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Safer Cities - a Complex, Global Issue

20 May 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970

This article explores many of the challenges facing the global society and focuses on some of the many solutions that government, public and private sectors and the communities themselves should be adopting to develop a joined up and sustainable city security strategy for the future.

So, it’s official. There are more people living in urban areas than rural areas across the World. If you have missed the significance of this new fact, well the globe just changed shape a little bit more. But this statistic isn’t just interesting; it is a compelling for many reasons. This isn’t merely a supply chain issue, a housing problem, a crime increase or an employment challenge. If we as a society do not address the fundamentals of securing the critical aspects of the basic needs of society (and here is the important bit) and join together the planning for these provisions, we are creating a single point of city-wide and possibly nationwide failure. Having said that, joining all the moving parts of society into one interactive entity of many parts may create more interoperability challenges and vulnerabilities if they are not considered and mitigated at a very early stage.

It is worth noting that creating ‘safer or secure cities’ means different things to different people and sectors depending on your overall objectives. To some, it means a greener, environmentally friendly, congestion free and climate conscious plan. To others, it will mean a total focus on crime reduction, counter-terrorism and visible policing; and also not forgetting the vision of a technologically wired up society. For those who can afford it, insert all of the above. It’s important for us all to be aware that we do not individually, in government or the private and public sectors have all the skills required to recover quickly from a regional or national level man-made or natural disaster. When serious ‘black swan’ adversity happens, we need a big toolkit; the type only a joined up city can provide. And we need to talk to each other now to decide what kind of city and society we would like.

The potential failures that I personally see for the future if we don’t act now are all those strategic things that can be related to critical infrastructure issues such as security, but are not traditionally brought together at the planning stages. For example, the maintenance and security of our environment to ensure the continuance of food, energy, political stability, economic strength, law enforcement, utilities, technology and governance, depends on how successfully we can map how dependent they are on each other. Food depends on economic strength, energy depends on political stability and governance depends on law enforcement and so on.

This interdependency needs policies, processes, practices and standards that are understood by every part of society to work well and ultimately for cities to be as safe and adaptive to change as they can be. If we allow gaps between these services in the planning stages, surely they will become target areas for those who wish to do society harm. An attack on any part of an unprepared society will have second and third order effects and that will be expensive in time, resources, finances and human lives.

The evidence for change is also supported by some of the technological breaches that have occurred in some of the World’s largest organisations. For example, Ebay’s security was compromised in a well-documented attack in February 2014 where 145 million user records were stolen; a two day outage was experienced in the Nasdaq exchange in July 2013 after usernames and passwords were taken; and Facebook, Google and Twitter have all been successfully hacked during 2014 as a result of poor security regimes. As a society we need to make a decision. We can either leave the security of our personal and financial information to individual companies, or build a greater resilience together.

So, if we assume that the case is made, what do we do now? Well, it’s important to explore some examples of what those ‘moving parts’ are so that we can integrate them in our thinking and discussions. In no particular order (and I encourage others to add to it), the list should include: the increasing population growth and longevity of its citizens; the mitigation of security issues linked to immigration as a crime enabler; demographic youth bulges and the ensuing need for more housing, education and employment; fluctuating regional fuel and energy sources that may be the cause of conflict and the need for a plan ‘B’; predictable and unpredictable natural disasters; predictable and unpredictable epidemic and pandemics; urban planning projections for more housing; sustainable communication platforms that can support increased usage; planned finances, taxation, contingencies and income; appreciation of diversity and cultures and what that could mean when adversity strikes; educating society and managing change, their expectations and how things are done; smart planning of agricultural space which may mean a change of diet in extremis; the smart planning and usage of current and future resources; test-bedding technology to future-proof demand and embracing the whole of society to inform the authorities fast time of their present and on-going needs.

Simple. Clearly not, but there are already examples where cities have made a good business case and have begun this journey and there are many others who aspire to do so. Singapore features heavily in making in-roads into joining up the technological dots by launching in 2013 a year-long test bed to analyse and integrate information collected from existing sensors and databases by using advanced analytics and information sharing tools. The Singaporean government is already planning the next phases in order to maintain their position as one of the leading World cities and financial centres. The Safe City programme in the US has been working for many years and has the ambition to leverage partnerships and technology to help communities and businesses reduce crime and create a community based environment where people feel safe and secure.

Glasgow has ‘Future Cities’ aspirations to make their city safer by providing a test-bed for technological solutions that synchronises ‘big data’ with the provision of smart street lighting, solar panels, CCTV sites, electronic information provision, the ability to progress community-based interventions by the authorities, reduce Freedom of Information requests and match witness to crime descriptions to known suspects.

The Metro publication notes that, ‘Songdo in South Korea is a good example of how a city could become a blueprint for the city of the future. Around 27,000 people will have moved in by the end of the year and, upon completion in 2016, 65,000 people will call the smart city home, with a further 300,000 commuting in daily. Every inch of the city has been wired up by Cisco with fibre optic broadband keeping people connected and sending a constant data stream to computer processors that keep Songdo operating. TelePresence screens are being installed in all homes, offices, hospitals and shopping centres so people can make video calls whenever they want. In addition, sensors embedded in streets and buildings monitor everything from temperature to road conditions to help the city run efficiently and react to problems. For example, street lights can be switched off in deserted streets to save energy or brightened in busy ones. To deal with traffic congestion, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags on cars send location data to a central hub identifying black spots and tweaking signals to ease traffic jams. Traffic light bulbs are replaced by light-emitting diodes (LEDs) using a fraction of the usual output. Homes will be equally efficient as power companies monitor the use of electrical appliances such as microwaves to better understand how residents use energy and set the grid to adapt’.

I quite like Bristol’s approach where they acknowledge that they can’t afford the full menu and have focused on the things that directly affect people’s well-being. For example, one of the things they have developed is an application called ‘hills are evil’ for citizens with restricted mobility, the elderly, pushchairs, cyclists, etc. that identifies low kerbs, low gradients and cobble-stone free routes. Many other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Johannesburg and Masdar are realising the benefits to a joined up approach and there are a plethora of organisations that are willing to sponsor and organise global showcase events.

What these cities are demonstrating is a healthy confrontation of current thinking with a focus on the user and on the smart uses of energy and ever depleting resources. But joining up these dots also provides the ability for these cities to become safer. Some of the examples from cities around the World include:

  • Physical Security Information Management – facial recognition, CCTV, Computer Aided Despatch, predictive policing, gunshot detection and automatic number plate recognition

  • Open Source Intelligence – including social networks

  • Enterprise Search – big data navigation and visualisation, cloud computing, smart energy management

  • Predictive policing – crime hotspots, crime incident prediction, recidivist behaviour

  • Public Safety Communications – Satellite, SMS, panic alarms, broadband frameworks

These cities are leading their societies into the inevitable, and the sooner we have the debate at society level the better. I believe that we must, as a matter of some urgency, develop some pillars that will support the safe city strategy in any city. These are:

  • Government to communicate a ‘whole of society’ vision that goes beyond a ‘big discussion’. Society needs action

  • This requires the development of concepts and processes understood by all

  • Recruit high level and visible role models with drive and vision and experience to bring working services together

  • Be open to new and smart integrating technology

  • Secure societies consent and mandate by explaining the overall benefits and discussing the fears about ‘big brother’ that some will have

  • Put in place accessible 24/7 mechanisms that secure the instantaneous views of the population that better inform the quality of services that statutory authorities provide

  • Embed joint police and private security partnership processes in the response to emergencies

  • Develop 24/7 alert networks that inform service provision organisations when their services are required

Just to reassure you that I do understand that there are many challenges to this potentially huge programme. Nothing becomes a reality in this World unless finance is secured and a return on this investment is made. Fortunately, there are many examples where a value for money case such as this has been successful. In fact, cases such as this are made every day in every board room across the World. Save money, effort and resources to increase production, safety and return? This is not new to any money conscious organisation; it’s just a matter of increasing this type of thinking on a larger scale.

Additionally, more technology means more power requirements and alternative power choices. This will depend on what type of energy is available and whether certain types of fuel reduction are part of the strategy. Creating safer cities also means open innovation and collaboration in a World that can sometimes balk against information sharing. And the ‘value proposition’ or the promise of value by the authorities will need to be sold to a society that is sometimes suspicious of centralised control.

There will be other limitations to a technologically pervasive voluminous society with sections of it unable to secure access. This may be due to some citizens not being able or willing to engage with modern technology; some who will wish to remain anonymous; others who will rebel against a technological, connected society for a range of reasons; or a deficiency in technology being able to reach more isolated areas. I didn’t say it was going to be easy and despite these very valid concerns, the debate must be had with everyone having a voice, positive or negative, or it just simply won’t work.

To strengthen the pillars that I mention above, I believe that we must be engaging in the following debates:

  • Agree how we are going to balance and sustain resources while deciding what type of safer city we would like

  • Develop inclusive policies, practices and procedures where no section of society is disadvantaged

  • Work to secure ‘hearts and minds’ where the best ideas emanate and then drive those ideas forward

  • Build a strong information-sharing (dare to share) culture

  • Work with groups that feel excluded to achieve support from across the spectrum (they will often be your most ardent supporting ambassadors)

  • Succession plan for innovation in all areas of the strategy. We need to sustain this once it is built

  • Secure the views of the community at the planning stages when designing their urban environment

  • Embed fair and transparent standards and regulation to achieve confidence and trust

So, if I had a rallying call, it would be a plea to build our ‘base’ by having these debates now or risk having them in retrospect when a systematic infrastructure failure has taken place. Anyone who quotes the cost of such development being prohibitive, try retrofitting. It’s painful, expensive, built on existing and restricting infrastructure and can be reputationally damaging. We must invest our time and energy into the planning phase, but also in order to capture the ideas and talents of our people or risk losing them.

On this last point, there is a tremendous opportunity to increase our business acumen; to increase the numbers of our engineers and those of our architects. With new skills comes new thinking, buoyed by the promise of new and untraditional alliances. Remember, new and unfettered thinking comes from surprising directions and are often better than the traditional, ‘we’ve always done it this way’ ones. Market boundaries will blur, creating opportunities for increased investment as sectors take advantage of the economic multipliers. Inevitably, a sense of ‘team’ will have a chance of taking root and the ability of shared concepts, leading to trust and confidence and information sharing.

So, let’s be brave about this because it will need dedication from us all; not just because it makes sense, but because it is becoming increasingly critical to our very being. There are too many positives to count and I for one look forward to adding my voice to shaping our exciting future.


SERIFM is spearheaded by TWinFM in conjunction with TriTectus Strategic Resilience Limited. SERIFM aims to create more resilient organisations and assist the FM community to share threat data and exploit new technology. It is the intention of SERIFM to help enable this sharing. Security and Resilience In Facilities Management will provide the ideal platform to help create a highly informed customer, to demand the highest quality imagery from visual surveillance systems, to inform the supply chain of the need for resilience and to highlight new technologies, procedures and tactics as they are deployed and as experience is gained from their use. SERIFM is a not-for-profit group dedicated to leading the fight back against crime and strengthening resilience at a time of reduced national resources.

SERIFM’S inaugural conference will set the UK’s strategic resilience picture as seen through the eyes of the Metropolitan Police, the Cabinet Office, academia and the security services. The date and location to be advised.


Safer Cities - a Complex, Global Issue

Article written by Brett Lovegrove | Published 20 May 2016


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