Smart Cities: Implications For Physical Security

p054-061By Dr Kevin J. Foster.


Civilisation seems to be entering its third age. Firstly, there was the age of conquest when the organisations that prospered were conquering armies. Buildings were designed to protect inhabitants. Building services were basic; fire was used for light and heat. Private communication was by messenger and public communication by town crier. Buildings and cities were not designed with communication systems in mind. Security of cities was achieved by physical infrastructure such as walls, moats, and embankments. Surveillance was achieved with the human eye and surveillance operatives needed to be in a high place, like a hill or a rampart.

Then there was the industrial (second) age. This was the age when industrial technology provided the impetus for mass production. Organisations prospered if they were able to use labour saving technologies to increase productivity. Buildings and critical infrastructure were more sophisticated and designed for productivity in the workplace and comfort at home. In the early industrial age, coal, wood, oil and gas were used for energy and later, electricity was an essential service in all buildings. Private and business communications were based increasingly on postal and then telephone services. Mass communication was via newspapers, radio and television. Later, buildings were designed to accommodate telephone and television services. Technology was used to improve security with intrusion alarm systems, electronic access control systems and closed circuit television systems (CCTV). However, fences, walls, vaults, locks and the like were still very important to protect information and assets. CCTV surveillance operatives might have sat in a control room or monitoring station inside the building keeping an eye on anyone approaching the facility, or intruders who may have activated an alarm, or after an incident forensic investigators may have viewed video images recorded on a tape or disk. Alarms were monitored on and offsite.

Now, we seem to be entering the information (third) age. In this new age, organisational and societal success will be determined in large part by the availability of essential, accurate and mission critical information in rapidly changing operational and social environments. Private, business, and mass communications are increasingly dependent on internetworked technologies (both wired and wireless). Buildings and cities will need to be designed to optimise throughput and availability of information. Telecommunications infrastructure will be used for the control of building services, shared tenant services, critical infrastructure, and business systems.

Easy access to digital internetworked voice, data, image and video services will become the most important service in commercial properties, public facilities and domestic residences. Rather than there being attempts to install telecommunications systems into unsuitable buildings, the latter will be purpose-built and designed around the telecommunications infrastructure. The internal environment of the building is altered as information technologies are used for security, building management, surveillance, identification, broadband telecommunications, access control and computer-generated voices.

In smart cities, buildings will be purpose designed to accommodate internet service providers and the users of their services. The physical boundaries of the building or facility become less relevant to the organisation’s operations. The new boundary is determined by the outer limits of information and document flow. Service users and providers can be in different cities or countries. Physical barriers may be inadequate to prevent a virtual intruder and surveillance within the city can be achieved from other cities, even other continents. The security challenges and opportunities are profound!

There is a rich literature about cyber-security and the challenges of protecting information that can be obtained by people, organisations and nations with the intent and capability to steal information, and even identities, by exploiting weaknesses and vulnerabilities in data communication internetworks.

When considering the role of physical security in a smart city, the first question that comes to mind is “what exactly is a smart city?”A quick internet search reveals that there are multiple definitions of a “smart city”. However, the general theme is that it refers to the interconnectedness of people and technology in order to provide a whole host of benefits for a city’s economy, mobility, environment, lifestyle and governance.

The ‘Intelligent Community Forum’[1] argue “broadband connectivity feeds the development of a knowledge workforce as well as creating the foundation of digital inclusion programs. Both contribute to a rising level of innovation in the community as well as increasing demand for connectivity. And Intelligent Communities make this wave of change the core ‘value proposition’ in economic development marketing”.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a ‘City Science’ program for developing technologies, systems and ideas that may be used in smart city planning. Some of these ideas are:

  • City plans designed to reduce dependence on cars and increase mobility on demand. This might include shared bicycles and even shared electric vehicles that autonomously park in a designated area when the users leave the vehicle.
  • Houses and apartments designed to provide different functions in the same space. For example, walls and built-in furniture might easily move or reconfigure to transform a room from a living room to a business meeting room, or offices, or perhaps additional sleeping accommodation.
  • Shared workspaces in buildings include hot desks, meeting rooms, and also shared laboratories and workshops.
  • Crowd-sourced intelligence gathering may become more prevalent. For example, monitoring ‘risky’ behaviour of people (at a group level) without breaching personal data privacy, for the purpose of providing targeted public health and safety advice. Social networking may also be used for this purpose. Another example, after a security incident in a public space, crowd-sourced intelligence gathering technology may be used to obtain video footage from mobile phones or wearable technology and transmit these to a police or emergency services command and control centre.
  • RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) system for use with wearable technology that facilitates the real-time transfer of information to the wearer as they walk through a building or space. This may be useful for security patrols. For example, the technology might direct the security guard along a pre-determined patrol path or provide guidance to the location of a security alarm while at the same time presenting CCTV images to devices worn or carried by the guard.

Public Surveillance In A Smart City

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) has been an important element in crime prevention strategies in many cities around the world. CCTV has evolved and developed in parallel with data communications technology. Early CCTV systems used for crime prevention surveillance operations in public places typically used dedicated cables that connected CCTV cameras (e.g. on a pole at a street corner) to a video recorder and a monitor in a building where an operator could watch images from the camera in real-time or from the recorder for post-incident investigation. The communication technologies used in the early systems were not very cost-effective over long distances and therefore CCTV systems tended to be concentrated in localised areas such as a few streets in a city centre or in and around specific buildings.

However, the information and communication technologies used in smart cities can be used by IP-CCTV system designers to create CCTV networks that can operate across corporate networks spanning a whole city and even across public networks to enable the use of CCTV anywhere on earth where smart city infrastructure has been installed. This provides economies of scale never before experienced by the designers of physical security and surveillance systems.

It is now feasible for a city to have a centralised CCTV network with crime prevention cameras in CBD pedestrian malls, streets, and restaurant precincts across tens of kilometres to be monitored from one central location. If the CCTV monitoring station is integrated with police and emergency services command and control systems then it is feasible for police to view an area under surveillance while a crime is happening and organise an appropriate response. These wide-area city CCTV networks can be integrated with other CCTV systems such as those at sports stadia, again providing police with better command and control. Such wide area CCTV networks already exist in some cities, for example in Canberra, Australia.

The next stage in CCTV systems integration would be to internetwork these city-wide CCTV systems with those being used in the transport sector, for example at railway stations or mobile cameras onboard buses and trains. Like CCTV for security and crime prevention, Intelligent Transport systems include CCTV cameras and various sensors for monitoring traffic on main roads. It will become more commonplace for the integration of crime prevention cameras, transport monitoring cameras, number-plate recognition, and face recognition systems. On the roads there are cameras used in smart systems for monitoring traffic congestion, identifying vehicles that may be exceeding the speed limit or those proceeding through red traffic lights at road intersections. By integrating crime prevention camera networks with intelligent transport CCTV systems, it would become feasible for law enforcement agencies to better coordinate response to a criminal activity, for example tracking the movement of a criminal attempting to evade arrest. This technology could be expanded beyond the smart city to a national level. The use of intelligent analytics will aid surveillance operations to automatically detect a stolen car on a public road, the face of a wanted criminal at a train station, or a terrorist in a place of mass gathering; and then send this information to the relevant law enforcement agency’s command and control system to organise an appropriate response.

The benefits of integration are not just available to city planners and governments. Corporations could centralise the management of their in-house security systems installed at many buildings in which they operate, not just in one city, but at the national and even international level of integration. This level of sophistication in physical security systems capability is becoming increasingly evident with electronic access control systems. Many corporations prefer to have one standard access control card in use across all of their facilities and have the maintenance of the systems managed by an in-house Information Services operations team – often from a remote location. Mobile staff in these corporations only need to carry one access card, which technically can be used at any of the company’s facilities, provided of course the necessary authorisations have been granted through the prescribed process. This allows more centralised decision-making in corporations about how internet, or intranet, enabled physical security systems are deployed, maintained and operated. The advantage is that economies of scale help to make security not only cheaper to achieve but also more standardised and routinised across a corporation, and this makes it easier to manage. Of course there still needs to be a degree of local decision-making to adjust security operations to suit local threats and risks.

Most importantly, smart city infrastructure provides substantial opportunities for strategic planning for the design and implementation of physical security in and between buildings in multiple geographies. The potential for increased efficiency and effectiveness is significant.

Using Smart City Technology To Achieve High Reliability Security

All organisations aspire to achieve ‘High Reliability’ in their operations. Smart city technologies provide infrastructure opportunities to contribute to the achievement of this goal by making it easier and more cost effective to obtain redundancy in systems. For example, it is very expensive to build a security control room in a building and there are substantial additional recurrent costs to operate the systems from that control room. However, having a centralised control room for a portfolio of buildings across a wide geographic area provides an opportunity to optimise cost effectiveness.

One security control room for an organisation’s wide area operation can present a single point of failure. However, the smart city infrastructure available in multiple cities and multiple time zones throughout the world make it feasible to have more than one control room within an organisation to provide redundancy in both technology and people that operate the technology. Thus it is possible to hand operations from one control room to another, potentially in different time zones. Thus 24-hour operations is feasible without necessarily employing people outside of normal business hours, and also having the potential to shift operations in real-time from a control room that has a serious fault (or internal security incident), to one that is fully operational until the fault or situation is rectified.

Physical Security In The Age Of Smart Cities

The physical security of buildings and cities will require effective and efficient application of information technologies. Physical infrastructure such as walls, moats, and embankments will still exist in some places but will no longer be enough to keep out intruders.

Surveillance will be achieved using information technologies, some automated, and some presenting images and intelligence to security operatives in remote control rooms that may be located anywhere in the city, or other cities elsewhere in the world. Security incidents will be monitored and observed in real-time and the command and control systems of police and emergency services will be integrated with these security systems to ensure the fastest and most appropriate response. The challenge is to fully develop these ‘complex socio-technical’ security systems in the age of smart cities, without invading privacy. This is a very exciting time for the security industry!

Dr Kevin J. Foster is a researcher, trainer and SCEC Endorsed security consultant. Kevin’s consulting expertise is in the management of risk, especially security, project, and enterprise risks.

Dr Foster is a member of an industry technical committee developing an ANSI standard on risk assessment. Kevin is based in Canberra but also operates throughout Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

he can be reached at





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