Elements of a safe city

February 2017 Editor's Choice, Integrated Solutions

The idea of a smart city might have been laughable in South Africa in the very recent past. The concept of a safe city even more so, but things are changing. There are numerous technologies used in a safe/smart city, security related and otherwise, but the ideal of a safe and smart city starts with people, public/private cooperation, extensive planning, and the will and cooperation to make it happen.

Francois Stander.
Francois Stander.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked Francois Stander, responsible for research and resource development at the Tshwane Metro Police Department, for his thoughts on some of the issues critical to a safe city, which is the starting point for a smart city – we refer to both as a safe city in this article.

The reality of a safe city is that it is extremely rare, read impossible, to work on a greenfields project where you get free reign in the planning and design. Existing cities already have infrastructure of some kind and some form of security operations, even if it is weak and ineffective. However, you must start somewhere and Stander says, “At its core, a safe city project must address and plan for four key ingredients as an integrated concept from the start, even if all four are not contained in the same phase of implementation.”

Stander expands on these four factors below.

The four key ingredients

1. Centralised Command Centre (CCC)

The city must bring all emergency, security and key service delivery departments together in one integrated command centre. This allows the city to have one coordinated snapshot view of all ongoing situations/problems and ensures a coordinated response from all departments. This is especially important during large events, natural disasters or even just incidents that involve more than one department, like motor vehicle accidents that can involve Metro Police, emergency services, electricity, roads, storm water etc.

2. Dedicated fibre and broadband communication network

The ability for all emergency and security services to communicate is fundamental to any safe city. The platform used for communication must allow voice and data transfer at high speeds to accommodate live multimedia data and must run on a dedicated and secure backbone fibre and radio high-site network. The strategic importance of this communication network requires that it not be affected by public use and load factors, and can therefore not run on a commercial backbone LTE or other networks.

3. Macro surveillance network (CCTV)

A citywide CCTV network, feeding directly into the CCC is essential to enable monitoring of public spaces, incidents, people, roads and infrastructure. Live video of incidents allows rapid response from the CCC with the appropriate resources, greatly reducing response times. The CCTV network must be expanded to include commercial networks at retail centres, filling stations, neighbourhood watches etc. The aim is to bring together the information from all public CCTV cameras through the linking of modern IP-based camera networks and their respective control rooms to the CCC. This will naturally exclude private cameras.

4. Integrated information management system

No safe city project can function without a significant ICT component and indeed must have at its foundation a comprehensive and integrated software system that manages all processes, resources and integration.

This integrated management system must be designed to manage the following:

• Workforce management.

• CCC call taking and dispatch.

• Mobile application portal between the public and the CCC.

• Internal mobile application portal.

• Electronic law enforcement (handheld, ANPR, etc.).

• Crime and accident analysis, analytics, AI, reporting, statistics, etc.

• Integration of systems and information with other agencies (SAPS, other cities, etc.)

The subtle thorn of cooperation

Having all the bits and pieces in place is only one of the steps in a successful safe city project, however. Another critical component, some would say the most important one, is to obtain the buy-in of all parties involved. It’s easy to get the nod from various departments who will gladly agree to an integrated project, but when it comes down to actually working together and integrating people, processes and technology, things can get sticky.

As noted above, it’s not only the public sector that has to be part of the safe city. To be truly successful, the project needs the full support of private organisations as well. A mall, for example, may already have a host of cameras and other security operations in place that can provide invaluable information to the CCC. These types of partnerships must also be forged on a basis of trust and cooperation.

Stander says there are many opportunities for the public and private sector to benefit from a safe city project. A few of these include:

• An integrated control centre clusters all essential services together and ensures that there is one access point into the services of the city. The response is coordinated and would ensure that departments can directly collaborate to address multi-departmental complaints. The CCC will further aim to link control rooms from private sector security services, CPFs and neighbourhood watches directly to the CCC and these companies will then have the benefit of shared crime information and resources when responding to incidents.

• Linking CCTV camera networks directly to the CCC allows businesses to have another layer of response to incidents over and above their own control centres. This also allows Metro Police to get live video of an ongoing incident while they are on route to the scene. This is especially crucial during violent incidents like ATM bombings and mall robberies.

• With a full safe city concept in place, the Metro Police will function more effectively and efficiently across the board and this will allow amplified cooperation and interaction with all public and private role players. Systems will be available to streamline interaction with the city as well as to automate processes, like getting accident reports, applying for events, paying or enquiring about fines, etc.

• A citywide communication network ensures that every Metro Police member is always connected to the CCC and the rest of the department. This means that when one member responds to an incident, the whole department is instantly available to assist and that member has instant access to all the relevant information they need to assist someone.

• The inevitable reduction in crime that will come from a comprehensive safe city project will benefit every citizen of the city and will boost economic growth.

Essential components

There are, of course, many technical aspects to a complete safe city project, however, there is one key area that Stander says is essential, a citywide fibre network. “If I had to pick one requirement of a safe city project,” he notes, “it would be that all components must be able to communicate with each other over high speed and dedicated infrastructure.”

Some other important solutions for a safe city, according to Stander are:

• A modern mobile application that can serve as a portal for the public to access the CCC. It should be able to handle reporting of incidents as well as give feedback on actions taken. This solution scales much better than only having a telephone public portal and complaints are received and acted upon much more accurately and reliably using geo-tagging and other mobile phone features. Mobile applications for internal systems and processes will also ensure much more effective workflow.

• Technologies like automated number plate recognition (ANPR), video analytics on CCTV cameras and crime information analysis tools can all greatly enhance the effectiveness of a safe city project.

Stander describes ANPR as one of the most successful applications of new technology of late, especially when linked to centralised databases (eNatis, stolen vehicles, etc.). A network of these cameras across a city can quickly flag wanted vehicles and suspect vehicles can be circulated to the system in seconds.

“This makes it virtually impossible for a wanted number plate to drive anywhere in the city without being flagged by the system. Think of robbers that drive around looking for targets. They can be flagged by neighbourhood watches or CPFs within minutes and the vehicle will in most cases be flagged and intercepted before they find their first victim.”

• Another exciting development is the advent of video analytics that can monitor thousands of live CCTV video feeds. “I have seen demonstrations where the police can search through CCTV footage for a male with a red t-shirt and the system will return all video footage of males with red t-shirts (to an impressive degree of accuracy). This technology has already yielded very positive results in the tracking of suspected bombers in Europe and the USA.”

• From a systems and information point of view, the ability to integrate all relevant crime information from all agencies in the country will ensure that members on patrol do not drive past a stolen vehicle or give a traffic fine to a wanted murderer just because they did not have access to all the information.

The people problem, or solution

Despite the advances of technology and those people who are touting artificial intelligence as the answer to everything, a safe city has and will, depend on the performance of the people working for the city and those receiving services and feeding information to the CCC. Making sure your people, staff and public are geared to operate effectively is critical to the success of the project. Not only is training required before the project rolls out, but continually to ensure th e best service is delivered for the long term.

“Change management remains a problem with any new system or technology that is introduced,” says Stander. “I believe that this should be planned for from the inception phase of the project and sufficient resources must be made available to handhold end users during the initial deployment of the project. I have found that if you have on-site personnel that can assist during the early period, it eliminates a lot of the resistance and ensures that misconceptions and misinformation do not take hold.

“This goes hand-in-hand with a comprehensive training programme and it is essential that users do not just show up to a new system one day. Every user and supervisor must be trained and prepared for the launch. The control of information should as far as possible be designed into the electronic systems that manage these processes. There should be electronic systems and processes that have all business rules included and that should greatly reduce human errors.”

Miracles require hard work

Despite the potential for safe cities, which extends from security through to economic development, why do they seem to be so hard to find in South Africa?

One obvious answer is the cost. These are enormous projects that will consume tens, or more likely hundreds of millions of rand to roll out properly. This is money that has to be found and spent before any of the benefits can be realised.

Stander believes the hardest part in getting a safe city project rolling is moving the city and the Metro Police to commit to implementing the project. “It involves convincing politicians and executives to identify the benefits and positive impact of such a project,” he says. “The scope and capital investment required will make most financial departments recoil at the very thought of it.”

He says it is therefore important to clearly communicate the benefits and long-term savings to the decision makers. Multi-year phased implementation, public-private partnerships, grant funding, etc. should all be explored and presented. If properly packaged, presented and explained, it is not hard for a city to see that the positive impact will far outweigh the cost of implementation.

“The actual implementation of the project would be a massive undertaking and I believe there must be one overall project team that can ensure coordination of specifications and requirements across different aspects and phases of implementation. It would be easy to end up with systems that do not support integration or expansion with the rest of the project.”

Hi-Tech Security Solutions would like to thank Francois Stander for his efforts in providing input for this article.


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