A smart city is not necessarily a safe city

Far-reaching collaboration and clear agreements on the use of technology are needed

Cities are rapidly increasing in size all over the world. Sixty percent of the world's population is forecast to be living in urban regions by 2030. The rapid growth of the urban population requires not only a better infrastructure, more food and energy, it also means a greater need for safety. To create the safe city of the future it is very important for all the organisations involved to collaborate even more in order to overcome the complex problems.

Gertjan Baars and Kim den Boer PwC experts in smart and safe cities

The fact that an apparently minor problem sometimes has major consequences for an urban area became evident during a serious power failure in Amsterdam in January. Almost 400,000 homes were without electricity for hours. A large part of Amsterdam was shrouded in darkness, the district heating system was not working  properly everywhere, operations had to be postponed at Slotervaart medical centre and trains did not run on time or at all. In addition, the mobile communication system was impaired and two deaths were put down to the power cut.

More challenges

Due to increasing urbanisation and migration, the consequences of incidents will only become greater. More people in one place means more challenges when it comes to spatial planning, the environment, mobility, crowd management and social and demographic equilibrium. In order to create a sufficient level of safety within this changing environment, the responsible organisations will not only have to take care of the residents and the way they live, work and relax in the city. They will also have to continuously assess and monitor the underlying risks and threats, and intervene where necessary.

Four dimensions

At PwC, we use four dimensions to define a safe city. We explain these dimensions in greater detail below.

An ongoing dialogue

These dimensions are not unconnected and therefore require close collaboration between public and private parties such as the police, hospitals, housing associations, civil-society organisations, transport operators, educational institutions, care homes, the business community and research institutes. The smart thing to do is to apply an effective framework within which to establish an ongoing dialogue between all the stakeholders. This framework is divided into the following phases:

  1. Identification: what are the vulnerabilities, challenges and threats? Which buildings and sections of the population/people do we want to protect?
  2. Prevention: what measures are we taking to minimise the likelihood of threats and unsafe situations and how do we prepare for these situations? What are the relevant regulations?
  3. Repression: what measures do we take to prevent unsafe situations? How do we check on whether something is going wrong and detect abuses? How far do the powers of the investigation services and enforcement agencies extend?
  4. Aftercare: what measures do we take after a safety incident or crisis? How do we evaluate the aftercare given to those affected and how do we provide it?

All the phases must be approached comprehensively and connect seamlessly with each other. They each involve a strategic line, a structure in organisation, processes in implementation, relevant stakeholders and the use of technology and data exchange.

Digital risks

Threats to a safe city consist not only of "physical criminality", such as raids and break-ins, but also risks in the digital sphere. How do you prevent, for example, a digital divide in society as a result of the take-up of new technology? How do you provide efficient digital communication without putting people's privacy at risk and how do you protect computer systems in vital infrastructure from hackers?

Safer and smarter

Current technological developments are creating an increasing number of ways of making cities safer and smarter. The use of digital lampposts equipped with sensors and cameras can, for example, produce a lot of useful data. These lampposts also allow us to inform citizens – wherever they are – of a disaster or incident directly or on their mobile or other digital devices. And they also give normal light that "accompanies" people as they pass by and changes colour according to weather or social conditions.

Use of data

But this new technology also makes it possible to gather information on citizens that says something about their "behaviour" which may pose a threat to society. The use of this information sounds logical, but it is not. After all, safety also means that people feel free. The issue of privacy therefore also plays an important part in the creation of a safe city. The purposes for which information is gathered (purpose limitation), proportionality and traceability to individuals are key issues in this regard which must be closely monitored.

Learning from good examples

The Smart & Safe City Event was held on the Pier in Scheveningen on 7 and 8 June. PwC presented its vision of the safe city during the Safe Cities boot camp. Three guest speakers from Rotterdam – senior district safety officer Marcel van de Ven, public prosecutor Paul Morsch and Kees Zeebregts, process manager at the Rotterdam-Rijnmond Safety House– illustrated this vision with good practical examples.

The conclusion reached at the boot camp was that a safe city is ultimately about individual professionals' expertise and willingness to collaborate and the possibility of being permitted and enabled to exchange vital information in good time. "Smart solutions" have an added value in this regard if they can assist this collaboration and exchange of information. In this way, the organisations involved will create the necessary analytical power and effectiveness that will be needed in future.

Contact us

Gertjan Baars

Senior Director, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)88 792 64 12

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