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Cities everywhere are growing rapidly, and so are the technologies that public safety agencies use to keep people safe and urban landscapes running smoothly. The pandemic has seen an acceleration of digital and ecological transformations in smart cities. In fact, about 54 per cent of UAE residents expect Covid-19 to accelerate the development of smart cities, a report by Mastercard, Smart Dubai, and Expo 2020 revealed. Environmentally friendly business practices, paperless government services, and fast, affordable, city-wide internet connectivity are some of the features residents expect from a smart city, the report found.
Even with all these technological investments, some municipal officials and agencies struggle to move public safety and smart city initiatives forward. Their main challenges are data overload, demand for transparency, and departmental silos.
As more devices are added to a network, more public safety agencies are inundated with data. Trying to make sense of the information slows emergency response and limits a city’s ability to spot issues or patterns and make changes that can positively impact their communities.
Public apprehension over how and when personal data is being used also creates points of contention for city stakeholders. More now than ever, key decision-makers are being asked to not only prioritise privacy and cybersecurity at all levels of their smart city framework but also openly engage with the community to address their needs and concerns.
Finally, investments in technologies across the cityscape have traditionally been made by independent departments. This siloed decision-making has kept departments isolated and unable to effectively share information. Yet, when departments from all over the city collaborate through a shared lens, they are better able to protect and serve all members of their community.
Faced with all these obstacles, how can city stakeholders turn raw data collected from smart city technology into powerful insights and share information across departments while addressing public concerns head-on? How can they implement a smart city framework to meet current demands and set them up for smooth future expansions?
Challenges and trends in public safety today
While many cities worldwide have set ambitious goals to become smart, this hasn’t come without hurdles. Some common challenges and trends that are holding cities back from becoming smarter and safer are:
•Data-rich and information poor: Most cities have already made significant investments in various technologies to protect their citizens. These might include solutions such as video surveillance, analytics, automatic license plate recognition (ALPR), various traffic sensors, and much more. All this technology generates a massive output of data. Therefore, to better serve communities and make a more meaningful impact, public safety agencies must implement tools that help transform raw data into intelligence that they can act on.
•A growing need for transparency: Rising polarisation and geopolitical issues are breeding mistrust around the world. While cities have always contended with the ‘big brother’ label, growing apprehension about how and why governments are using physical security technology is at an all-time high.
This heightened sensitivity to privacy violation is pressuring public entities and private businesses to enhance data protection. New privacy legislation is also supporting citizens’ grievances, mandating that organisations take ownership of how they collect, manage, and share personal information. Compliance not only involves upholding strict internal privacy protocols but also maintaining a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy too.
Another important aspect in addressing mistrust is ongoing community engagement. Initiatives that offer greater transparency are critical to the smart city movement because they open public discourse and minimise scepticism.
•Ineffective department and data siloes: City departments have been too since legacy technology has been disjointed for so long. Years later, as more cities recognise the benefits of sharing information within departments and across entities, these antiquated and disconnected technologies are creating significant roadblocks.
To foster these networks of collaboration, cities need to have the right frameworks and technologies in place. When all stakeholders can effectively communicate and share information, cities can unlock better quality responses and develop strategies necessary to keep urban life safe and vibrant.
How to build a smarter city of the future?
To enact an effective framework for a safer city, it’s important to bring all stakeholders to the table to discuss immediate concerns and identify long-term objectives. The discussion should also weigh the opinions of citizens and businesses to better align with community priorities and get more buy-in.
Besides, having the right foundational technologies in place is imperative to building a resilient smart city. At this stage, considering everything from network and IT infrastructures, cloud services, fixed and mobile broadband, and even the very platform from which agencies will manage video surveillance, analytics, ALPR, and other security technologies and sensors is vital. In the UAE, market leaders constantly leverage innovative technologies, making the city more safe, seamless, and efficient, cementing Dubai’s position as the model smart city. In fact, according to a recent research survey in the UAE, 8 in 10 residents prefer to live in a smart city.
Also, partnering with solutions vendors that prioritise cybersecurity and privacy is a must. It’s the first step in ensuring cities can reach the highest levels of protection against evolving cyber threats.
A smart city depends on its ability to evolve and adapt. City leaders should always think about what’s next, but what is possible comes down to the technology they choose. Investing in scalable and open technologies allows agencies to embrace the latest innovations and remain at the cutting-edge of the smart city movement.
Hassan El-Banna is the senior business development manager Middle East, Turkey & Africa (META) at Genetec
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