Integrated surveillance – The foundation for safer cities
Critical infrastructure facilitates society’s everyday life
Infrastructure such as power networks, water treatment plants, transportation links and hubs provides the backbone for our towns and cities to function. Protecting that backbone from potential threats is vital and, given rapidly rising global urbanisation rates, is an international priority. Global estimates suggest that 3.4 billion people now live in town and city environments.
In today’s fast-paced environment, there are so many elements of our daily lives which we simply take for granted. From the moment we wake up, until the time we fall asleep, we go through the day continually undertaking key actions without any real conscious thought process.
We flick a switch and expect lights to come on. We turn on a tap and expect water to flow. We leave the house and expect there to be a communications network to get us to where we need to go. We visit a cash machine and expect to withdraw money. We fall ill and expect to have access to local hospitals and medical facilities. And the list goes on – daily routine functions which are central to all our lives. But what if our expectations were not met? What if there was no electricity, water, transportation hubs, banks and hospitals?
Threats to Critical Infrastructure
In terms of the types of threats our urban centres face, these can generally be divided into three main categories:
- Natural threats – for example weather events, in hot and cold climates alike, and geological hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, land shifting and volcanic eruptions.
- Human caused threats – including cyber attacks, rioting, product tampering, explosions and bombing.
- Accidental or technical threats – including transportation accidents and failures and environmental incidents.
Making sure the right systems and safeguards are in place to identify potential threats before they even happen, and supporting rapid response to actual incidents in order to limit escalation, is essential to keeping infrastructure secure and people safe.
What is also important, however, is enabling this in an environment of collaboration. The most effective threat prevention strategy is for those responsible for individual assets and services to work together.
The result of this is a checklist of requirements that intelligently integrated surveillance is ideally positioned to meet.
Technology that collates data and unifies action
Historically, systems used to protect critical infrastructure assets have been implemented and managed separately.
In recent times, in response to rising threats to critical infrastructure, this approach is changing. Responsible agencies and asset managers can now adopt an integrated approach to critical asset protection by using a surveillance ‘command and control’ platform to bring these vital, yet disparate, solutions together and manage them within a single, unified environment.
Site systems which can be integrated include:
- Access control
- Intruder detection
- Virtual perimeter tripwires
- Cameras – fixed PTZ, analogue or IP, thermal and multi-spectral (colour, mono, thermal, explosion proof)
- Emergency incident alarms
- Public help points
- Building management systems
- Microwave sensors
- Fire, smoke, temperature and hazardous fume alarms.
Intelligent integration takes this concept to another level by using ‘command and control’ software to not only collate the data, but comprehensively analyse it as well. Visual and audio data, alarms and any number of unrelated platforms and sub-systems, from multiple geographical locations, can be brought together into a single monitoring and control environment that is programmed to recognise anomalies by analysing and cross referencing data patterns.
This delivers unprecedented levels of situational awareness and provides an effective and vital mechanism for distinguishing real threats from collective ‘noise’.
In order to achieve this desired level of awareness, however, there are key considerations that those agencies tasked with protecting our cities – and critical assets that serve them – should keep uppermost in their mind.
The importance of open architecture
It is paramount that any command and control software used is ‘open architecture’. Not only will this maximise the potential for integrating systems from multiple third-party vendors, but it also means any existing legacy technology can still be utilised. The capacity to blend old and new is, for most cities, vital to the adoption of new surveillance technologies.
Open architecture is particularly important when it comes to camera technology, as many city centre and older industrial sector surveillance systems are currently analogue heavy. An open architecture solution facilitates a hybrid approach so legacy analogue cameras can be viewed and managed alongside newly-implemented HD IP cameras. This also reduces costs as local authorities do not need to rip out and replace existing technology when updating surveillance systems.
Any organisation or agency of city security should have a clear understanding of their specific needs. Intelligently integrated solutions are best suited when tailored to meet exact site requirements and detect specific events.
A specific scenario of events occurring on the site of a data centre will mean something very different to the same events happening at a transport hub or utilities plant. Gas monitoring, humidity detection, movement analysis, thermal detection, delivery patterns, smoke pattern/colour analysis, virtual perimeters, loitering/anomalous object detection, fire detection, staff access control patterns – these will be vital for some assets but won’t even appear on the priority list for others.
A ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution will not be able to accommodate the level of detail that critical infrastructure protection demands.
Right camera for the job
On the subject of bespoke systems, it is also extremely important that the right cameras are selected for the right task – based on a risk and hazard analysis, and taking into account issues such as ease of integration, maintenance, accuracy and affordability.
Different scenarios – even within a specific project – require different solutions. For example, a power station may need high-definition image capture to monitor machinery – delivering minute detail such as degradation of small parts. On the other hand, standard definition is sufficient in more general areas, for example public footpaths, and low-light and thermal or infra-red cameras on the perimeter, when possible night-time incursions need to be seen in as much detail as daylight ones.
Options are also available for multi-spectral cameras which switch between colour, mono and thermal imaging according to the environment.
Collaborate to innovate
The true benefit of intelligent integration is that it is an enabler of cross-agency collaboration which, when keeping an entire city safe, is hugely advantageous. For example, integrating remote evidence management solutions facilitates secure 24-hour access by key third party organisations such as the Police and HMRC, in line with data protection principles. Selected organisations can request to ‘view’ and ‘seize’ footage without having to attend the CCTV control room – this reduces man hours and, consequently, costs. Intelligently integrated solutions also facilitate cross-city communication and incident response.
Working together to protect a city
A fire alarm is triggered at the refinery. In the on-site command and control centre, this automatically streams visual feeds from the nearest cameras and readings from chemical detection sensors.
The operator can see the location of the fire and receives confirmation that hazardous smoke has been detected. A workflow prompts the operator to instigate evacuation procedures, call the fire department, lock down key site zones and check wind direction with the city weather station.
On confirming that wind speed and smoke density pose a threat, the operator is then prompted to call the city police to issue ‘stay-indoors warnings’ and air traffic control. Receiving the information, air traffic control know they have two hours before smoke from the fire is likely to start impacting on flights and are able to instigate emergency planning protocols.
Revolutionising city safety and security
All those responsible for critical infrastructure – particularly those from countries experiencing infrastructure-led growth – have an important opportunity to take advantage of technology to safeguard their vital assets and make the towns and cities which they serve safer places to be.
Customisation is key, and that can only come when software suppliers, integrators and end-users all collaborate. ‘Command and control’ solutions can be configured to deliver integrations and workflows which meet exacting requirements – but tailoring to that level requires users to clearly understand their needs.
However, technology is only part of the equation. Understanding customer needs, and developing partnerships with industry leaders, will enable the intelligent integrations that can truly revolutionise the way city safety and security professionals do their jobs.
A safe city is an informed city, and with the right approach to and use of surveillance command and control technology, this is achievable.
Product and Technology Director, Synectics