Fighting invisible enemies

Surveillance is one of the biggest connected systems contributing to smart cities. How can smart surveillance tackle health risks and dangers in smart cities

Ghosts, dark powers and curses: all classic elements of many scary movies, and examples of why it doesn’t take something visible to scare people.  We have a natural fear of dangers we can’t see, and for good reason. How do you defend yourself against an invisible enemy?

But what has this got to do with smart cities and surveillance?

In today’s cities, there are several factors that can turn into a threat of health, safety or even lives. Some are more obvious, like chaotic traffic management that lead to incidents or environmental dangers like fire or flooding. But others are more hidden, yet equally as dangerous to people’s health or a city’s livability.

However, a smart city wouldn’t live up to its name if there wasn’t a technology-based solution driven by data that could help tackle these dangers – and that’s advanced surveillance systems. In combination with sensors, audio and analytics, they become the tool to monitor and mitigate the risks and help to protect the health and safety of citizens in smart cities – even when the ‘enemy’ seems invisible.

Andrea Sorri, Segment Development Manager Smart Cities at Axis Communications discusses exclusively for Security Buyer  how surveillance solutions tackle health risks in smart cities.

Mission health and safety: The risks in smart cities and the tools to fight them

Health and safety of residents are closely intertwined with the overall livability of a city, and often factors associated with health, well-being and a feeling of safety score highly in ratings of the world’s most livable cities.

City authorities therefore need a keen focus on all aspects of urban life that can impact the well-being of citizens, from air quality to rates of crime. Indeed, with more of the world’s cities using the UN Sustainable Development Goals to define their progress, the smart use of technology and data is an imperative rather than an option.

Smooth traffic flow in smart cities

With the increasing population in urban areas, there’s also been a growing number of cars on the streets – according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association there’s currently an average of two cars per citizen in the EU.  Therefore, traffic management has always been a key topic for smart cities with the goal to keep the streets safe – for drivers and pedestrians – without hindering the traffic flow (which in itself can have a significant impact on air quality). This is where surveillance systems in combination with analytics come into play.

Safety first

Surveillance cameras along key traffic routes turn them into smart traffic-detection sensors. They provide a real-time view on the vehicle flow and incidents, which might disrupt the traffic flow across the city or put people’s safety at danger.

Systems can be used to detect queues and support pedestrian dynamic and safety, while they’re walking or crossing streets, as well as monitors for accidents or other violations like wrong-way drivers. In cases like the latter, the real-time feature is crucial as every second can make the difference to prevent a fatal accident and protect citizens.

If the cameras detect an incident, an alert is sent to the operators to verify the case and send the needed forces to the location – either to resolve the issue or provide medical assistance as fast as possible. Additionally, the information collected by these devices allows Traffic Management Centres to adjust traffic lights or open additional lanes on highly frequented roads to level the traffic flow.

Broader health issues

Outside of the direct safety risk, poor traffic management brings broader health issues. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Environment Agency (EEA), the exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause severe health issues – from obesity, dementia and respiratory infections to heart disease and lung cancer. It’s seen as the single largest environmental risk in Europe.

Ensuring a smooth and regulated traffic flow across the city also leads to a decrease of congestion and, thus, vehicle emissions. Surveillance cameras as advanced traffic sensors can, therefore, become important complementary tools to help improve the air quality for citizens.

Parking management’s role

Related to the broader subject of traffic monitoring is parking management. Poor parking management causes stress for the residents and contributes to traffic congestions, if vehicles are driving slowly through the streets looking for a vacant space. Often, this results in people parking illegally, which is not only inconvenient for other road users, but can quickly become a threat to life and safety. For example, if emergency service vehicles or crucial access roads to hospitals are blocked, the situation can become life-threatening.

Network surveillance cameras, which are already implemented in many cities, can be enhanced with specific analytics applications. Detection zones can be pre-defined to trigger automated alerts should an unauthorised vehicle stop in the area for too long. The alert is then, for example, sent to law enforcement, so they can resolve the situation. The combination of analytics and cameras can also be used to guide drivers to vacant parking lots to prevent illegal parking in the first place. 

Smart, safe and silent – controlling noise pollution with surveillance

We talked about the issue of air pollution in urban environments, but there’s another invisible factor that can damage citizens’ health: noise. In cities, noise pollution is the second most dangerous environmental threat of the modern day for people’s health and safety, according to the WHO.  

In most European countries, more than half of the population is exposed to a harmful level of traffic noise, which can cause detrimental physical effects, such as respiratory agitation, gastritis and even heart attacks. The EEA estimates that a long-term exposure to noise above 55 decibels contributes to 48,000 new cases of ischaemic heart disease every year across Europe.

A combination of high-quality microphones, acoustic sensors, AI analytics and video cameras can help to monitor the level and the source of noise, which can then be verified via the video footage. The data helps operators to reduce excessive levels of noise where possible. For example, when a certain intersection is causing the noise, it might be because it can’t accommodate the rush of people during peak times. Based on the data, operators can then adjust traffic lights, open lanes to divert the traffic and measure how hybrid and electric cars will reduce noise. It also allows them to improve streets for pedestrians and cyclists.

Monitoring waste and weather with sensors and surveillance

A natural part of today’s urban civilisation – waste and its disposal – can become a major health risk if treated incorrectly. Piles of rubbish can turn quickly into a health threat, for example, when it attracts rats as well as the bacteria and potential diseases that come with it. Plus, it also poses a fire risk, for example through the dumping of flammable substances or unextinguished cigarette ends tossed into piles of rubbish.

Sensors and video can measure the fill-levels at municipal dump sites and send a message when a pick-up needs to be arranged. The video footage shows whether the waste is being collected and handled according to the local regulations. Additionally, the cameras can be used to monitor for and deter illegal dumping or detect smoke ahead of a large blaze taking hold.

While the health risks covered so far have been man-made, external factors such as extreme weather and natural disasters can become highly disruptive forces to the urban infrastructure.

Environmental and weather monitoring sensors give city authorities early warning and time to prepare for severe weather situations. Video cameras can monitor both the weather conditions and movement of a city’s population and should a threatening situation arise can connect network audio play live or pre-recorded warnings and instructions to keep people safe.

Keeping things safe, healthy, clean and quiet

There are many ways to make a city smarter, safer and reduce the health risks for citizens, all of which positively impact livability. With increasingly sophisticated technologies, these options and their applications will continue to grow, while becoming more sustainable and cost-efficient. A first step is to examine the possibility to use and enhance existing network surveillance infrastructure in cities – linked to additional sensors – to deliver insight without huge new investments. The opportunities might be closer than you think.

Commentary: Andrea Sorri, Segment Development Manager Smart Cities EMEA at Axis Communications

There are many ways to make a city smarter, safer and reduce the health risks for citizens, all of which positively impact livability. With increasingly sophisticated technologies, these options and their applications will continue to grow, while becoming more sustainable and cost-efficient. A first step is to examine the possibility to use and enhance existing network surveillance infrastructure in cities – linked to additional sensors – to deliver insight without huge new investments. The opportunities might be closer than you think.

In today’s cities, there are several factors that can turn into a threat of health, safety or even lives. Some are more obvious, like chaotic traffic management that lead to incidents or environmental dangers like fire or flooding. But others are more hidden, yet equally as dangerous to people’s health or a city’s livability.

However, a smart city wouldn’t live up to its name if there wasn’t a technology-based solution driven by data that could help tackle these dangers – and that’s advanced surveillance systems. In combination with sensors, audio and analytics, they become the tool to monitor and mitigate the risks and help to protect the health and safety of citizens in smart cities – even when the ‘enemy’ seems invisible.

Commentary: Jayden Xu, Senior ITS Solution Manager at Hikvision

In urban places, poor driving doesn’t just increase the risk of accident and injury – it also slows down traffic and increases delays for other motorists. To help local authorities to overcome these challenges, Hikvision has created its Traffic Violation Detection solution, which detects traffic and parking violations across the road network in real time and supports fast, automated incident responses and ticketing deterrents. 

As an additional benefit, the Hikvision solution uses smart video to automate traffic and incident management. This not only speeds up response times compared to manual monitoring, but it also helps to save police time and free up forces to focus on major incidents. 

Using Hikvision cameras and velocity radars mounted on checkpoint ‘gantries’, traffic violations can be detected at key locations on the road network. In particular, the speed of vehicles can be verified – either using a location-based snapshot, or an average speed between two checkpoints.

In addition to speeding, Hikvision checkpoint cameras use deep learning technology to detect a number of additional traffic violations. For example, the cameras can determine if drivers are wearing their seatbelt. 

The Hikvision Traffic Violation Detection solution monitors driving behaviour at intersections, it integrates lane properties to detect and respond to misuse of lanes, illegal u-turns, wrong-way driving, and other incidents that can cause accidents and delays. 

 

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