Behind a safe city

February 2012 Surveillance

Without intelligence and action, it is just pictures.

Richard Hepplestone
Richard Hepplestone

A city can spend millions on having hundreds or even thousands of surveillance cameras, but without the intelligence and appropriate action behind it, all you have are pictures. Where does that intelligence and action come from?

A certain level of this intelligence and action will always need to come from people. People who can recognise an event on a screen and, according to the defined process, initiate the appropriate action. These people, and the associated processes are key to the success of a safe city project, however the people are human and as such are prone to mistakes.

Wherever possible, the technology and processes need to be carefully designed to help mitigate the risk of human error. With this in mind, how should the design of the complete system be approached?

Start with the end in mind

It can safely be assumed that in South Africa (as well as most other countries), the primary reason for implementing a safe city system is crime. The need to provide early awareness of incidents as well as the identification of perpetrators. If this assumption is correct, then we need to ask the question: “how will the system achieve this?” This question needs to be an overriding consideration in the design of the system.

Crime prevention however is just one of the benefits of implementing a city surveillance solution. In this age of tight budgets and reduced spending, it is always important to look at additional advantages that a system can provide (without losing focus on the primary requirement). This can include traffic law enforcement, management of congestion and prevention of terrorism.

The processes

Without defined processes, the technology can provide all the information in the world and it can be manned by the best people in the world, but the system will fail. When an operator is notified of an event, he or she needs to know what to do. The definition of processes should always be an ongoing activity as we should always be looking at how we can improve. A useful tool to help ensure that processes are designed and continually improved is the Six Sigma project methodology, DMAIC.


The DMAIC project methodology has five phases:

* Define the problem, the voice of the customer and the project goals.

* Measure key aspects of the current process and collect relevant data.

* Analyse the data to investigate and verify cause-and-effect relationships. Determine what the relationships are, and attempt to ensure that all factors have been considered. Seek out root cause of the defect under investigation.

* Improve or optimise the current process based upon data analysis using techniques such as design of experiments or mistake proofing, and standard work to create a new, future state process. Set up pilot runs to establish process capability.

* Control the future state process to ensure that any deviations from target are corrected before they result in defects. Implement control systems such as statistical process control, production boards, visual workplaces, and continuously monitor the process. (See more at

The people

As mentioned, people will always be key to the success of a safe city project. Different roles need to be carefully defined according to the defined processes and the required end goals. The skills, character traits and abilities in order to perform the functions required by the role should be defined as objectively as possible so the specific, measureable attributes can be defined to assist in the search for the right people. Consider using performance management wherever possible; people should be rewarded based on specific, measureable achievements.

The technology

The technology should perform three main functions. First it should be the foundation to support the people and processes (which are in place to support the end goals defined up front). Secondly, technology should provide intelligence that can help reduce the reliance on people and mitigate the human-error risk. Thirdly, the technology should endeavour to make the system proactive.

Analytics and intelligence such as licence plate recognition, facial recognition, audio triggers, left object analysis and loitering analysis etc can all be used to help prevent incidents, rather than simply reacting to them.

This platform is the most important decision when considering the technology behind your safe city project. The cameras, encoders, networks, servers, storage and display etc, should all be selected based on what their function is and what the platform requires.

The implementation of a safe city surveillance project will always be a complex activity and like most complex projects will be seen afterwards as having varying degrees of success. By following the high-level guidelines here, you can help increase the probability of success. The overriding principle however should always be to keep the end goal in mind. Never forget why you are doing this in the first place.

For more information contact Inhep Electronics Holdings, +27 (0)31 705 1373,


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