Making smart cities into safe cities

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Making smart cities into safe cities

Cities are becoming more intelligent every day with their growing ability to connect and control street lights, traffic signals, sensory devices and communications.  In many ways, the urban environment has never been more in sync with itself as government agencies align assets and resources to increase efficiency and quality of life for citizens. Many of today’s large municipalities are becoming test beds for the internet of things where technological capabilities are addressing daily needs from parking to water treatment.

The efficiencies gained through central monitoring and management of the urban environment cannot be overstated. Seeing data on the health of city systems and potential issues at a glance makes it easier to remedy problems faster, which reduces expense and allows for the kind of analysis that can prevent reoccurrence.

But is such newfound control being used to its fullest potential? It's expensive to create interconnected systems and quick technological responses, so government should take advantage of the investments and make cities not only smarter, but also safer.

Operating a “safe city” initiative could deliver a two-for-one return on smart city investments.  For example, smart city systems often add connectivity to street lights so that when a lamp burns out, the department of public works gets an electronic message and can dispatch a repair crew or adjust nearby lighting to compensate for the outage. Could such technology give temporary control of lighting to public safety agencies? What if police could turn street lights to full brightness in areas where they are looking for a missing child or when responding to a burglary complaint?

Similarly, information workflows can be leveraged to increase safety. Smart cities often share data across departments to increase efficiency and save money, so the next logical step is to include police and other public safety entities in workflows of interdisciplinary information to increase situational awareness. Every piece of information government gathers should be, within reason, available to those helping to protect citizens. All public systems should feed into one searchable intelligence framework that complies with appropriate privacy regulations.

Using the public’s arsenal of personal devices, safe cities initiatives can provide two-way communication much the same way smart city programs operate -- with citizens giving as much useful information to government as they get from it. In smart city scenarios, the data collected from smartphone locations and movement can help pinpoint traffic problems and suggest rerouting. Those same phone owners could send images, data, eyewitness accounts and even sensory readings to authorities during police emergencies.

In many cases, smart city programs are already funded and well formed, making them ideal contract vehicles for safe city initiatives. By adapting smart city technology for public safety agencies, cities can leverage their investments and stand up safe city programs faster and at less expense.

Making smarter cities safer won’t turn a community into the Emerald City in the Land of Oz, but we’ve come a long way already since the IoT was hatched, creating an almost limitless canvas on which to draw out the future. There are many more examples of how smart city measures can be extended to serve safe city goals, and most are possible with normal modernization expenditures or as part of cross-governmental cost sharing for maximum return on investment.

About the Author

Patrick Doyle, a former New Jersey state trooper and the senior watch officer at one of the largest U.S. fusion centers, is a global law enforcement expert for Unisys.

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