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Safe city concept lays the groundwork for Modi's smart cities

Saurav Jha @SJha1618

Updated: July 2, 2014, 6:19 PM IST
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The unsavoury events of the past decade, ranging from mass terrorist attacks to public crimes against women has created the need for safer Indian cities. As such the 'safe city' concept has taken hold in India with the country's first ever such consolidated project taking off in Surat with more underway. Safe city is somewhat synonymous with the 'smart city' concept given that the basic internet protocol (IP) based surveillance setup for both are similar. Moreover given that the BJP's Prime Ministerial Candidate Narendra Modi has mentioned 'smart cities' as part of his potential agenda in government and has promised to set up some 100 new such cities in India, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at the public safety aspects of a smart city under the safe city paradigm as it is being currently envisioned in India.

It is in Modi's home state of Gujarat that India's first true safe city project is underway in the city of Surat, the first phase for which has already been completed at a cost Rs 10.5 crores and includes the installation of 104 CCTV cameras, a state-of-the-art command and control centre (CCC) equipped with a 280 square foot video wall; a data centre (DC) with 200 Terabytes of storage; and an integrated physical security information management (PSIM) system supporting an IP Video surveillance network. The total project dubbed the 'Surat Safe City Project' (SSCP) will consist of 5 phases in all, and when fully functional will involve a network of over 5,000 surveillance cameras at 500 different locations covering a total area of 150 square kilometres thereby demonstrating the scalability of the project. Any safe city setup has to be scalable in order to cater to the growth of a city and also has to be upgradeable and versatile in order to incorporate new sensors and tie in different functions such as utilities.

Now footage from SSCP's cameras will be stored for a period of up to 30 days and the 'safe city' concept will also be used to generate two dimensional mapping reports that can aid resource planning as well as disaster management. Indeed public safety today encompasses everything from dealing with crime, to traffic management to mitigating the effects of environmental events.

Incidentally this project was meant to be implemented in 2009 but issues related to the choice of cameras and bandwidth availability for the network enabled system led to delays. In fact a pilot program executed in Ahmedabad in 2011 revealed the need to adopt an adaptive approach to wider CCTV deployment in India. As it turns out, cameras sporting fixed focus lenses may be ill suited to India's densely packed and sometimes chaotic environment. Home-grown Innovative Telecom & Softwares, which is implementing SSCP has therefore invested in a mix of image capturing static cameras and efficiently motion controlled PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) cameras. These high speed cameras are apparently capable of constant automated toured monitoring of the site in question and record at a frame rate that is high enough to capture movements in the stipulated coverage area. Although the IP video solutions for Surat have come from Verint, it is well known that global majors including Bosch, Samsung, Panasonic and Sony are keenly watching the IP video space in India.

A CCC is obviously equipped with situation management facilities that facilitate operational readiness and iron out incident management activities. Moreover in addition to serving as a hub for the analysis and dissemination of information collected from various cameras and perimeter intrusion detection systems (PIDS) mounted on poles and fences or even buried underground, the CCC also does the same for data gathered from sources such as government agencies, private organizations and individual citizens. If tied together properly, more effective responses to service outages, and real-time management of crisis situations superior to that in legacy city management systems is possible.

At the heart of a CCC is the 'Control Room' (CR) which is the central monitoring station with integrated environmental, energy, security & safety systems that provide for the viewing and analysis of live-streaming videos captured by IP cameras in the field. Now the major elements of a CR itself include display solutions, DC solutions, networking solutions, video analytics and information management solutions all of which also have to be scalable to accommodate for growth in the setup. The networking solution for the CR in particular has to be designed to optimize bandwidth capacity available to the IP network and streamline usage by adding switches/routers. However care has to be taken to reduce complexity in the network solution which is basically built to transfer critical data without disruption at all times. Indeed the IP based network infrastructure has to be 'smart' enough to prioritize mission critical surveillance and reserve capacity for the same. Now everybody from IBM to Cisco to Dell seems to be offering solutions in this realm.

Obviously the key 'verb' in the safe city concept is the display of live streaming video images. The CR has large screen LED displays (which represent a major opportunity for domestic players) specifically designed to enable collaborative monitoring and decision making. This means that full colour and full motion displays that provide sharp images within a band of viewing distances thereby catering to large audiences are typically installed in CRs. Indeed the 'video wall' of CRs which displays a large amount of information collectively and simultaneously is expected to deliver the highest possible contrast, best image quality, operational reliability, serviceability, and affordability.

Naturally viewing large amounts of information 'collectively and simultaneously' requires the right kind of video management software (VMS) for effectively managing multiple live feeds and recorded images. Typically, contemporary VMSs comprise automated system health monitoring and event responses, investigation management tools, a software-based virtual matrix, interactive facility maps, an intuitive video viewing interface, an ultra-thin client for remote users in addition to other features. The idea is to enable both single location as well as large-scale, geographically distributed operations. VMS solutions today have the flexibility of being operated through both physically connected and wireless networks with the latter coming into vogue once 4G connectivity proliferates.

Any safe city setup is an enterprise environment that runs computer-intensive applications but must do so with minimal maintenance and downtimes. In this context storage DC architecture, integrated building management system (IBMS) and virtualization solutions all of which combine to form an overall DC solutions package have to be ruggedized. DC solutions today are open architecture and support industry-standard network connectivity providing flexibility to the safe city network in terms of upgradability and flexibility.

The DC itself has to function 24X7 size and trends suggest that besides the absolute amount of data processing/storage capability, success in this space will be enjoyed by solutions that can bring down energy consumption levels (a part of which is cooling requirements) while increasing redundancy and deployability. Since the number of locations where a DC can actually be located is limited, the ability to concentrate various electronic components in a small floor area, grouping them for efficiency while segregating them for security is valued at a premium and consultants in this arena seem to be in demand. In any case designing an efficient DC requires coordinating architecture, floor plan, equipment, electrical power, telecommunications, HVAC, lighting and cabling. The servers themselves should be capable of high-speed input/output operations and fast memory throughput. Once again the ability to run applications quickly while using comparatively less power than legacy systems is sought after. Nowadays this is increasingly done through 'server virtualization', which is the ability to manage multiple applications on a single server, thereby consolidating the task of multiple servers into one.

Data protection is apparently achieved through the increasing use of self-encrypting drives in these servers. To eliminate single point failure, IBMS is implemented both in the CCC and the DC. In order to mitigate the risk of possible threats from fire, water, humidity, power failure, rodent, unwanted access, etc the IBMS consisting of everything from a fire detection system to uninterrupted power supply is put in place showing in a way the diversity of equipment that goes into a safe city project of this kind.

Ultimately, IP video surveillance, CCC and DC operations are tied by PSIM, which is basically the software that runs the entire safe city network and enables the fusion of information for a user to view, correlate and analyse to identify situations quickly and efficiently, leading to the orchestration of suitable responses by co-ordinating various agencies. PSIM is designed to sift through vast amounts of information to provide actionable intelligence for a variety of security environments and is a customized and trademarked software package of the lead implementation agency in any safe city project. Emerging PSIMs are capable of virtual simulations while fusing the debriefing and analysis of real events to 'learn' over time. The IP revolution is leading to a convergence in the electronic device realm and the safe city concept clearly lays the groundwork for a full blown smart city where all utilities are integrated into a common remote management grid. However even as the safe city concept gathers speed in India it is important to note that much work has to be done on network security before a city really becomes safe. This is especially true in a future when cloud computing will be used to store ever increasing amounts of data generated by the eyes and ears of a safe city network.

Follow Saurav Jha on twitter @SJha1618
First Published: July 2, 2014, 6:19 PM IST

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