A city may be smart, but is it safe?

Phil Marshall/Tolaga Research
17 May 2017

Public safety conjures up images of unsung heroes who regularly confront adversity to save lives. Traditionally, dedicated and specialized technologies ensure that public safety for city residents are supported securely and reliably.

But as communication networks spread like an invisible circulatory system in Asia’s developed cities, public safety increasingly relies on commercial technologies like 4G-LTE, and smart-city solutions such as video surveillance, sensor networks, and data analytics.

Smart-city solutions normally incorporate public safety capabilities-these include law enforcement, emergency response, and emergency medical and information services. Cities have varied approaches towards public safety depending on the challenges they face.

See Also

Smart Cities Insights May 2017


Smart Cities: The next generation


Roads to a digitally connected smart city


We profile several in this article to illustrate the diversity of solutions currently being implemented within the Asia-Pacific region.

Taming traffic

In Indonesia, traffic accidents and resultant fatalities cost $25 billion annually, with many accidents occurring in the capital city, Jakarta. Indonesia also endures terrible flooding during the monsoon season. Despite these challenges, the archipelago will be hosting the Asia Games in 2018-in both Jakarta and Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra province.

The Jakarta Smart City initiative (JSC) was launched in 2014 to address these challenges. JSC has launched a variety of public safety-oriented smart-city solutions that rely on the growing online population in Jakarta which also has an insatiable appetite for social media. In addition to video streams from 6,000 surveillance cameras and other sensor devices and data sources, JSC has developed innovative platforms for crowdsourcing data from its Netizens.

To address traffic safety, JSC has implemented smart technologies to track and optimize routing for public vehicles, efficiently identify and issue fines to those who violate road rules, and to report real-time flooding data during monsoon season. Smart technologies are also being used to improve public transportation and pedestrian access to reduce congestion and the likelihood for traffic incidents. JSC has plans to advance its solutions with improved data analytics and visualization capabilities.


Singapore is a smart-city pioneer and now focuses on becoming a “smart nation.” In the context of public safety, Singapore plans to augment its city surveillance with cameras and other sensor technologies. It is working towards enabling autonomous vehicles to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety, and residential sensor technologies to enable proactive medical care for its elderly population.

The Singaporean government is uniquely positioned to implement large scale residential sensor networks because 80% of Singaporean citizens live in government housing, and most citizens are already accustomed to a heightened level of surveillance relative to other countries. However to avert privacy concerns, we believe that the Singaporean government requires sufficient and demonstrable benefit from the “smart-nation” solutions that it implements.

Elsewhere in Asia

There are many more smart-city solutions for public safety throughout the Asia Pacific region. For example, Project NOAH, (now UP-NOAH) in the Philippines uses advanced geophysical data and sophisticated reporting schemes for effective first responses in the event of natural disasters.

South Korea’s Anyang City has integrated over 3,500 surveillance cameras with analytics and law enforcement to reduce the crime rate in the city by 20%.

In 2016, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City embarked on a project to deploy thousands of security and traffic cameras, analytics and data visualization systems to support a variety of smart-city applications, including proactive public safety.

Dhaka in Bangladesh plans to upgrade its street lights with wirelessly connected smart lights that incorporate surveillance camera technology and a variety of other innovations including “SOS” buttons that citizens can use to call for emergency services. This initiative capitalizes on the maturity of smart-street-light infrastructure in other regions, with adaptations specific to the Dhaka market.

The stakes are high when public safety relies on smart-city solutions for mission-critical capabilities. This was exemplified in January 2017, when foreign hackers seized control of 70% of the security cameras in Washington DC with ransomware. Other more benign attacks have targeted smart-city transportation systems and data streams to demonstrate critical vulnerabilities that cities must address.

Smart cities must also address the privacy concerns of their citizens and the implications if and when their data is hacked for malicious intent. While data is generally regarded as an asset, it is also a potential liability. Instead of collecting and storing raw data to support public safety services, cities might benefit from filtering techniques to reduce the sensitivity of the data collected, without necessarily compromising public safety demands.

Although smart city solutions have implementation challenges for public safety, the potential benefits are tremendous-as long as cities have measured and pragmatic implementation strategies. Cities must also provide sufficient funding to ensure ongoing operations are reliable and secure.

Dr Phil Marshall is chief research officer for Tolaga Research

This article first appeared on Telecom Asia Smart Cities Insights 2017 May Issue

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