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Smart Cities Public Safety


From the standpoint of the average citizen, public safety is one of the most visible and perhaps most understood of city responsibilities. We see aid vehicles on highways and byways, lights flashing as they race to the scene of an accident. We watch firefighters on the nightly news risking life and limb to save people from a burning building. And we pass police officers on bikes and on foot as they patrol city streets.

In the Readiness Guide, public safety includes all the infrastructure, agencies and personnel that cities call on to keep their citizen’s safe police and fire departments, emergency and disaster prevention personnel, courts, correction facilities, neighborhood watch groups, fire hydrants and squad cars. It’s a lengthy list that may include infrastructure and resources from other city departments and noncity agencies and even private citizens.

Smart cities empower these agencies and personnel with information and communications technologies (ICT) to create “smart public safety” and greatly improve safety outcomes. The brief scenario at right illustrates the smart public safety concept.

It’s about the data

It’s about the data At its core, smart public safety is all about the use of “intelligence” – information that helps people make better decisions. For example, intelligence might hint at the identity of a criminal. Or it might suggest to emergency personnel that a wildfire is likely to occur on the outskirts of town. This kind of public safety intelligence creates immeasurable value not only to first responders, but to city residents and businesses too. As cities become safer, people are happier and healthier, businesses take note and tax revenue increases.

Let’s look at four specific ways ICT-enabled smart cities improve public safety outcomes:
• Generating their own public safety data
• Accessing the universe of relevant data
• Correlating data sources to create intelligence
• Delivering intelligence to decision makers

Generating public safety data is the first step in realizing intelligence. Many cities will have much of this data as well as mechanisms for generating it in place already. It’s what we call legacy information or legacy investments. Think of your own criminal database and records that include fingerprints, mug shots, video evidence and so on. Smart cities
augment existing sensors with others to

Accessing the universe of relevant data aids
decision making. Other states, provinces and regions keep records. National governments and their agencies keep records. Even international organizations like Interpol keep records. And helpful, relevant information can come from non-traditional sources as well  consider the wealth of data that exists in social media. Indeed, by 2030 every city asset, across much of the world, might be sending data in an Internet of Things. Smart public safety agencies seek access to all of it, for every new piece of data that a city has access to makes their intelligence that much stronger and that much more precise.

Accessing all of this information is both a big task and a critical one. Fortunately, ICT and good interoperability and data management policy can help. Already, standards exist that can ensure that the data cities collect and use is interoperable.

Smart cities employ ICT to correlate data and create intelligence. Computing power and analytics transform otherwise useless piles of data into decisions, insight and foresight. For example, armed with this intelligence smart cities predict crime, so that their law enforcement agencies can better protect citizens and make more efficient use of resources.

Additionally, thanks to the open government movement discussed in the Universal chapter, we’re seeing more and more crime data making its way into applications that everyday citizens can use. Buying a house and want to make sure you’re in a safe neighborhood? On vacation in a new city and want to steer clear of crime-infested areas? Chances are there’s an app that can help.

Finally, smart cities deliver this intelligence to decision makers. Public safety intelligence is about saving lives and property, so it must be accessible “no matter where, no matter what.” With ICT, smart public safety agencies can disseminate intelligence to multiple departments and thousands of employees so there is a common operating picture.

On the law enforcement side of public safety, intelligence will often lead to arrests and the involvement of city courts and corrections systems. ICT plays a role in these systems as well. Proper data management systems can help courts make effective use of the enormity of information that they hold. Public defenders can level the playing field with private lawyers and their large staffs with the help of ICT.

Dependencies in public safety

Cities contemplating Improvements in public safety will want to take into account public safety’s dependencies on other city systems and services. For example, police, fire and emergency services all rely on communications, transportation systems and energy. In normal daily operations, police and fire departments rely on communications and energy systems to maintain real-time situational awareness of activities taking place across a city. And in the urgent case of a natural disaster, first responders will rely on the resilience and reliability of communications, electrical power and transportation systems to help them establish command and control, gain situational awareness, coordinate inbound aid resources and potentially outbound evacuations.

More to smart public safety than meets the eye

As we mentioned earlier, the public safety may be one of the more visible and best understood of city responsibilities. But many may not realize how the benefits stack up when cities make it smarter. Here are some highlights that align with our livability, workability and sustainability goals.


Reducing response times. Citywide public safety situational awareness provides emergency managers and other public safety personnel with immediate and real-time understanding of incidents, allowing them to respond more quickly.

Making more arrests. Police and investigator outcomes in criminal cases are improved through access to data. Analysis of the universe of relevant public safety data can unearth links between suspects, crimes and other incidents that result in higher case closure rates – meaning fewer criminals on the street.

Lowering crime rates with more resolution and more prevention. Smart public safety lowers crime rates in two ways. First, it empowers police to realize better outcomes, with more cases solved and more arrests made. Second, through analytics, it allows for the identification and prevention of threats before they cause harm.

Making people ‘feel’ safer and mitigating pain and suffering. There is an intangible but very real value to the feeling of safety in a community – when people feel safer, their lives seem more livable. Through improved outcomes, smart public safety also delivers freedom from the pain and suffering that crime and other incidents cause to citizens.


Attracting business and talent. Lower crime rates and resiliency to natural disasters like fires and floods aid cities in the competition for businesses and jobs, and they help ensure that once businesses do locate in a city, they can operate safely.

Mitigating reduced earnings and lost productivity. Crime and disaster can result in injuries to employees and damage to business infrastructure. Improved public safety means that not only do smart cities become more attractive to business, but businesses that operate in smart cities are able to do so more securely and with fewer safety-associated costs and risks.

Ensuring fewer business resources go to crime prevention. Crime forces businesses to spend more money than they otherwise would to pay for security and insurance. When crime rates are lowered through smart public safety, businesses win.


Creating operational savings and enabling better resource deployment. To put it simply, smart public safety agencies cost less. In one estimate, a hypothetical public safety agency with $350 million in operating costs can save up to $60 million annually through smart technologies and best practices. Savings rise to $200 million when society, other agencies and victim costs are considered.

Avoiding criminal justice and correction costs through crime prevention. Unleashing analytics on an integrated public safety information database increases cities’ crime prevention capabilities. When prevention efforts are empowered, cities spend less on prosecuting and jailing criminals.

Creating higher property values and increasing tax revenue. As neighborhoods across cities become safer, property values rise and increase the prosperity of their residents. This, in turn, expands the tax base for smart cities’ governments.

Public safety targets

The technology targets described in this chapter can help cities develop a smart public safety infrastructure that uses intelligence to protect lives and property and save resources. There is one new target specific to public safety we’ll introduce in this chapter, and we’ll also highlight how public safety intersects with the universal targets discussed earlier.

Instrumentation and control

In a smart city, first responders use and obtain data in the field, and therefore they must have a two-way relationship with command centers. That is, police, investigators, firefighters and EMS technicians must not only input data to a
command center, they also need to interact with the command center and others in the field. This two-way relationship requires devices that can display information in useful ways, and devices such as video feeds that can transmit data to storage. This target addresses that need.

Implement optimal devices and other instrumentation. In public safety, these devices include those that help agencies and personnel capture data and those that enable first responders to use that data in the field.

For many cities, a large part of capturing data will be surveillance devices, for instance, those deployed in neighborhoods or precincts designated as high-risk areas. Some cities may even prefer to adopt a citywide surveillance system to enable more detailed awareness. Importantly, these surveillance networks should produce the evidence-quality video. Data capturing instrumentation is also likely to include audio and pressure sensors in critical areas, or devices purposed for disaster prevention and awareness – weather instrumentation, water sensors and so on. It is likely that some of this instrumentation is the province of other city responsibilities; one of this Guide’s universal targets recommends smart cities share infrastructure when possible.


Communications are a critical part of a smart city’s public safety strategy, as this target explains.

Connect devices with citywide, multi-service communications. To be effective – and that’s absolutely what a smart city wants in its public safety system – two-way communication is essential. So is a citywide communications system that loops in all the personnel, smart devices, databases and ICT systems that have a role in public safety outcomes. As we mentioned earlier, a city might require multiple networks and share them when appropriate, but the key is to ensure all devices are able to communicate effectively on a citywide network.


Interoperability is key in smart public safety because it opens up the world of data and helps generate integrated intelligence, as you’ll read in the targets highlighted below.

Adhere to open standards. Open standards for data are a major step in creating actionable, life-saving intelligence for public safety decision-makers. Smart cities adhere to data standards that ensure all of the data they collect – not just by public safety instrumentation and personnel, but across their responsibilities and departments – is handled the same way. Standards exist already for the recording, storing, transmission and use of data. Smart cities use the best and most widely adopted standards possible so they have easier access to data from other agencies. They also help promote the use of standards nationally and internationally so that more and more data from across the world can be efficiently shared.

Additionally, by requiring open standards in the procurement of public safety systems and equipment, cities increase the choices available to them and decrease costs because open standards mean products can be mixed and matched from different vendors.

Use open integration architectures and loosely coupled interfaces. There are a number of reasons for sharing public safety data within city departments. And in some cases public safety applications used by one department can be adapted for use by another. Both scenarios are made much simpler when open integration architectures are used.

Prioritize the use of legacy investments, including physically stored data. Earlier we mentioned how cities can avoid redundant and unnecessary investments in data-capturing devices. Police, courts and other agencies involved in public safety gather massive amounts of data, but often critical pieces – mug shots, arrest records, court files, fingerprints and the like – are stored physically. Similarly, some CCTV systems produce the physical tape. Smart cities digitize these data sources, connecting them to the rest of the universe of relevant public safety data to create more robust intelligence.

Privacy and security

Even those responsible for safeguarding the public’s privacy and security will want to deliver on ICT related privacy and security targets as they move toward a smarter public safety infrastructure.

Publish privacy rules. By its nature, there is the potential for privacy red flags in much of the day-to-day work that public safety is responsible for. That’s why it is so important to address the legal, privacy and ownership issues with the comprehensive privacy policy. Different cities will have different strategies for dealing with access to video, phone records, social network traffic and the like. But all will want to develop rules and governance protocols that are not only transparent but have been vetted with citizens and other stakeholders.

Data management

We mentioned in the last section the importance of privacy rules in the public safety realm; the targets here are an important follow on given the amount of often-sensitive data involved.

Create and adhere to a citywide data management, transparency and sharing policy. Data management policies make it clear what city departments can and can’t do with the data they collect. This alleviates confusion, improves data accuracy, eliminates unnecessary duplication and reduces the likelihood of privacy or security breaches.

Computing resources

Advanced computing capabilities have dramatically changed the public safety playing field as these targets reveal.

Use an open innovation platform. Here’s a prime example of why this target is so important. Like so many other cities today, Glasgow, Scotland holds regular “future hacks” or “hackathons” to encourage software developers to focus their brainpower on apps that can help solve city problems.

According to The Guardian, an event in early 2014 challenged the coders to do something that improved public safety. The winning team presented the idea of helping emergency services find people quicker when they are calling from a mobile phone.

“At the moment, if someone calls 999 their location can be determined using the nearest mobile phone masts,” said Joshua McGhee, a computing science student who worked on the winning design. “But that doesn’t give very detailed information. Instead, we’re providing geotagged data which lets services see exactly where someone is, even if the user isn’t sure where they are themselves.”

The Glasgow future hacks are sponsored by the UK Technology Strategy Board’s Future Cities Demonstrator Program and Glasgow City Council. The Strategy Board is a member of the Council’s Advisory Board.

Have access to a central GIS. Public safety’s focus on location and on being able to act decisively in time-sensitive situations makes GIS critically important. It improves decisionmaking capabilities, enables efficiency gains through more intelligent scheduling and routing, provides improved accuracy of essential records and boosts resiliency of key assets.

Have access to comprehensive device management. This target is also extremely relevant in public safety, given the number of devices dispatched in the field and the serious problems that could occur if they end up in the wrong hands. A comprehensive device management system helps enforce compliance with city data management, security and privacy policies.


There’s a big story to tell about the impact analytics can have in the public safety sector, as the targets below explain.

Achieve full situational awareness. In smart public safety, full situational awareness (also referred to as a “complete operating picture”) is created and maintained through the use of city command centers. Command centers are so important because they assimilate a single version of “the truth” so everyone involved in a situation is working off the same information. When time is a factor and lives are at risk, you want to be sure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. You want thousands of employees, and a handful of different agencies and city departments, to have the exact same information.

Command centers are so important because they assimilate a single version of “the truth” so everyone involved in a situation is working off the same information. When time is a factor and lives are at risk, you want to be sure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. You want thousands
of employees, and a handful of different agencies and city departments, to have the exact same information. Command centers deploy analytics capabilities across the universe of relevant public safety data – the discipline often referred to as Big Data. They correlate, in an automated way, these hundreds or thousands of data sources, criminal profiles or social media streams, for instance, to create intelligence.

And they use this intelligence to render a complete operating picture for public safety personnel – actionable intelligence that helps keep people safe (themselves included). This correlation of data is an ongoing and automated process, so new data is always informing the constantly evolving public safety picture across the city.

Command centers also provide unified threat assessment functionality and are responsible for the coordination and control of incident response and management. With this realtime understanding, emergency managers can assess safety needs and prioritize actions and resources. Because it is a central command, there is an authority to deploy resources across agencies, departments and service boundaries to achieve desired outcomes without jurisdictional issues. This is critical because often in emergency situations, other city departments must be part of the response – for example, transportation or public health.

Achieve operational optimization. This target offers savings potential for cities’ public safety agencies. Along with full situational awareness, analytics can unearth new insights into how cities deploy their public safety resources, thereby generating savings.

Operational optimization also holds great promise for city court systems. Courts have access to an enormous quantity of data, often so much so that the data can be difficult to make use of. Public defenders often have much smaller staffs than the lawyers they are up against, and these larger staffs can devote much more time and energy to research that wins cases. ICT levels the playing field. With analytics and operational optimization, city courts can transform the way they access information, improving outcomes for not just the courts, but the cities and the people that they represent and protect.

Pursue predictive analytics. The insights analytics provide can lead to better public safety planning and decision-making by projecting trends and predicting outcomes to the point that they can even prevent some crimes from occurring. Full situational awareness allows cities to allocate their resources more efficiently for incident response and management. And they can simulate, for example, a potential natural disaster and take steps to mitigate some of the likely devastation before the disaster occurs.

All of the applications of analytics discussed in this section deliver tangible operational savings. Better planning, decision-making, predicting and resource allocation all lead to money saved for public safety agency operations budgets.

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