Cities of every size face a daunting range of security and operational challenges. City officials are responsible for the well-being of thousands to millions of people and the protection of government buildings, parks, roads, maintenance equipment, utilities and other critical infrastructure. There is no downtime for a city.
At a time when many cities are faced with first responder staff shortages, access to reliable data is more critical than ever before. Capturing hundreds or thousands of hours of video, audio-based analytics and other data streams can become overwhelming and nearly meaningless if there aren’t enough personnel for monitoring, reviewing and responding to the video and metadata captured. Today’s artificial intelligence (AI) and metadata-driven video technologies are helping turn traditionally reactive and stand-alone systems into proactive, real-time smart solutions.
Additionally, data-driven analytics are helping make use of valuable recorded and stored data. A forensic AI review of archived video data can reveal valuable and often overlooked information such as patterns and hotspots. With live or recorded video, integrated analytics can tirelessly search all camera feeds for flagged license plates, abandoned vehicles, left-behind objects and more. Smart video analytic systems can notify security and law enforcement to what’s important, so they can make informed decisions and respond appropriately.
An integrated approach
Faced with responder and other personnel resource shortages, city officials need to do more with less and smart camera coverage helps ensure their citizens and assets are protected and managed optimally. However, the system must also be easy to use to minimize personnel training and be scalable and flexible enough to meet future needs.
Cities are constantly changing — expanding in size and density by adding buildings, attractions and people — so their surveillance systems must seamlessly connect a wide range of hardware and software, such as security cameras, fencing and gates, as well as access control, lighting, alarm and other software system sensors. This technological diversity allows a city to continue using its existing systems, software and hardware and it allows for growth and additional enhancements to be added over time without needing to be replaced.
The addition of video analytics software — which can be part of the video management system (VMS) or as a third-party add-on solution — has become a priority for secure city management. In both scenarios, smart video analytics significantly improve the VMS’ effectiveness. Where human operators may become overwhelmed with an increasing number of video feeds, smart video analytics free staff to perform other duties until notified of an incident that requires viewing.
Automatic features or rules within the VMS can be set up as part of the analytics, enabling the system to send alerts when unusual or suspicious activities are detected. Other add-on software integrations can provide ancillary detection of such things as smoke, fire or leaking containers. Incident flagging, coupled with high-quality image analysis, makes for fast discovery, search, retrieval and identification of suspects and other causes.
Proactive crime prevention
Vicente López, a county located in the north of Buenos Aires, is an excellent example of a data-driven video solution. Although now considered one of the safest cities in South America, street crime in the Greater Buenos Aires metro area was a problem and the northern suburb is a target for commercial theft. The local government decided to transform Vicente López into a safe and smart city with the goal of “proactive crime prevention” — preventing crime from taking place rather than simply responding to a complaint after a crime was committed. However, a major problem was the limited ability of personnel to observe live video feeds and review recorded video effectively.
City officials sought a surveillance solution that would allow the city to derive real value from the recorded video that was going unwatched. Within that solution, they deployed a set of video analytics to help reduce crime and increase public safety through proactive measures. The data-driven video solution helps law enforcement detect traffic violations and road safety hazards, as well as identify and investigate potential criminal activity and safety incidents. The system also automates data collection of post-event video investigations — providing police with quality images as quickly as possible to expedite investigating and resolving cases.
In line with Vicente López’s stated goal of increasing public safety and proactively preventing crimes before they occur, behaviors typical to the area were determined. These profiles were used to define and schedule real-time detection rules that alert to scenarios including crowding and loitering in public areas (government buildings, educational institutions, etc.), speed analysis to detect traffic congestion, stopped vehicles at intersections and in restricted areas and vehicles driving the wrong way on one-way streets, abandoned objects in public buildings, perimeter breaches and more.
Implementing video analytics has produced proven results in terms of crime prevention and decision-making. “Through the combination of different types of analytics, we have managed to streamline both our camera monitoring and our preventive actions. We’ve adapted our protocols to respond more accurately to the alerts issued by the video analytics system, allowing for immediate responses that, in turn, improve crime prevention,” said Martin Gasulla, Undersecretary of Security at the Department of Security, Municipality of Vicente López.
Likewise, the City of Hobart, Australia, is the most populous city in the state of Tasmania. On weekdays, a large percentage of the greater island community of 218,000 can be found in the metropolitan area for work, shopping, business or leisure. Traffic management plays a major role in the quality of life and the City Council takes a proactive approach with the technology tools they use to drive their vision of being a smart and safe city.
When the City of Hobart audited its security systems in 2020, they found that the city had multiple disparate systems with no centralized VMS management. When events happened, officials also found that many cameras were not operational and if video was captured, the data had to be downloaded manually. The system was very cumbersome to use. Soon after the audit, the city undertook the process of repairing, replacing and adding cameras, upgrading its network infrastructure and boosting capabilities and usability by deploying an open platform VMS along with a set of data-driven video analytic technologies.
“By maximizing our security technology and adding sensors and analytics, we can effectively kill two birds with one stone,” said Robert Stevenson, Manager, Smart/Sustainable Hobart. “Our security network has become more than the sum of its parts and gives us real smart city abilities.”
With license plate recognition (LPR) technology feeding into the VMS, officials can monitor the number of vehicles in a parking lot, how long they have been there and how many vehicles come and go at specific times of the day. The LPR technology and advanced video search tools provide fast and accurate evidence to police in the case of motor vehicle accidents, thefts and vehicles leaving the scene of a crime.
The city can now also monitor pedestrian traffic in critical parts of the city, including road crossings and public spaces. This enables the city to make informed decisions about the safety of its constituents and optimize infrastructure such as traffic lights. The smart city features even extend to things like using a network of sensors to monitor rainfall and river levels and automatically control elements of the city’s lighting. The cameras have become an integral part of the lighting system, allowing the staff to remotely determine whether lights are on and working as intended.
Preparing for challenges
In 1950, roughly 29% of the world’s population lived in cities and urban areas. Today this number sits at 55% and by 2050 it is expected that close to 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. City managers around the globe are challenged with providing for the safety and security of their ever-increasing number of citizens.
The adoption of smart city technologies is helping managers tackle big-city problems and prepare for future challenges. Today’s highly flexible, data-driven VMS and video analytics allows cities to become proactive and efficient, increasing the safety and security of their citizens and assets.
Before joining Milestone Systems as a Business Development Manager for Cities, Jason Tyre served with the Phoenix Police Department for more than 18 years. He was assigned to the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, where he was a founding member of the State of Arizona’s Threat Mitigation Unit and worked closely with the US Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation to protect critical infrastructure in Arizona. Jason continues to support numerous federal, state and local agencies, public/private industries and academic organizations in applying real-world operational experience to facilitate the uninterrupted operation, protection and security of critical infrastructure and assets.
This article was originally published in the February edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.