But if smart city initiatives fail to implement newer technologies to support this approach, and instead continue to focus on ‘physical security’, they risk undermining the whole ethos of what it is to be a truly smart city.

The building blocks of success

It’s important that all actions taken to digitally transform the safety ecosystems of a city are cost-effective and are suitable for the needs of the future. The problem is that many traditional on-premises technologies, like video surveillance and management systems, are restricting how quickly and easily smart cities can achieve these public safety goals.

These physical technologies lack the intelligent connectivity, interoperability and integration interfaces that smart cities need to gather and share insights. Without the adoption of digital technologies, it’s near-impossible to leverage data from the web of interconnected devices in order to monitor events in real time, enhance cross agency collaboration and provide a rapid emergency response where necessary. Analysing patterns of vehicle movements to address congestion issues could also be challenging, as would the ability to build real-time crime maps and deploy data analytics which enable predictive policing and more effective crowd management to help increase public safety.

Cloud-based systems and tools can overcome this, however, as they deliver all the interoperability, scalability and automation that’s required. 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. They can take advantage of intelligent functionality and data utilisation as well as sustainably extending public safety capabilities and utilising the latest technologies – with minimal infrastructure investment.

Moving to the cloud delivers all the compute, data storage and networking redundancy that smart cities need to advance and support 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: video surveillance in action 

A megacity with a population of 8.9 million – and counting – Mexico City has set the bar with its cloud-based security initiative. To reduce crime, over the past three years, the city has installed 58,000 new video surveillance cameras on public transport and in neighbourhoods throughout the city, which are connected to the City’s C5 (Command, Control, Computers, Communications and Citizen Contact) facility.

With over twice the population of Los Angeles, the Mexico City Safe City initiative is an example of how to successfully introduce a networked cloud-based surveillance system at this scale. Its high capacity solution enables citizens or professional security officers to quickly upload videos of crime via a mobile app or summon help from emergency services. It can also easily integrate fixed, body-worn and vehicle cameras in a single interface to provide unprecedented insight into the city’s operations. 

In the future, the cloud-based platform can be 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’s Safe City initiative has had huge success in the seven years since it was introduced – crime rates have fallen by 56%, car theft is down by 58%, average incident response times have reduced from 12 minutes to 2 minutes, and insurance premiums are 30% lower.

How the cloud can take safety to the next level 

Migrating to cloud-based systems helps smart cities to leave behind their dependence on fibre-optic connectivity. There are a wealth of Internet and wireless connectivity choices available today, and cities are able to reduce their infrastructure costs as a result.

For smart cities to achieve the scalability and future-proofed capacity that they need to be effective, system designers must invest in the right technology foundations for the future. This includes selecting a true cloud application, rather than a client-server system hosted in the cloud, that can support cloud-managed local devices and incorporate automation into their management. This should include handling systemwide firmware updates and certificate issuance.

It’s beneficial for the cloud-based platform to be able to be expanded in various ways over time to support additional intelligent functionality. To do this successfully, an open system architecture will be critical for smart cities to enhance their operations and deliver additional value-add services to citizens.

For example, in Europe there are smart cities that have adopted open cloud platforms that have improved how citizens can find and pay for parking by phone in downtown zones – and use these spaces easily via License Plate Recognition enabled through a network of smart video devices.

Driving forward into a smarter future 

City authorities have to ensure that their cities are safe both now and in the future. Cloud platforms and IoT connected devices provide in-depth insights that officials can use to make smarter decisions. In doing so, solutions can be more cost-effective in the long term and can reduce complexities that risk limiting the roll-out of new technologies.

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 – all of it can help smart cities to make a positive impact on the future for citizens.

About the Author

Rishi Lodhia is Managing Director EMEA at Eagle Eye Networks. Eagle Eye Networks is the #1 provider of on-demand, true cloud based security and operations video management system (VMS) worldwide. Eagle Eye utilizes artificial intelligence to provide a simply smarter platform, purpose-built to help businesses improve safety, security, operations, and reduce costs

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