Building a Safer, Smarter and Solid Technology Foundation for Cities

According to the United Nations, the world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050 — growth that may spawn widespread challenges to the safety and security of cities across the globe. To help address these issues, governments and law enforcement agencies are rapidly rolling out Safe Cities programs, which are designed to enable cities to be safer, smarter and more proactive with security and safety efforts. These programs incorporate robust security processes and operating procedures as well as comprehensive technologies, including video surveillance, access control, video analytics, public safety communications, traffic management, social media tracking, gunshot detection, license plate recognition, and more. The data from these multiple platforms is useful in helping build a more intelligent approach to security and streamline communications between city officials, first responders and even, local citizens.

One of the most critical components of any Safe City program is video surveillance. Today’s video systems and sensors can span large geographic areas, reducing the need for manual patrols of a high-risk area. Command center operators can send pictures of a suspect from surveillance video feeds directly to a patrol officer’s mobile device, who can then easily access the footage on their smart devices. This process helps officers be more informed before responding to an incident and helps agencies gather the most up-to-date information 24/7. Video analytics are also valuable in analyzing trends related to risk (i.e. increased activity in a particular area of town) as well as manage traffic flow patterns and monitoring for crowds.

Even with the most robust technology deployment in place, Safe City programs cannot be successful without close cooperation and collaboration between city leaders, law enforcement and even, private businesses. The ability for public and private entities to gather and share information helps cities orchestrate an effective response.

Stakeholders can take data from a number of sources, allowing officials to coordinate security efforts and patrols appropriately and cost-effectively. When first responders and law enforcement agencies, public safety officials and private entities take an integrated approach, urban areas can address incidents and emergencies immediately without missing key elements of an investigation.

Through the integration of new technology solutions and information sharing, cities can achieve advanced levels of situational awareness and can realize the overall benefits of security intelligence, resulting in lowered crime rates, reduced operational challenges, and systemized and timely responses to potentially harmful and threatening situations. Learn more about Safe City solutions from Pelco.

Case Study | Gorford City

About Gorford City

Central Coast Council has built a comprehensive video surveillance solution covering multiple towns across the council area with a combination of Pelco fixed and PTZ cameras supported by Pelco’s VideoXpert VMS and installed by ECS Services. A recent upgrade to the Street Safe solution has seen the latest technologies introduced to key parts of the system.

Central Coast was among the first council areas in New South Wales (NSW) to install video surveillance and began rolling out its Street Safe solution nearly 15 years ago in response to requests from the local community. The first cameras were installed in 2004, meaning Pelco and ECS have been partnering with Central Coast Council for approximately 15 years. The original system was analogue and was installed in and around Gosford, then expanded to Umina. Next came upgrades at Gosford and Umina and an expansion to Woy Woy, as other businesses fed up with property damage sought CCTV to protect their premises.

With the help of John Adams from Security Electronics & Networks, we are able to hear from Sergeant Steve Hassett and Senior Constable Don Buchanan from NSW Police as they share the challenges and solutions that the system solved with Craig Cobbin from Pelco.

More Information on Gorford City Case Study

Design Your City Surveillance System the Right Way: Phase 1

It’s often been said, you can do something fast, or you can do something right. This logic applies to any security professional who is tasked with designing a City Surveillance system. Due to budget constraints, city government bureaucracy and a host of other challenges – getting the perfect, most comprehensive security system to initiate your program may not happen in phase one. But, if you plan right in this critical initial phase, you can lay the foundation for success through an increase in operational efficiency, safer intersections and less crime as your system is scaled. How? Let’s review a few considerations as you begin your research.

What does the ideal Video Management System for city surveillance look like?

You should be looking at a VMS that can be deployed through the traditional hardware option, but also offers a software-base option. This gives you complete flexibility to leverage your existing system, which will contribute to your cities bottom line. It is vital that this system is built on an open platform that allows for customization and the option of integrating third-party software with relative ease. It should have system aggregation that pulls all video feeds into a single user interface that is intuitive to operators and takes little time to learn. Combining all this video coverage and the use of third-party integrations, like event management analytics, will increase the efficiency of how your security personnel reacts to critical situations. A more efficient process means less costly mistakes- financially and when it comes to the safety of citizens and city employees.

What cameras offer the best strategy for traffic management?

A high priority goal for any security professional monitoring traffic is the ability to see all angles and details for a given intersection. Because you don’t have an unlimited budget, you must be able to cover this entire area with the least number of cameras. Fortunately, there are several options on the market today that offer complete situational awareness and are ideal for traffic management.

Panoramic camera technology offers exceptional image quality and field of views of 180, 270 and 360 degrees. Look for multi-sensor or single-sensor panoramic cameras that integrate flawlessly with the VMS and gives you perfectly stitched video. Be leery of lower quality cameras that deliver overlapping or fragmented video that can alter your field of view. Your security monitors cannot afford any distractions during an emergency situation.

In most scenarios, the use of a few additional PTZ or fixed IP cameras in conjunction with panoramic cameras will offer 100% coverage of your intersection. If your region experiences harsh weather conditions, you should choose cameras with an IP 66 rating. This rating will ensure your cameras withstand the best that mother nature has to offer. Lastly, you’ll want to make sure your cameras give you a clear visibility, even if it’s foggy and dark. Not all IP cameras deliver low light performance and image de-fog capability- even if they are marketed that way. Ask for an in-person demonstration and judge for yourself.

How can I use my City Surveillance system to reduce crime?

The mere sight of surveillance cameras may deter criminal activity in certain areas of your city. Common sense suggests that would-be criminals will just choose another location to go about their unlawful ways and put another area of town in jeopardy.

One way to gain the upper-hand is to deploy specially modified surveillance cameras that blend into the natural surroundings of this area. Going one step further, you may elect to use motion or loitering video analytics in the camera or VMS that trigger an alarm to security personal monitoring your city. Now, you can begin your investigation in real-time, alert local law enforcement and take a more proactive step in reducing crime.

The more criminals you put behind bars, the less there are on the streets of your city.

Moving Ahead

These are just a few considerations as you begin researching options for phase one of your City Surveillance System. To reiterate – by choosing the right VMS solution, accompanied by a sound traffic management camera strategy and crime reduction plan – your city will benefit from better efficiency and safer streets.

Still interested in learning more? Have a question related to City Surveillance? Click here.

How Cities Use Surveillance Systems

In practice, cities usually implement and use video surveillance systems in one of two ways: in Police Real Time Crime Centers (RTCCs) or in EMS Dispatch Centers. There are many reasons that a particular city system might develop a particular way, but two important factors are the strategic objectives of the city and the structure and size of the departmental budgets. Other factors, such as the size of the city at the time surveillance systems are implemented, can also play a role. For example, management in a medium-sized city with a relatively low crime rate might prioritize comprehensive responses to emergencies, and therefore decide to implement video surveillance as a key support function for EMS dispatchers.

Here are some typical characteristics and considerations about how cities implement surveillance video systems in the two primary scenarios:

Emergency Dispatch Centers

As mentioned above, video surveillance can be implemented as a primary support tool for emergency or EMS dispatch operators. These are the folks that answer the phone when someone calls the local emergency number (911 in the USA, but other numbers, such as 999, 997, 110, and 060 in other locations). Usually, they are equipped with either a multiscreen display or workstation (or both) along with their EMS Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, which is used to field calls from the public as well as to communicate with first responders. CAD operators receive incoming calls and use automated Geographic Information System (GIS) maps to determine the location of the caller. Without a video surveillance system, the operators must depend on information from the caller to understand the nature of the emergency and dispatch the appropriate responders.

By implementing a video surveillance system, the EMS dispatch center provides operators with the ability to see the scene of a reported emergency, which can provide a far better understanding of not only the nature of the emergency, but also the conditions in the surrounding area. Based on their overview of the situation, they may take additional actions over and above what might have been indicated by the initial call.

Here’s how the situation might unfold if a video surveillance system has been implemented: Incoming calls are fielded as before with the CAD and GIS systems. Operators can then turn to their Video Management System (VMS) to see additional video information of the scene by dragging and dropping cameras in the area associated with the emergency call to the VMS work screens. Depending on the visual understanding of the nature of the emergency or the surrounding situation, dispatchers can use judgment in the evaluation, and may decide to send additional resources such as Police, Fire, or EMS to assist in the response.

Because the operators have an overview of the situation, they can communicate directly with the responding officers to alert them to any changing situations while they are on route, and guide them while on scene with additional useful information, such as suspicious activity happening nearby. And, if the situation changes, operators are able to quickly call for additional response instead of waiting for officers to arrive on scene to make that determination. This “eye in the sky” support function can be a very important factor in the support of on-scene responders, and can improve the overall outcome of many emergency situations.

The video system can also improve and supplement “after action” reporting as needed for forensic case report development. Operators or other support staff can assist officers in gathering and outputting the necessary video files.

Real Time Crime Centers

Video surveillance systems can also be implemented in conjunction with Real Time Crime Centers (RTCCs), often referred to as Fusion centers. Larger cities, with larger police forces and budgets, often place higher priorities on providing map-based situational awareness based on integrating information from other data and analytic systems such as video analytics, license plate recognition, gunshot detection, and others.

Part of the reason that RTCCs are mostly used by large cities is that in these busy settings, dispatch operators have higher emergency call volume and so they are unable to continue to monitor a crime or emergency in progress. RTCCs typically employ officers and supervisors, who will use the video management system to monitor activities throughout the city. If an officer detects an emergency or a crime in progress, they will contact dispatch to process the emergency response. RTCCs rely a high level of integration between systems to create the situational awareness that officers need in emergency situations, and often require larger budgets because of the need for extensive custom software and maintenance.

Here’s how the situation might unfold at a Real Time Crime Center: Unlike the Emergency Dispatch Centers, RTCCs are staffed by police officers and supervisors. They also use a combination of a multiscreen video wall and individual operator workstations, as well as a Geographic Information System (GIS) map although they do not normally receive emergency calls from the public; instead, they communicate with EMS CAD operators. But, they may also monitor city areas independent of an emergency call, and may themselves trigger an EMS dispatcher to respond to an emergency based on their observations of the video scene.

In addition, the integration of the data sources provides improved Situational Awareness capabilities. So, officers monitoring the city will have the benefit of installed video analytics such as loitering detection, crowd detection, camera tampering detection, and people counting to strengthen their ability to detect unusual activity. As was mentioned, other integrated systems can also provide useful inputs to detect potential emergencies or to locate people of interest. These include not only the license plate and gunshot detectors mentioned above, but also systems such as automated vehicle location, traffic movement/congestion, links to crime statistic databases, and “big data” analytic applications including crime prediction, traffic pattern changes, weather prediction, and even geolocated social media analytics. The integration of all these complex systems gives officers an enormous advantage over relying upon visual monitoring or experience alone.

Once an emergency has been detected, and the responses triggered through the EMS dispatchers, RTCC officers will continue to monitor the situation and perform the “eye in the sky” functions described above. In this case, their understanding of the situation is further guided by their experience and understanding of tactics as police officers. Often, this supplemental observation will continue for the duration of officer responses to ensure the safety and security of the situation. To support the scene, officer operators can perform other useful functions such as referring to crime report data and other records to provide the on-scene officers with additional useful information and insight. After the situation is resolved, the video will support “after-action” reports as described above.

Conclusion

As you can see there are many similarities between Emergency Dispatch centers and Real Time Crime Centers that use video surveillance. Depending on the specific priorities, budgets, and departmental structure of each Safe City, either one of these approaches is completely valid and can be tailored to match the situation. No matter which approach is selected, Safe Cities that implement video surveillance will be in a better position to improve response times, to dispatch the right emergency equipment for each event to mitigate crime, accidents, and other emergency situations, and to provide improved overview protection for responding emergency personnel.