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Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. According to estimates from the UN, this number is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. As urban areas become more densely populated, the ability of law enforcement to uphold law and order becomes ever more critical to public security. It’s a challenge that must be constantly reviewed, and issues addressed where needed.

One such area is the detection, identification and interception of physical threats, which has traditionally included guns, knives and explosives. Over the last six months, however, this has now evolved into the detection and identification of new, invisible microbiological threats, such as COVID-19.

A new approach to physical security

Since reports began on COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the virus has spread to over 188 countries, killing over 790,000 people. When this is set against the unrelenting backdrop of rising terrorist threats, a new approach to today’s physical security is needed to create safer public and private spaces.

Globally, tensions are running high. An international health crisis, political tumult and unstable economic environments are creating the potential for a perfect storm for extreme behaviour. Now, more than ever, governments must coordinate with healthcare, security services, and technology providers to pool the expertise needed to deploy innovative detection platforms to address these growing threats. In smart cities, in particular, technology will play a crucial role in addressing both physical and biological/viral threats in order to keep their citizens safe.

Technology will play a crucial role in addressing both physical and biological/viral threats

Collaborating to advance security systems in smart cities

To date, we’ve seen an increase in the number of smart city programmes around the globe; cities that are beginning to deploy innovative technologies for the management and ease of life services. Global spending on smart city initiatives has now reached a total of nearly $124 billion this year alone, an increase of 18.9% over 2019, according to the International Data Corporation’s (IDC) latest Worldwide Smart Cities Spending Guide. However, the growth of urban populations is impacting overall infrastructure and resources and many towns and cities are struggling to keep pace. According to research from Deloitte, just 16% of cities can self-fund required infrastructure projects. As a result, cities are enlisting the support of private partners and governments to advance their smart city agendas.

Public-private collaboration is a lifeline for developing effective security systems in smart cities. Decision-makers must coordinate and collaborate with security experts and operators to arm themselves with a comprehensive understanding of how to best implement and integrate innovative, agile, data-driven security systems. They need to work together, with a clear strategy in place, to respond to these growing threats, while improving public safety.

Using smart technology for public security and safety

The challenge of identifying both physical and invisible threats to meet urban citizens’ needs will demand a security response that is proactive, adaptable and dynamic. As we look ahead to the future of public safety, it’s clear that new technologies, driven by artificial intelligence (AI), can dramatically improve the effectiveness of today’s physical security space. For smart cities, the use of innovative AI and machine learning technologies have already started to help optimise security solutions.

Demand a security response that is proactive, adaptable and dynamic

Computer vision technology is one such solution that incorporates AI and machine learning into existing video monitoring security (VMS) systems. This computer vision technology enables the detection of visible weapons, such as guns or knives, helping to identify potential threats before an attack occurs. After identifying the weapon, the AI-driven security system can immediately alert onsite security, in real-time, to the location and nature of the incident or potential attack. This allows security and first responders to intervene, possibly before a weapon is drawn and/or used.

AI-driven software has also demonstrated great potential for identifying those displaying symptoms of viral or infectious diseases, without requiring physical human contact. By using AI-powered video analytic software with a common ‘off the shelf’ thermal video camera, this new security solution can become a remote video health safety screening tool for the identification of elevated body temperature, as well as face mask and social distancing detection for compliance.

Now, with the power of real-time AI software, integrated with current VMS systems, threat objects held by an assailant, whether visible or not, can be identified for immediate security response. This can be done in an effective, unobtrusive way that does not interrupt people’s day-to-day routine, as has been the case with other larger or more overt security solutions; including queueing for physical temperature checks or walking through a metal or millimetre wave detector.

While individuals and communities are willing to accept some inconvenience as a result of this new normal, privacy and civil liberties must be maintained, until a potential threat is detected.

The future of smart cities in a post-COVID world

Look ahead to the future of public security

We look ahead to the future of public security in a world where physical and microbiological threats are continually evolving. It is only by adopting a new approach to threat detection that such a wide spectrum of the active assailant attacks can be mitigated. Today’s communities are working this into their smart, connected and safe city models. With AI-driven technology that optimises the efficiency and safety of city operations and public services, its citizens will not only stay connected but will also stay safe.

Governments must coordinate with security services, as well as technology providers, to pool the expertise needed to best implement and integrate these innovative technologies for the public good. They need to work collaboratively to ensure smart city projects include solutions to address physical security technologies that addresses theft, civic disturbance, terrorist activities and infectious disease.  This, in turn, will make these cities not only smarter, but safer as well.

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