The rise of "Smart City" programs across the United States and the globe has led proponents to wonder how public safety can be included as a major part of these initiatives, but what exactly is a "Safe City" in the "Smart City" realm? A "Safe City" is one in which data and technology can be harnessed to keep residents safe. While some studies claim a city is safe because of its low crime rate, others include factors such as the number of auto accidents, the prevalence of severe weather events, and accessibility to healthcare services.
Possibly the most comprehensive definition of a safe city is provided by the Economist's “Safe Cities Index”. The index assessed sixty cities across the world based on forty-nine indicators - covering digital security, healthcare security, infrastructure security, and personal security - to identify the safest cities and those with the highest number of security vulnerabilities.
Six American cities were assessed in the index; and although all six feature in the top half of the overall safe city rankings, some underperformed in key areas. New York, for example, ranked 31st in healthcare security, while Dallas appeared in the bottom half of the infrastructure security category - a category in which Chicago and Washington, DC were relatively weak as well.
The area in which American cities ranked particularly well was digital security - the ability of citizens to use the Internet freely without fear of identity theft or privacy violations, taking into account awareness of digital threats and the level of technology employed to counter the threats. Also included within this safe city category was the availability of digital technology to enhance personal safety.
The Rise of Mobile Devices as Safety Tools
The Safe Cities Index identifies the trend of mobile devices being more frequently used as safety tools. It notes that the development of personal safety apps can increase individual safety and contribute to community safety and crime detection; while individuals can register to be included in selected state and local government programs to receive emergency alerts via mobile devices.
The index highlights the success of the U.S. Department of Justice's Amber Alert program, in which state and local governments send text messages to registered individuals asking for information when a child abduction occurs. Individuals can reply with images, locations, and phone numbers to assist in locating an abducted child. To date, 924 children have been rescued due to the program.
Various mobile-based safety systems run throughout the country - in schools to accelerate searches for missing children, in businesses to enhance employee safety, and in hospitals to maintain channels of communication during outages. Other systems exist that enable individuals to register safety profiles, or businesses to register facility plans, so first responders are better prepared to help in an emergency.
How Online Personal Safety Profiles Can Help a Safe City become Safer
Online services such as, Smart911, enable individuals across the US to create a free personal safety profile for themselves and for their household. The profile can include any information individuals want 9-1-1 to have available in the event of an emergency (property layouts, medical conditions, pets, etc.) so that when anyone from that household dials 9-1-1 from a phone associated with the personal safety profile, 9-1-1 call takers can see critical information that can be used to facilitate a better response.
Some state and local governments leverage critical communication solutions that provide 9-1-1 telecommunicators and first responders powerful capabilities for handling, dispatching, and responding to emergency calls more efficiently and effectively by integrating with services such as Smart911. Other integrations include a personal safety app, mass notification system, and digital facility data access to provide a complete safety solution for individuals and for schools, businesses, and hospitals.
Scenarios in which this fully-integrated solution can help a safe city become safer include:
- Information regarding family members’ medical conditions is extremely helpful to EMS staff and firefighters in the event of sudden illness or in rescue situations. Knowing about drug allergies and what medications a victim is taking will help medical staff to be much more efficient and prevent situations in which medication is administer that could cause harm. This is very similar to the growing Mobile Integrated Health-Community Paramedicine movement.
- With the chronic opioid crisis hitting communities everywhere, some communities are using safety profiles give response teams the power to keep track of repeated opioid overdose incidents for expedited emergency response. Residents that have a safety profile can include life-saving information such as the location of naloxone kits in the home, mental health issues that can aid in how first responders approach the individual, and an emergency contact.
- The job of firefighters is made much easier when 9-1-1 dispatchers have a photo or even building plans of the property to which they are responding. An uploaded layout of a house can be used to locate bedrooms, and floor plans of a commercial building or school can be used to find access points, utility cutoffs, and exit routes.
- When a child is missing, having a description of the child and a photo available to first responders can accelerate the start of search and rescue missions and likely result in a better outcome. At any time when every second counts, being able to provide 9-1-1 with relevant details the second an emergency call is placed could be the difference between life and death. In the unfortunate case of Cincinnati teenager Kyle Plush, having access to key vehicle information through Smart911 might have helped first responders during their search.
All six cities included in the Economist's Safe Cities Index scored well above average in the safe city personal security category; and it may be a coincidence, but five of the six cities have full or partial Smart911 support.