How smart cities can become safer cities

By Babar Jan-Haleem, Director–Big Data & Analytics Specialist Team, Oracle APAC
Thursday, 21 April, 2016

How smart cities can become safer cities

Smart city technologies hold the promise of transforming security and emergency services delivery through data analysis and pre-emptive decision-making.

Enthusiasm for the emerging concept of smart cities tends to focus on how new technologies can make urban centres function more efficiently. Yet it’s important to realise that these initiatives can also make cities much safer.

The platform supporting a smart city comprises a range of technological trends — cloud computing, big data, mobility and social media — all put to work in different ways to streamline processes and reduce costs. As a result, smart cities benefit from more efficient public transport systems, better public services and improved communication networks.

Increasingly, benefits are also being achieved in the area of public safety and emergency services. These high-level technology trends are providing smart cities with new ways to prevent, detect, respond to and recover from emergencies.

Pre-empt rather than react

Historically, most major cities have tended to be reactive when it comes to investing in technology for the emergency services sector. Large command centres have been built to receive incoming emergency calls and dispatch appropriate resources. It’s usually been a matter of waiting for an incident to occur and then responding to it.

A smart city infrastructure enables investment to instead be focused on more pre-emptive initiatives. Rather than responding to events after the fact, attention can shift to early detection and preventive actions.

One example is the transportation of hazardous materials through densely populated urban areas. Using big data analytics, authorities in a smart city can regulate such transportation through certain roads and at certain hours. Real-time monitoring can ensure the location of the materials is known at all times, enabling rapid response should an emergency occur.

Another example is natural disasters. Whereas, previously, authorities relied on emergency calls to determine where resources were required, big data techniques can be used to predict where problems are likely to occur and enable resources to be stationed there before they are required.

The power of social media

Social media can be put to effective use as an added early-warning system in smart cities. Increasingly, incidents and emergencies are being shared through social channels, often before more traditional emergency calls. Monitoring social media channels therefore gives authorities another means of identifying problems and reducing response times.

Thanks to the widespread use of mobile devices, almost every resident in a smart city is becoming a sensor that can provide real-time data. By collecting and analysing the data generated by thousands of devices, authorities can quickly identify potential incidents or threats and take appropriate action.

Data collected and used in this way could be anything from public tweets and other social media posts to information collected from device sensors such as location, movement and even temperature. Citizens can effectively become electronic eyes and ears for the city.

Social- and mobile-enabled citizens can also become another outgoing communication channel for emergency services, helping to relay relevant and real-time emergency information person to person or via their social network contacts.

Mobile devices can even be put to work as elements in a mesh network. During major disasters, public telecommunication networks can become overwhelmed… so creating a mesh network of personal devices can enable important calls and information to get through to those who need it.

Producing the platform

For such initiatives to work effectively, emergency services in a smart city need a common underlying platform that enables the efficient and effective sharing of information. Rather than acting in silos, organisations can share data and act on it much more rapidly.

To ensure this interoperability and information exchange, such platforms need to be built on industry standards. One, often cited, example is the XML-based National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) initiated by the United States Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. The standard is also in use across other countries.

As well as information sharing, emergency services also need the ability to analyse and extract meaning from the information. Here, investment needs to be made in analytical tools capable of sifting through vast quantities of information in very short time frames.

As cities around the world work to implement such platforms, many are sharing examples of best practice. This enables one city to learn from the experience of many others, reducing the time required to put an efficient and effective platform in place.

As the evolution of smart cities continues to gather pace around the world, the potential for positive impact on the emergency services sector will grow even stronger. By becoming more pre-emptive, the services will be able to achieve more with their resources, reducing the effects of emergency situations and improving the lives of citizens.

Image courtesy Hai Linh Truong under CC

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