Public Space Surveillance good practices for your people, processes, and technology
Adopting the latest best practices for towns and cities.
Drawing on project experience relating to some of the UK’s biggest venues and sporting occasions, David Aindow explores the relevance of ‘special event’ surveillance to everyday public protection.
Public safety is always a primary focus for any town or city hosting a large-scale event, from international concerts to key dates in the sporting calendar. And with Protect Duty legislation on the regulatory horizon, that certainly won’t change.
But what could, and arguably should change, is the idea that surveillance capabilities – implemented as part of major event security strategies – should be considered ‘extraordinary measures’, only suitable for special occasions.
The technologies employed are often extremely relevant to the daily challenges those responsible for protecting our towns and cities face.
Let’s look at two specific examples that illustrate this perfectly.
In preparation for hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games, police, local authorities, and other key regional stakeholders agreed to implement a ‘mega surveillance’ network to protect the five million visitors that descended upon the city centre and other event locations.
Feeds and systems were integrated. Fresh capabilities added. And by the time the summer arrived, authorised members from each organisation could access live footage from a vast network of thousands of cameras spread across the region.
Crucially, the introduction of secure web access meant each organisation could share vital information and quickly ‘get eyes on’ in response to any incident relating to their event management and support area.
It’s not difficult to see the relevance of this project for wider public space protection. Our towns and cities are always going to be best protected when the police, councils and transport operators work in collaboration to see and share surveillance footage from each other’s systems.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is another good project to focus on in relation to this topic.
The Park operator, London Legacy Development Corporation, has transitioned a system developed to secure the biggest show on earth to one focussed on ‘business as usual’ public space protection.
And what a space it is. Developed to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is now a free access park that has already welcomed over 34 million people to walk its parklands, attend events, and visit sporting venues, including the London Stadium, the London Aquatics Centre, and the Copper Box Arena. Essentially to enjoy what is effectively a town in its own right.
A team based out of a central security centre monitor the park’s 560 acres 24/7 for incidents large and small, including trips and slips, missing persons, and criminal activity.
Their use of analytics certainly makes the job easier. For instance, if they receive word of a missing child or a suspicious individual, they can rapidly analyse video metadata to locate the individual in question and flag historical footage which shows their previous movements – footage which can then be used in evidence as required. Without analytics, this task could take hours rather than seconds and minutes.
Similarly, the team combine analytics with their surveillance platform’s rules engine to automate the detection of potential problems.
Problems like overcrowding. When concentrations of people exceed pre-set thresholds or when the number of people rapidly increases in a short time frame (indicating a possible incident) an alert triggers on-screen workflows for the surveillance operatives on duty. The result? A team with the tools to quickly detect anomalies that require attention and the means to act quickly to coordinate the necessary response.
Similarly, the system can detect unattended packages, suspicious vehicle activity, and even loitering behaviours. In each case, analytics-based alerts are linked to appropriate workflows to ensure the correct protocols are followed.
Once again, the implications for town and city centre control rooms are clear. Quicker incident detection. Faster footage review. Protocol-based guidance linked to live data received. These are all benefits that have the potential to make life much easier for the individuals and teams tasked with keeping our urban spaces safe.
The types of technologies in these examples aren’t bespoke to big events. They are modern surveillance tools deployed under a specific set of circumstances. What they enable and the results they help surveillance teams achieve are hugely relevant to CCTV managers and operatives worldwide.
And crucially, taking inspiration from such examples can be a gradual process. While enabling remote live multi-way surveillance access between various public protection stakeholders for a specific city or region may be ideal, smaller steps can be taken first.
Introducing a simple cloud-based solution for sharing evidentiary data and footage with authorised users is the perfect starting point for any town or city control room. It puts vital data in the hands of those who need it. Quickly and securely.
And I think that’s the biggest takeaway from looking at major projects like these. It’s not about replication. It’s about inspiration. About looking at what elements are most transferable for immediate priorities. In this sense, major events can help deliver major benefits to our public surveillance infrastructure.