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Smarter Public Safety

By 2050, nearly three quarters of our planet will live in cities. Public safety will be a key factor in determining which city they choose.

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Safer citizens of a smarter planet
Cities large and small are turning to advanced computing capabilities such as data analytics, visualization and sensor networks to enhance public safety systems.


A series of conversations for a smarter planet. Safer citizens of a smarter planet.

Arguably, the first duty of a state is to protect its citizens. The question is how to achieve that in an urbanizing world that is becoming more interconnected, fast-paced and unpredictable every day.

In recent years, forward-thinking city managers, police chiefs, fire chiefs and other officials have made great strides in applying innovative, community-based approaches and new technologies to help reduce urban crime and improve emergency response. But the challenges to public safety continue to grow. Fortunately, new capabilities are now at our disposal to help make urban public safety systems not just more connected and efficient, but smarter.

Progressive leaders around the world are undertaking a transformational shift. Instead of merely responding to crimes and emergencies after the fact, they are analyzing, anticipating and actually working to prevent them. They're doing so with smart systems that capture data from myriad instrumented and interconnected processes, devices and objects, and then apply intelligence to this welter of information to detect patterns and take action in real time.

We see it happening today in New York, where police commanders are using analytics and visualization tools to see crime patterns as they are forming. The city's Real Time Crime Center system can quickly query millions of pieces of information to uncover previously unknown data relationships and points of connection. Integrated crime information analysis, delivered in real time, has helped improve public safety, with a 27% drop in crime since 2001. New York is now ranked as the safest large city in the U.S.

We see it happening in Madrid. Following the terrorist attacks of March 2004, the city developed a new Emergency Response Center so today, when a citizen witnesses an accident and places an emergency call, the system simultaneously alerts the police, the ambulance service and, if needed, the fire brigade. The smart system can recognize if alerts from several different sources relate to a single or multiple incidents, and assign the right resources based on the requirements coming from the ground.

We see it happening in Poland, where personal and vehicle IDs can be instantly checked in an EU-wide database. The new system has improved police operations, helping to shorten the time for queries, reduce errors and allow police to verify information and uncover potential threats to local and national security, through use at Poland's borders. Overall, the system contributed to a 66% increase in arrest rates for Polish police in 2008.

Finally, we see it happening in Chicago. In the past, video from surveillance cameras was mostly used as evidence after an incident had occurred. Today, 911 dispatchers have access to video from a multitude of cameras citywide, with advanced analytics built into the infrastructure, that are connected to a fiber/wireless network to assist the operator with potential "eyes-on-the-scene" in the vicinity of an incident. The video image they receive helps them dispatch exactly the right services immediately.

IBM is deploying similar systems around the world, and building in methods to protect citizens' privacy by blurring individuals' faces unless an incident is detected—at which point the authorized police personnel can enter a code to see the complete image.

For all cities and regions competing in the global marketplace for work, investment and talent, safety and security are crucial factors in determining overall quality of life. Which is why smarter public safety isn't just a responsibility of the state, it's also a priority for the success of businesses, communities and civil society at large.

Let's build a smarter planet.