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Dubai has implemented a smart city strategy which has engaged builders, government officials and security platforms in order to support numerous facets of smart technology. Real estate developers such as Emaar Properties build “smart” into their building infrastructures, major developments and communities, helping to shape the city in the process.

Smarter, better, faster: Where smart cities are headed in the 2020s

April 7, 2021
Sensor technology is being woven into the fabric of secured cities to improve the proactive state of public safety.

This article was originally published in November 2016 by Smart Building Technology's sister website, SecurityInfoWatch (SIW).

The Future is Here

By JAMES CHONG -- According to a 2016 research report, the Smart Cities Market was expected to be worth $757.74 billion by 2020. Smart Cities are already taking over the globe, particularly in the Middle East where cities are being built from the ground up, providing a greenfield of opportunity to architect smart city technology into the base of new developments. Dubai, for instance, has implemented a smart city strategy which has engaged builders, government officials, and security platforms in order to support numerous facets of smart technology. Real estate developers such as Emaar Properties build “smart” into their building infrastructures, major developments, and communities, helping to shape the city in the process.

The United States is not far behind. In the last year, the White House has implemented a Smart Cities Initiative, beginning with a Smart City Challenge. The purpose of the program is to motivate cities across the country to improve their current structures in areas such as traffic management, through installing smart screens and cameras in public metro areas to make commutes easier and safer for residents. The Smart Cities Initiative will invest more than $160 million dollars into federal research, with the ultimate goal of promoting economic growth.

As discussions around the future of Smart Cities are on the rise, a major component of this movement is security. Sixty-eight percent of businesses are already using Internet of Things (IoT) applications so that technology is already in place and available for businesses and developers to gather and make the most of the data.

Let’s explore what really makes a city smart and how the security market can benefit from this transformation. When looking toward the future of Smart and Safe Cities, here are four trends that we see coming to fruition by the year 2020.

1. Sensors Will Drive Cities

Many cities are realizing the value of an integrated security platform that combines security hardware with IT security to give a 360-degree view of their assets and to create a more efficient, secure environment.  Sensors present the data needed to provide situational awareness to database operators and government authorities. Through the process, IoT applications (video, I.D. and access technology, sensors, GPS and geospatial trackers, social media, third-party data, etc.) feed the data into a platform that creates actionable information. This insight can be decided upon quickly to improve not only the security and safety of cities but also the efficacy of their operations.

As we are already seeing, high-tech “control rooms”, essentially databases of information, will drive entire cities from one central location. These operation centers can detect events such as flooding, large crowds, traffic management and gunshots, and even flag suspicious social media chatter. Multiple sensors from different locations can provide a complete picture of any active situation. Sensors aid in creating situational awareness through providing data points from many different locations and systems. This allows the operator to interact with various different pieces of information at once. From there the operator can lock or unlock doors and interact with sensors and other assets that may not be network-attached. This could include identifying voices or noises in a specific location, assessing the number of individuals in a certain area of a building, or monitoring the location and use of safety resources such as a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit. Sensors are rapidly becoming as important as video and image surveillance has been in the past, and will continue to drive innovation looking forward.

2. Buildings Will Predict Your Needs

Smart buildings now are only a glimpse of where they will advance beyond the year 2020. Buildings will be able to incorporate a fully digital and sustainable infrastructure, predicting individual and community needs based on data gathered from smartphones, tablets, video footage and sensors.

When envisioning “Smart Buildings,” we tend to envision modern buildings with sleek, economically conscious technology, green solar panels, and refrigerators that let you know when your milk is running low. However, the greatest growth for the smart buildings market will include fire control, life safety, security, intelligence, and the ability to gather information from a multitude of sources quickly to determine the best responses. Not only does this provide added safety features in new construction, but it can also lead to a greater understanding of what residents or workers need within their specific environments, creating an optimized tenant experience to increase satisfaction and sustainability. As IoT expands into the consumer market, more data will be collected around personal habits, patterns, preferences and energy usage.

However, the key is connecting each of these devices together to cross-pollinate the data and receive the best situational awareness possible, specifically when it comes to security. Buildings will operate on a single browser-based platform that quickly pulls data to present actionable information anytime from anywhere. This will empower building managers and security personnel to make faster decisions with less room for error, especially when time is of the essence.

In the case of a threat or incident, occupants and security personnel would be instantly alerted. This feature will also allow maintenance workers to know exactly which electrical or building management systems require maintenance and may eliminate the need to routinely make in-person inspections of systems that are fully functioning. In turn, this will translate to more efficient staff and safer buildings for both management and residents. Systems within buildings will eventually begin to communicate and share data with other IoT applications to run more efficiently and optimize themselves.

3. Data Will Predict the Future

By the year 2020, many analysts believed 35 to 50 billion objects would be connected to the cloud. With all of that data being collected, it’s more important than ever for cities to recognize the value of this data and use it to connect, correlate and filter inputs to form meaningful and actionable information. 

Data is the transformative DNA behind every smart city system. Data will enable cities to transform the way we will live, work and interact with one another. Smart Cities are already effectively capturing real-time data on what’s happening within the city infrastructure and monitoring real-time activity and traffic in and around the city.  Yet, the key to actionable intelligence is data correlation. Smart Cities will need to combine data sources to present a 360-degree view of events. Data without correlation is meaningless, so correlating the data will be a crucial part of any and all Smart Cities.

Through the formal integration of physical and IT technology, data can be correlated to draw trends that can inform major decisions. The process of analyzing this data in a concise way is known as data visualization, which aids cities by placing data in a visual content, collecting and correlating data from open source technology, hardware, and social media. This gives cities the ability to see data in a visual context, as well as how it affects their organization’s staff and resources. It may include monitoring weather stations to identify when a storm or flooding warning is imminent or helping with traffic management by identifying areas that need attention. Additionally, correlating data can also make metro routes and times more efficient, leading to less congestion and a streamlined process that, for example, allocates more trains through the most highly-trafficked stations and less through those that service fewer riders depending on the times, dates and frequency.

4. Safe and Secured Cities Will Mitigate Risk

The two major pillars of all Smart and Safe Cities are Public Safety and Transportation. Looking forward, Public Safety will evolve beyond on-the-ground law enforcement and reactionary responses to proactive methods of risk mitigation leveraging predictive analytics.  Security platforms today are able to provide situational awareness to state and local governments through monitoring city transportation systems with a web-based architecture. Through this type of monitoring, security hubs around a city are able to integrate their systems to pull in data that flags “risks,” such as an unauthorized vehicle near an event, suspicious activity on social media, a building or subway fire, street flooding or snow and ice hazards.

One timely example of this is Boston, where city officials have created a data center that focuses solely on snow and ice management during the winter months. From their experiences with massive snow storms in recent winters, this new approach helps with coordinating snow plows, salting the streets, and managing weather-related traffic problems and safety emergencies. Operators can then filter through the situations and prioritize those that are most urgent based on their requirements.

Another example is Houston, which regularly hosts major events including college basketball’s Final Four, the U.S. Olympic team travel checkpoint to Rio, and even the upcoming Super Bowl. The Regional Risk and Critical Infrastructure Protection Program through the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety & Homeland Security coordinates efforts between the Houston Police Department and event security in order to arm their systems with the best possible information for public safety management during large-scale, high-profile events. A major component of this is datacasting - the broadcasting of data over a wide area via radio waves - which helps the various agencies improve their situational awareness and information.

As Safe Cities improve their technology over the next few years, data correlation will become so advanced that systems will inform operators and law enforcement of what actions to take before an incident, rather than in real-time.

Looking Ahead

Looking forward beyond the year 2020, much of what we see happening now with data, transportation infrastructure, and IoT will pale in comparison to the level of integration that data-collecting technology will play in our daily lives. Each factor of individual, community and city-wide life will be correlated and translated to help law enforcement; city and federal governments and businesses cut costs, increase efficiency and improve overall satisfaction. The applications for IoT are endless, ranging from supply chain management to public safety to future city initiatives and more. As the Internet of Things expands, we will become accustomed to a level of intelligence from our technology that will know what we want - before we even know ourselves. Most importantly, our health, communities, and life safety will be improved through the power of connected, intelligent data.

James Chong, President and CEO of Vidsys, was joined by Julie Stroup, the City of Houston’s Public Safety Video Initiative Program Director, for a session entitled “How Sensor Data Will Shape Smart Cities” in November 2016 at the annual Secured Cities Conference. For more information, go to

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