Smarter Cities = Safer Cities

Andrea Sorri on how the intelligent use of intelligent technology can transform a city into a safe place to be.

Cities face many challenges today. With modern video surveillance technologies cities can track, analyze and respond to incidents as and when they occur. Security cameras have evolved to be much more than static devices. Video analytics software enables cameras to automatically send alerts, to count objects and people and to analyze movement patterns. These advanced functionalities are possible because of the move from analog to IP-based video surveillance systems. This allows city officials to find answers to questions such as how parks and public areas are being used, what caused congestions and crowds and what measures to take against crime and vandalism. Cities become smarter and safer, by evaluating and analyzing video surveillance data from parks, squares, streets and public buildings.


The idea of an integrated video surveillance system watching over a city and taking care of its citizens is great in theory. The main challenge with the execution of such a plan comes from the citizens themselves. It is a matter of public privacy versus the safety of a city and its citizens, who should have the right to feel safe and secure without feeling as though they are being monitored. However, this does not need to be an issue.

In a city being watched by security cameras they only need to be placed and directed at public spaces, not into homes and businesses. And in instances where there are sensitive areas, privacy masks can be used to exclude that area from the monitored field of view. It isn’t necessary to invade the public’s privacy in order to make a city smarter and safer. An integrated video surveillance system supports multiple stakeholders, giving each user only access to the information they are authorized to access and which is relevant to their role. Video surveillance implemented this way benefits both those who are responsible for the safety of cities as well as the citizens living in them.

Smarter City Axis 2

City of Medellín, Colombia: Integrated video surveillance system control room

Managing a city and all that it entails, from security to planning, is complex to say the least. From parks and squares to streets and public buildings, there are any number of incidents that could be taking place, from traffic congestion at a particular junction to crime against citizens.


Squares and parking lots tend to be very wide and open areas with potentially many events taking place simultaneously. This type of installation requires both an overview as well as the ability to zoom in on details. Cameras with pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) capabilities are the best fit for such areas. Even with shadows and light reflection, a powerful zoom can provide both an overview and the necessary detail for the entire field of view. Monitoring of wide areas is further enhanced when using cameras capturing video in 16:9 format in HDTV quality.

Similar to squares and parking lots, parks are typically large areas so video surveillance equipment needs to offer high-speed coverage with precise zoom, control of the area being viewed and auto tracking for when following the route of a specific object or person is necessary. Varying light conditions and restricted visibility due to trees and foliage can also make it difficult to recognize movements. Security cameras equipped with Lightfinder technology provide detailed color video, even in darkness. It is important that the cameras can be pointed at a specific person or object for identification purposes.

The heart of any city is its streets and intersections. If they are not flowing properly it could be detrimental, not only to the city’s citizens who may be struggling through congested roads, but also to the lifeblood of the city, its businesses. The state of the roads and traffic flow is also important when it comes to first responders and their ability to reach emergency situations as quickly as possible. Being able to receive clear images is key to the flow of the city but also for identification of faces and license plates in regards to specific instances. Installing security cameras that deliver clear images even at night or in adverse weather conditions gives the ability to identify vehicles and drivers. And with pre-sets such as wide view and optical zoom, security cameras are able to look into traffic, seeing cars head on at night. It is important in situations such as these to get both an overview and a detailed image with precise pinpointing on an object or person. Whether it is the police or security managers who are monitoring the input from cameras, they need to be able to read license plates from a great distance and to have a quick focus on moving objects to keep track of activity in real-time as well as for post incident review.

Monitoring public buildings has its own set of challenges. Buildings tend to have large entrances, oftentimes with glass fronts that can make it difficult for cameras to get clear images due to the reflection off the glass and when incoming sunlight creates both very bright zones as well as very dark shadow areas. Security cameras with Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) technology provide homogeneous images without too dark or too bright zones allowing for clear identification of people and objects. For big spaces such as long corridors and halls within buildings, it is necessary to have cameras that can follow an object. In other parts of buildings cameras are needed to monitor gates, doors and vulnerable areas pointing in several directions, watching people and objects passing by slowly or quickly with precision.

Smarter City Axis 3

City of Hawthorne, California, USA: Police officers can view video, point and zoom cameras, record events and search archived video footage using icons superimposed on a Google Maps satellite view


A city’s video surveillance system should be seen as a tool that makes for a smarter, more secure city. For example, cameras placed in communal places such as parks and public buildings can in effect be an extension of the police force, working non-stop to support their efforts in both evidence collection but also as a real-time investigative tool. With one or more centralized control room cameras can provide access to clear images not only to city officials but also to police officers, which is particularly useful when cameras are placed in areas where police would like to be but can’t due to limited resources.

 For example, if a police officer is on patrol they can view the feed coming from a park either on their smartphone or on their patrol car computer system to check if everything is OK or if their presence is needed. It is not necessary that the security cameras work with any sort of facial recognition system or pre-existing database. As long as the cameras installed have the ability to zoom in they can identify individuals. If a situation does arise, say there is incidence of violence in the park, police can look through the footage to identify suspects, where they may have gone, how they were travelling and who they may have been with.

Making cities smarter means making them safer. With modern video surveillance technologies city officials gain unprecedented insights and are able to see what’s going on. They can better understand what is happening and why. They can analyze patterns and hot spots. An integrated video surveillance system can be shared seamlessly across departments and functions allowing city planners to retrieve the insights they need while enabling police officers and first responders in the field to view camera footage on their mobile devices.


Andrea Sorri is Director of Business Development at Axis Communications in Turin, Italy