Technology-Enabled Collaboration Builds Safe Cities

Better management of more information can enhance the protection of people and property

Itai Elata, Verint Systems

Worldwide, the population is exploding, with experts projecting that it may exceed 10 billion by the year 2050. Included in this growth is a move from suburban to urban areas, filling cities to the limit and forcing municipalities to invest in ways to boost efficiency and improve the quality of life for residents.

In the United States alone, it is expected that 90 percent of people will live in cities by the middle of the century. With large and complex infrastructures serving millions of people, today’s municipalities are vulnerable to threats driven by overcrowding, criminal activity and natural disasters.

As a result, there is a growing trend toward deploying citywide public safety and security solutions to better protect people, property and assets.

According to a 2012 Homeland Security Research Corporation report, annual investments in homeland security and public safety products and services increased from $48 billion in 2011 to $51 billion in 2012, and they are projected to grow to $81 billion by 2020. The question becomes how should municipal agencies work together to best use technology to effectively and efficiently address the enormous security challenges they are facing?

Not only are cities growing, but information gathering has expanded as well. Municipal governments and agencies have more data than ever before, and it is critical that cities leverage technology systems that help users distill the most timely and relevant information from “big data.” The actionable intelligence that such solutions provide positions these organizations for more informed and effective decision making.

Collaborating for a Safe City

Many municipalities are taking a “safe city” approach to secure assets, prevent disorder and enhance the safety of citizens and visitors. The safe city concept integrates security-relevant information from various sources, such as video surveillance, sophisticated analytics, citizen reporting platforms and even social media, on a consolidated IT platform to provide full situational awareness to key stakeholders, including law enforcement, public safety and intelligence agencies.

Taking a comprehensive approach to city security, collaboration between government agencies, corporate enterprises and citizens is central to the success of a safe city project.

What technologies are enabling the level of collaboration required to effectively protect a city’s people and assets? At the core, IP technology has become the solution of choice for rapidly growing cities. More than just a replacement for analog video systems, intelligent IP surveillance solutions enable organizations to leverage data from a wide variety of communications, video and data sources to enhance security and prevent criminal activity. IP technology also drives collaboration. When law enforcement agencies, public safety officials and private entities take an integrated approach, they are able to share information in real time across various platforms. This approach enables officials to address incidents and emergencies immediately, instead of waiting for updates from other departments.

Data Collection from Multiple Sources

With innumerable strategically located sensors, such as video cameras, access control devices, citizen reporting platforms, video analytics and weather detection equipment, cities can collect and analyze information faster and manage and respond to situations more efficiently, often before an emergency escalates.

The additional information that municipalities have – from crowdsourcing applications, video analytics and social media – can be used to streamline investigations, improve the protection of critical assets, prevent disorder and optimize business efficiencies.

Timely and accurate sharing of all of this information is vital during disasters and emergencies. It can make the difference between a successful response and a failed one.

Today’s social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, have changed the way the world communicates, making individuals important news sources. While social media can improve communication, it is only helpful in an emergency situation if it is properly coordinated and deployed. City officials must cooperate with private institutions and individual citizens to leverage social media networks in a positive way during a crisis.

Making Sense of All of the Information

With all of this information available from different sources, municipal agencies need a quick and easy way to share and analyze data to improve response times and keep citizens safe. Time is of the essence in emergency situations, so finding a way to weed through the abundance of information and pinpoint useful intelligence in real time is imperative. To accurately assess risk and identify threats to the public, municipalities need information management systems that can leverage the available material quickly.

Comprehensive technology solutions, such as video management software, surveillance analytics, physical security information management (PSIM) platforms, and audio recording and analytics solutions allow safe cities to integrate critical data from disparate sources to provide officials with a holistic view of their city and create more complete situational awareness during natural disasters, terrorist attacks and large events. For example, cities now have the ability to track a suspect from a stadium to a subway station, onto the train and to a park across town. In some cities, officials may even be able to gain access to video from private surveillance networks, such as retail and corporate facilities or even residential properties. This type of integration allows officials to respond to events as they unfold, no matter where they occur.

Surveillance Analytics

With access to so much security video and data, municipalities can benefit from utilizing surveillance analytics solutions that generate actionable intelligence for faster, more effective responses. Integrated analytic applications can automatically pinpoint potential breaches, disorder and significant events, and can send alerts, whether from video sources or other sensors, to the appropriate people, departments and agencies. With this intelligent software, city officials can, for example, detect suspicious vehicles causing traffic obstacles or entering restricted areas, monitor crowds, and identify suspicious objects. Designed to address the specific safety and security requirements of towns and cities, surveillance analytics provide the information needed to deter and manage potential threats.

Situation Intelligence

Today’s PSIM solutions generate situational awareness from a variety of security, safety and facility management systems, including access control, intrusion, radar, border control and HVAC systems, as well as various other communications systems and public and private databases. PSIM solutions enable operators situated in different locations to share and analyze information to identify and respond to situations quickly and effectively. Facilitating system management across multiple agencies, PSIM solutions boost collaboration across the municipality and enhance situational awareness for faster emergency response. Together, municipal organizations can analyze the data gathered to address emerging security needs, enable regulatory compliance and enhance overall security operations.

Audio Recording and Analytics

Advanced digital multimedia recording, retrieval and quality assurance solutions can also play a key role in ensuring public safety by enhancing the performance of emergency personnel and control room operations. Using these audio recording and analytics solutions, city officials can capture audio, video, text, telematics, maps and other data across a range of communications channels for improved performance, incident reconstruction, liability management and enhanced overall safety.

The combination of these advanced solutions simplifies management of enterprise systems and significantly improves situational awareness, emergency management and operational efficiency. Better still, citizens moving into municipal areas feel safer, encouraging new growth throughout the city.

Cybersecurity a Priority

The growth in information technology across all sectors of society has presented a new challenge for homeland security. In fact, there are estimates that the average American is exposed to three times more information every day than in the 1980s. The shift toward social media as the primary mode of communication has resulted in new security challenges that can be difficult to manage. City officials must embrace new solutions to address a range of cyber threats, the most common of which is hacking. What makes this even more difficult is that these threats can come from large organizations or individuals on private networks at home.

Law enforcement and government agencies can use cyber intelligence solutions to intercept, monitor and analyze communications to uncover leads and neutralize terrorism and crime. These agencies can also share intercepted communications and intelligence with others in a collaborative effort to connect the dots in national and global investigations.

Another significant challenge that local agencies face is determining how to securely manage the vast amounts of data being shared across complex communications networks to effectively detect, investigate and neutralize criminal and terrorist threats. Designed to quickly make sense of complex scenarios, communications and cyber intelligence solutions readily handle vast amounts of data from a wide variety of sources and provide the tools needed to integrate and analyze information from multiple sources. More efficient collaboration between various agencies generates better evidence and enables more efficient and productive investigations.

Collaborating to Protect People, Property and Assets

Comprehensive technology solutions, such as IP-based surveillance systems, video management software, intelligent analytics and PSIM software, combined with more advanced mobile video surveillance solutions will provide city officials with easier and more timely access to surveillance video and will help link data from disparate sources to create the most comprehensive picture of an event.

The end result is greater situational awareness and better protection of citizens. By integrating surveillance, sophisticated data collection and analytics in the intelligence world, municipalities can identify threats earlier than ever before – or, at the very least, they can respond to and resolve incidents more quickly than would have otherwise been possible.

More and more cities around the world are rolling out safe city initiatives in an effort to meet a range of modern challenges, from evolving communications media to homeland security concerns, and to enhance the safety of citizens and protect critical infrastructure, property and assets.

Case Study:

Surat, India

A “safe city” is a concept focused on providing a more secure municipality for residents, businesses, officials, first responders and tourists. As more residents flock to cities to embrace urban living, the task of providing a safe environment is both paramount and daunting. Surat, India, knows the challenges and pain points of a burgeoning population. In one of the first security projects of its kind in the region, Surat is embracing the safe city concept to provide a new level of situational awareness, paving the way for a more secure and connected municipality.

In Surat, the safe city concept is being spearheaded by the Gujarat state government. The project is an ongoing collaboration between multiple stakeholders and technology providers. Serving a population of approximately 4.4 million people in an area that encompasses nearly 126 square miles, Surat officials decided to invest in the safe city project to ensure the security of the area, while continuing to make it an attractive locale for businesses. In addition to its large population, the city has a high concentration of key industries, including diamonds (some 92 percent of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished in Surat), textiles, engineering, and oil and gas.

Phase one of the project consisted of the specification and installation of more than 100 video surveillance cameras, which are used to monitor major traffic areas along critical entry and exit points in and around the city. Upcoming phases call for extending the video coverage in the city and increasing the number of surveillance locations to more than 5,000.

For command and control centers like the one in Surat, PSIM helps to reduce operational and planning costs while streamlining responses in an easy-to-use-and-interpret interface.

A new central command center that includes a 280-foot video wall is used to monitor, aggregate and analyze multiple surveillance feeds. The solution includes citywide mapping and graphing capability and the ability to monitor and assess fire alarms and water levels. Evacuation and disaster recovery plans are also part of the project.

The surveillance system is managed by an enterprise-class video management solution and a physical security information management (PSIM) system, which includes video viewing and distribution, system health monitoring, and investigation management. The PSIM platform ties multiple subsystems together into a manageable solution that provides key parameters, alerts and other resources to enable operators to react more quickly.

For command and control centers like the one in Surat, PSIM helps to reduce operational and planning costs while streamlining responses in an easy-to-use-and-interpret interface.

Whether receiving feeds from across the street or from miles away, multiple users can view events, alerts and video, then assess the next steps.

Integrating video surveillance into the local command and control center with PSIM software allows first responders in any city to have keen situational awareness that informs quick and effective responses.

Itai Elata is senior vice president, homeland security practice, video and situation intelligence solutions, at Verint Systems ( He can be reached at

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