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How Futuristic Technologies Can Help Build Safe Smart Cities

The rapid pace of urbanisation, while offering benefits like job opportunities and better living spaces to citizens, also throws up certain challenges for the administration, such as ensuring the safety and security of the public, especially women

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A massive 54.29 percent of the world’s total population lives in urban areas today. That’s close to 3.78 billion. In India, 31 percent of the country’s population resides in cities, according to the 2011 Census data. The rapid pace of urbanisation, while offering benefits like job opportunities and better living spaces to citizens, also throws up certain challenges for the administration, such as ensuring the safety and security of the public, especially women.

The fear of facing harassment or violence in public spaces restricts the movement of women within cities, and their ability to work, study, or simply exercise their rights and freedom. The alarming rise in the number incidents of harassment and violence against women over the last few years has created an urgent need for building safer public spaces and improving safety measures at certain ‘dark’ areas that exist in cities. Adding to the existing barriers to ensuring women’s safety is the lack of reliable channels to report violence or harassment. Despite there being multiple helpline numbers for women, there is a lack of a standardised system wherein complaints can be recorded and accessed by law enforcement authorities. In addition, most women are usually unaware of these helpline services simply because they aren’t promoted well enough, leading to several incidents going unreported. Furthermore, reporting of harassment by public transport authorities is not separate from other complaints. As a result, redressal of complaints, along with tracking reported incidents and their progress, becomes difficult for the authorities. 

Ensuring public safety in urban areas through the latest technology is the need of the hour. But the lack of a clear vision in this regard poses a major challenge to the integration of tech into public infrastructure. However, the growing buzz around the concept of smart cities and the launch of India’s own Smart Cities Mission has spurred conversations around women’s safety in urban areas across city, state, and national levels. Along with the most important elements of urban infrastructure, such as water, electricity, housing, sanitation, health, and education, safety is an aspect that requires a great deal of attention from the government and local governing bodies. An important cornerstone of Smart Cities Mission is, therefore, to look towards technological innovations for potential solutions to improve public safety. 

Technologies helping build smarter and safer cities 

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT) provide a foundation for a smart urban infrastructure framework. Driving these principal technologies is the integration of data, which, if done optimally, can deliver superior outcomes than any existing systems. A smart city, it is said, will be powered by data, and lots of it. Hence, these systems will enable governing bodies to collect data from across multiple sources such as digital public records, traffic management and public transport systems, CCTV cameras, embedded sensors, etc. and leverage it to derive actionable insights for better decision making on security. Considering the pace of digitisation across both private and public domains and the growing use of digital devices and internet-enabled smartphones in the country, the sheer amount of data created by each individual is humongous. Hence, the key approach to building ICT and IoT-powered smart cities is to harmonise all relevant data streams within a city into a single workflow management system. These systems, which comprise sensors, data storage devices, and computers, will help experts analyse data from a central data processing centre. 

A leading global ICT solutions provider has developed a safe city solution which uses IoT and enterprise LTE (eLTE) technology, a private enterprise-centric version of the 4G (LTE) networks.
This solution, by connecting through wireless broadband internet, enables authorities to integrate a diverse range of information sources, communication devices, and methods across departments and regions. They can also connect their own video surveillance networks with that of other private and public security systems. These systems can, as a result, significantly improve security monitoring at local public transport hubs, around malls, schools, commercial spaces, etc., to eliminate any blind spots within the surveillance network. Moreover, through live video feeds transmitted via the internet, police personnel can have ‘eyes’ all over the city, which will help them respond quickly to incidents of harassment or violence against any individual. Another ground-breaking safety solution for smart cities are AI and analytics-driven security systems that use 360° cameras to detect possible criminal activities. Such video security systems can connect seamlessly with multiple other systems or devices to share real-time data, and to design and deploy comprehensive security solutions at both public, as well as private spaces. Furthermore, the in-built system in these cameras, driven by video analytics, detects and intercepts criminal activities or incidents of harassment in real time, and alerts the authorities to help them respond quickly and effectively. 

When envisioning smart cities driven by ICT, we must also emphasise on the technology’s practical applications with respect to ensuring public safety. Technological integration in governance must also be done with the aim to make spaces in the city safer for women and creating a sense of ownership in the public to help fight crime. Along with more advanced technologies like ICT and IoT, communication channels like social media platforms can play a great role in bringing the public together and strengthening the safety and response mechanisms for tackling harassment and violence against women. In addition, the Smart Cities Mission for India must emphasise on micro-level planning for reviving overlooked spaces within the city and building gender-sensitive infrastructure focusing on security. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Prem Behl

Prem Behl is the Chairman & Managing Director of Exhibitions India Pvt. Ltd. (EIPL).

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