Video Surveillance & Recording for Urban Applications

Imagine a large city that had decided to station a police officer on every street corner. We could safely assume that the crime level in this urban environment would be very low. However, apart from highly vulnerable city areas, such as Times Square in Manhattan , this is a luxury no city can afford. We find more urban environments relying on technology to bridge the gap of lack in personnel.

It has become the norm these days to find security cameras perched high above city streets, or strategically placed along with duress buttons, fire detectors and other alerting sensors in subway and train stations or other public areas. Highly tuned sensors can capture the sound of gunshots in large urban areas and pinpoint their location, while video analytics technology generates alerts when unattended objects are left in key locations. The urban environment is rife with cameras, microphones and sensors that provide a flood of data to urban control rooms.

 

Critical Situation Management

As these devices proliferate, the question arises: how is the information from these systems being managed? Receiving diverse fragments of data from the disparate video and other systems spread across a city without having a format in which to interpret and act upon it in a logical manner can leave an urban environment with an incomplete and inadequate response to a threat situation.

Imagine the consequences if Peter, a new hire in a large urban control center, receives an urgent alert at 3 a.m., but doesn't remember the appropriate response procedure or is delayed in his response.

 

In a world where urban and global security has become a critical focus there is a growing need for complex situation awareness technology. It is a unique top-down approach that enables advance planning and a proper step-by-step response necessary for different urban situations as triggered from various cameras and sensors the city has deployed. Later this plan is put into action thus coordinating in real-time the interactions among people, alerting technologies and response plans in the most effective manner.

The following real-world scenario demonstrates the benefit of situation management in action. In some cities, microphones are being used to capture the sound of gunshots andtransmit the sound's exact location to a control room. When applying situation management methodology to this scenario the following would happen:

The location of the gunshots automatically displays on a city map with a blinking red icon on a control room operator's monitor. The map may also have a real-time display of the current location of police vehicles in the responding area.

A second monitor automatically displays the relevant camera feed, enabling the operator to focus on the more immediate gunshot situation.

 

An additional monitor prompts the operator on the appropriate actions he needs to perform. After viewing the video footage the operator may decide that in addition to alerting the police through the system, an ambulance needs to be dispatched. This action would then trigger the situation management system to display a new set of pre-determined actions. The responses could be completely automated; semi-automated, with someone having to observe the situation before putting the automated response in motion; or entirely driven by a human response.

 

Situation Management requires a different mindset than typically exists as urban areas gear up to fund security projects. Most often, funding is allocated for cameras or video analytics without a pre-implementation design phase based on how urban situations will be managed. Advance planning not only helps in deciding what is needed and where it should go, but determines what kind of response is possible given the existing equipment. A city in the early stages of building a security system may only be able to have a “human sensor” alerting about a situation because the infrastructure for an automated one from alerting technologies isn't yet in place. However, even in this case where an operator presses a preconfigured panic button on a software dashboard, a Situation Management system that manually launches a predefined response set of actions can be very useful. Most importantly, a Situation Management system accommodates the existing investments made by a city in video and other alerting systems and makes provisions for future technology acquisitions as thebudgets become available.

The urban environment often brings an overlap among jurisdictions, public and private. A port, which may be under government or private ownership, often tends to be situated in or near an urban area. In the process of ensuring the security of a port, there exists the strong possibility for co-related situations to arise that require sharing information and coordinating a response between the port and the city or county.

 

For those agencies concerned about sharing information, especially between public and private sectors, interoperability is possible in a situation management scenario with only a thin layer of necessary information being shared. For example, if a chemical plant has an emergency, authorities could receive an alert so they can respond with their own situation management plan, but not have access to all of the plant's files.

Situation Management also has applications beyond the traditional security-related scenarios, such as routine urban events: the report of a dead animal in the street or a burst water pipe requiring the involvement of other city workers.

 

Weather emergencies are another factor that can impact an urban area. Internet feeds from weather sites can also be connected directly into a situation management system to coordinate a response plan among various agencies.

Situation Management systems programmed in advance for emergency and non-emergency scenarios provide everyone involved with a specific action plan to manage the crisis or incident in the best way possible.

Instituting a Situation Management system helps organizations simulate drills to keep personnel trained and continuously improving their response plans. Beyond managing the situation in real time, those who institute Situation Management are able to document activities for compliance, post-event reporting and debriefing requirements.

The challenge is that as security technology proliferates in cities, those responsible for overseeing it need to think about the process involved in providing an accurate and effective response—not just putting more cameras and other alerting systems in place.

Rafi Bhonker is an international executive at Orsus with more than 20 years experience in the application of software and IT systems.

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