City Surveillance Booms in Times of Economic Instability
a&s International | Date:
Back in the 1950s, children were allowed to play on the streets without supervision; back doors were left unlocked at night; and strangers greeted one another without an inkling of suspicion. The sense of safety and security experienced then is certainly trickling away now. Crime rates soared during the early 1990s, and the fresh memories of numerous terrorist attacks have left citizens living in an atmosphere of unease.
Governments are actively seeking solutions to enhance living standards and overall safety for all. Although there is a realistic need for city surveillance, the current economic situation has rendered authorities with smaller budgets to work with. Thus, cost-effective ways are explored, and excessive planning must be done to minimize the waste of resources. One way to build within a budget is to organize a project in stages and start small. This way, expansions can be done after seeing the effectiveness of the system and when more budgets or resources become available.
Currently, both analog and IP-based systems are being deployed. The decision to use which one greatly depends on the intention to build upon legacy systems. Some legacy systems are being upgraded using analog, although many are choosing to make the move via hybrid approaches. Since many city surveillance projects are just beginning, the lack of an existing infrastructure allows them to commence immediately with IP. This choice is further facilitated by the user's lack of analog investments and desire to use the best technologies currently available.
Crimes such as vandalism, burglary and theft have become everyday occurrences, and reports of violent crimes, such as kidnapping and murder, can be seen broadcasted daily on news networks. Back in the day, the law and safety of citizens were protected by patrolmen who walked the streets.
However, as modern cities and societies become more complex, governments and authorities realize the need to keep an eye on the city streets has increased, and relying on manpower alone is not sufficient. “Policemen who patrol the city streets provide a very valuable and effective service for the safety of the people, but the territory they can cover in a night is limited,” said Hagai Katz, Senior VP of Marketing for Magal Security Systems. “Thus, city surveillance acts as a substitute, and wider areas can be monitored. Together, they can help further support the quality of life for people.”
Currently, city surveillance is still a budding market for most parts of the world, and many cities have yet to implement such a system. “Every country's case is different — different needs and privacy concerns, along with political structures, can affect the uptake of city surveillance in the area. Some authorities are afraid to share data among different departments or agencies, and this can complicate the planning process,” Katz said. It is difficult to view the market from a global perspective, as growth in certain countries far exceeds some others, but exponential growth can be expected within the next couple of years.
In Latin America, Mexico is one of the biggest implementers of city surveillance, spurred on by the recent acceleration of drug-related crimes. Thousands of cameras are being deployed around the cities, and projects continue to increase. However, in total, less than 20 percent of the Latin American cities have a system installed. “In most of the major cities, there are at least a few cameras installed, but a system that covers the majority of the city streets has yet to be set up,” said Jose Martin, VP of Sales for Latin America, IndigoVision.
The Middle East is also very active, in spite of the global recession early on, said Matthew Messinger, Senior Communications Consultant for Government and Public Safety Communications, North America, Motorola. Asia and Africa are very interested in setting up such systems, and there is increasing demand for high-level technologies, said Iain Cameron, MD of Mirasys. “We believe the global government spending on video surveillance systems exceeds US$5 billion and continues to grow at a 9-percent annual rate,” Messinger said.
Effects of the Recession
The global recession is another reason for the uptake discrepancies among different cities. “In the current economic climate, organizations are planning for longer procurement cycles that sometimes delay projects,” Messinger said
Rather than halting projects completely, the financial crisis has led authorities to look more closely into city surveillance's effectiveness. Budget cuts are forcing authorities to place more emphasis on the strategic placement of equipment and to settle with a less advanced system as they would like. “Governments still want to keep city streets safe, which is why many projects are still underway. The projects, however, are reduced in scope or slowed down; many projects in the U.K. have been scaled back. This does affect the effectiveness of the system, since more advanced equipment, such as video analytics, cannot be deployed as often as liked,” Cameron said. “Proper planning has to be done ahead of time, so as to fully utilize all cameras deployed. For example, fewer cameras would be installed in safer areas so high-crime areas can receive the proper coverage needed without having to raise the budget. Also, there is currently a debate on using either lower-frame and higherresolution cameras, or higher-frame and lower-resolution cameras due to the costly transmission and storage a high-frame, high-resolution camera would demand.”
A cost-effective method of carrying out a city surveillance project would be to install cameras in different stages. “For example, a system can be started with 10 cameras or less, and can be expanded to 1,000 cameras or more without any software or hardware replacements. All that need to be added are cameras, software licenses, storage space and workstations. These expansions can be done based on increases in crime rates in a particular area of the city, or when there is an increase in the budget,” Martin said. “Extending the technology life period can also dramatically improve your ROI, and this can be achieved if you have the same technology supplier for the cameras and the management system, and if software and firmware upgrades are done simultaneously.”
S ome governments see the investment in high-tech equipment worthwhile due to the high ROI. “In terms of saving lives, the ROI is incalculable. But mayors are seeing that investing in places to improve the safety perception of them can increase the real-estate value. As people purchase, live and expand in an area, they generate taxes and revenue for the city,” Katz said.
Top-notch systems are placed above budget concerns in some countries. “In the Italian market, common architecture involves IP-based edge devices — either pure IP or through encoders — transmission with radio bridges, central monitoring and archiving solutions at police stations,” said Simone Santambrogio, R&D Director for Promelit. “The rise in crime and terrorist threats has boosted the request for video content analysis, such as object detection.” Technology used and requested is often high-end: megapixel resolutions, video content analysis and crypto protocol on radio transmissions.
Setting up a citywide surveillance system involves different elements and can often be tricky. “It's best to start small. This way, you can see what works, what doesn't and grow from there,” Katz said. “Requirements also change from time to time, so it's important for the system to be scalable as you move forward.”
Much focus is placed on camera quality, since a low-quality camera renders unusable images and users are begining to consider high resolution imaging as the norm. “Usually, there are some minimum specifications the product needs to fulfill; another key factor is using high-quality products that are reliable. Generally, video surveillance is not needed, but when an incident does happen, it's important to have a camera and a system that is working properly. A successful project should not require too much maintenance efforts,” Santambrogio said. Although some training is needed to operate the system, it still needs to remain as simple as possible. “Ease of use is also important when selecting a product, and friendly GUIs and user menus are a must because the people manning the cameras are not IT experts.”
As more projects are installed and the market expands, more R&D efforts and high-tech deployments can be expected. “Smarter products are being developed for easier deployments and lower TCO. Management software is becoming very important in both city surveillance and the security industry in general,” Santambrogio said.
Analytics will also become more widely seen as the technology continues to mature. “Better HD cameras will be available, and more content will be utilized with analytics. More automated features will be used, and mobile units will be introduced,” Cameron said.
Currently, one of the biggest focuses is on integrating citywide systems with local authorities so information can be shared freely during an emergency. However, it may still take some time before citywide emergency response systems become more widespread. “It's very difficult for authorities to share information between two districts because every site has a different system and interface,” Katz said.
Also, laws may need to be changed for this to happen. “In the U.K., every camera has a purpose and cannot be shared among agencies. For example, the transit camera can only be used for transit purposes, and the police camera can only be used for police purposes. This can add up to large amounts of money wasted, and prohibits fast information sharing,” Cameron said.
City surveillance will certainly continue to grow as governments realize the need for such systems to be in place. Long-term effects need to be considered — we are making our way during times of economic hardship, but proper investment into this sector can lead to a safer city. This will amount to better businesses, higher real-estate values and hopefully a lift away from the economic downturn.