Interview with Huawei Global Chief Public Safety Expert: The Road to Collaborative Public Safety

I live in Atlanta. It’s a great place to live. But unfortunately, we’re famous for more than southern hospitality and juicy Georgia peaches. We’re also known for our violent crime.

At the beginning of 2017, the local news reported that we have an average of one murder every other day. According to the FBI, Atlanta is one of America’s top “murder capitals.” Even Forbes puts Atlanta at number 6 on the 10 Most Dangerous U.S. Cities list.

(I snapped this pic of downtown Atlanta from 220 meters above the city.)

Obviously there are many countries and cities in the world with a lot more violence than my city, and it’s heartbreaking. It got me thinking about what we can do to make our cities safer places to live.

The #smartcities hashtag has become one of the most popular tech hashtags on social media over the past year. A safe city is a smart city that focuses on public safety.

According to Huawei, IoT can lead to safer cities.

I wanted to learn more about the ICT tech behind a Safe City Solution. I went to an expert for answers.

Interview with Mr. Hong-Eng Koh, Global Chief Public Safety Expert at Huawei

Please enjoy this interview with Hong-Eng. If you’ve ever wanted to know the details about a Safe City Solution, and how it works, you’ll enjoy this.

Q1. I’ve seen a lot about safe cities on social media recently. It’s a concept that can be difficult to grasp at first. Can you give us a simple explanation of what a Safe City means to you? And how does a Safe City relate to a Smart City?

Hong-Eng: A Safe City is a city where the crime rates and other threats to public safety are low, and the people in the city actually FEEL safe. And, in the event of any threat, the public safety response is swift to reduce the loss of property and even lives, to gather evidence for post-event investigation, and to help return life to normalcy.

To support a Safe City implementation, the technologies typically cover three areas:

1. Converged and broadband public safety trunked radio systems

Voice communication is critical in public safety operations. Traditionally public safety agencies use analog, P25, TETRA, etc. narrowband trunked radio systems, which served their time well. But they are not suitable for mobile computing and video streaming, which are now recognized globally as an essential tool to support public safety.

Traditional narrowband radio vendors promote the carrying of a second device for mobile computing; just imagine a police officer running after a suspect carrying so much equipment on his belt!

This is why Huawei has the innovative eLTE broadband public safety trunked radio system that supports Push-To-Talk voice, mobile computing, and even two-way video streaming; from a single, converged device.

As the world is not perfect, different agencies will still use different devices for years to come. This is why Huawei built the Integrated Communication Platform (ICP) allowing eLTE, TETRA, P25, analog radio, and even cellular phone to interoperate; this supports the convergence of agencies to better support public safety operations.

2. Intelligent Video Surveillance (IVS), from smart cameras to solar power to networking (i.e. wired, eLTE, microwave, etc.) to backend appliance for analytics and archival.

Huawei’s IVS come with video analytics (e.g. facial recognition, number plate recognition, unattended object, virtual tripwire) and video management (e.g. video search, video synopsis).

Huawei’s 2-tier intelligent video cloud helps agencies reduce costs while maintaining the crucial evidence in high resolution, provides cloud-based video analytics, and comes with the SmartTrans technology that allows video to be transmitted 7x faster than traditional FTP!

With the ICP, the command center can even route live video from any camera to an eLTE device, Telepresence video conference facility, etc.

With the ICP, the command center can even route live video from any camera to an eLTE device, Telepresence video conference facility, etc.

3. Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system

Huawei works with many major CAD providers in the world and integrates such systems with the ICP and IVS.

This world-leading combination allows the emergency call dispatcher to see live video from cameras in the vicinity of the incident on the CAD map, and to see the nearest available first responder, before dispatching the appropriate resource.

While on the way to the incident, the first responder can view the same video on his eLTE device. Upon arriving at the incident, the first responder can use his eLTE to capture video and route it to the command center. This is world-leading visualized command center in action.

A Smart City is more like a vision where people, organizations and devices are connected, offering seamless, efficient and innovative services, and possibly services even before the consumers know they need them.

A Safe City is the foundation of any Smart City. It is only when people feel safe and secure that it makes sense to invest in Intelligent Transportation, Smart Healthcare, Smart Education, etc.

Furthermore, the technologies behind a Safe City, such as IVS, can be used in the other aspects of a Smart City (e.g. Intelligent Transportation).

Q2. Beyond the obvious results of reducing crime, increasing the efficiency of police and other public services, and keeping citizens safe — what are some other benefits of Safe Cities? It seems like Safe City innovation would stimulate the economy and create more jobs. What are your thoughts on this?

Hong-Eng: You’re spot on! Let me highlight three areas:

• With major public safety threats, tourism will go down, as witnessed in many cities. Conversely, let’s take a look at Kenya. Tourism and the economy were badly hit after the terror attack in Westgate Mall in 2013. With a strong determination by the Kenyan Government, Huawei worked with Safaricom to implement safe city technologies there.

In 2015, the crime rates were reduced by more than 40% — and in 2016 tourism went up! I have the habit of asking taxi drivers about their cities. Watch this impromptu video interview of Douglas when I was in Nairobi in 2016:

• Likewise, with poor safety, foreign investment will go down. Recently, I visited a major city in Africa, and even in bright day light and in a car, I felt very unsafe. Parts of this city look pathetic.

Two major international hotel chains pulled out years back, leaving behind two vacated tall buildings. There are not many surveillance cameras, and the local authorities are worried that even surveillance cameras would be stolen.

• Most critical of all, the incumbent residents of the city have the option to move to another city, or even another country. And these residents that have the ability to move are precisely the ones the city ought to retain.

While the above three points are a vicious circle of an unsafe city, there are virtuous circle of benefits of a Safe City -

• When people feel safe, they are more willing to leave their houses. With more people on the streets, criminals will think twice before striking (less pick pocketing though).

• With lesser incidents, police officers can be freed up to do more proactive patrolling and community policing. This helps in promoting the police-public relationship, which is crucial in stopping crimes in this age of digital transformation. I will elaborate more on this later.

• With state-of-the-art technologies to support them, public safety officers feel more confident in carrying out their work.

Q3. I’ve watched the Huawei Safe City Solution case studies. They make Safe Cities look like wonderful places to live. I thought it was interesting that after implementing a Safe City Solution, the crime in Shanghai decreased 30%.

I know there are also success stories in London, Amsterdam and at many high profile events. Since Huawei’s Safe City Solution currently serves over 60 cities in over 30 countries, you obviously know what works and what doesn’t. Can you give us some Safe City best practices — and tell us why they are important?

Hong-Eng: Huawei has actually enabled more than 200 Safe Cities in more than 80 countries. These are some of the best practices:

• Criminals, terrorists and disasters do not strike based on how governments operate and how boundaries are drawn. It is very common for a city to have multiple public safety/law enforcement agencies, and they use different and stovepipe information and communication technologies.

We need them to interoperate and to work together, to fight against all threats to public safety. Huawei’s Integrated Communication Platform (ICP) and Policing Cloud (usually private cloud) allow such interoperability and coverage to take place.

• Visualization is crucial, especially live video feed from cameras, including those on the street, in the vehicle, and body-worn. Such live video is important for real-time analytics and decision-making.

Huawei’s solutions allow video from any source to be routed to anyone on any broadband device. As mentioned by Douglas in Nairobi (video in 2, above), the people there actually feel safer seeing surveillance cameras.

• Technologies free up more police officers, who can be deployed on the streets to increase visible policing and to improve police-public relationship.

• Gradually Big Data analytics are being used to study and even predict crime patterns. This allows resources to be deployed more efficiently to solve, reduce, and even prevent crimes.

Q4. We often hear about police using social media and other digital marketing sources to increase their efficiency and ability to solve crimes. What role does social media and digital marketing play in a Safe City Solution? How will that data become even more useful?

Hong-Eng: I am hearing more younger generations using social media, as opposed to dialing 911, when they witness an emergency incident. This is why it is important for public safety agencies to tap into social media to learn what’s happening in the neighborhood. As opposed to IoT, I call this IoP! (Internet of People)

There are many tools out there that allow anyone, not just public safety agencies, to “listen” to non-private social media postings. Such capability has to be present in a command center too. With Huawei’s Integrated Communication Platform (ICP), the dispatcher can even route such non-private postings to an eLTE device carried by a first responder.

In addition to “listening,” public safety agencies must catch up with time and use social media channels too; this is community policing in the age of social networking. Public safety agencies need to have friends and fans, to jointly prevent and fight crimes.

Such RoR (Return on Relationship) was witnessed during the Boston Marathon attacks. This is not just about technologies; the agencies concerned have to be less authoritative and be more “friendly”. SOCIAL is about being Sincere, Open, Collaborative, Interested, Authentic, Likeable. I wrote a paper on this: “The Road to Collaborative Public Safety.”

Q5. What role do private partners, businesses and stakeholders play in the realization of safe, Smart Cities?

Hong-Eng: Criminals and terrorists are adopting technologies too. They are even catching up with digital transformation. Many of them behave like Uber, AirBnB, etc., adopting platforms to reach out to the world to grow their empires!

There will never be enough police officers to be everywhere, anytime. Public safety agencies need to reach out to businesses, communities and individuals in their effort to prevent, detect, respond, and recover from threats. We need to adopt good crowd-sourcing to fight the evil crowd-sourcing.

It takes a network to fight a network. One example is in the Chinese city of Qiqihar. There local police work with thousands of taxis. Using the eLTE network, security cameras in the taxis are sending live video to the command center when the need arises. There’s more on this topic in the paper “The Road to Collaborative Public Safety” I mentioned above.

Q6. How should policy makers approach the planning of Safe Cities? What are the priorities they should consider?

Hong-Eng: No two cities are alike. One needs to understand his/her city’s current and emerging threats to public safety, such as crime, terrorism, accidents, and natural disaster. Different threats require different applications. But, as said earlier, voice communication is critical in public safety operations.

A priority for the city should be the implementation of an interoperable voice communication platform, such as Huawei’s Integrated Communication Platform (ICP). Agencies and officers need to talk to one another before they can make the city safe. Next, video surveillance and other sensors (e.g. flood detection, and even social media listening) are important.

We need to have input on what’s happening before we make decisions, including dispatching the right resources swiftly. Such fast data are not just for archival purposes, we need to analyze them and share time with the right people at the right time.

This is why the voice communication infrastructure should be broadband ready to support video and mobile computing too, such as Huawei’s eLTE. Just like diverged voice communications, we often see stovepipe information systems too. We need to consider Policing Cloud (usually private cloud) to support multiple applications, and to allow them to exchange information. This helps us to connect the dots in the fight against public safety threats.

With Safe City technologies in place, we need to focus on beyond detection and response to threats. We need to look at the whole cycle of Public Safety: Prevent, Detect, Respond and Recover. Big Data analytics and integrated case management are needed to enable this cycle, especially in prevention and recovery.

In addition to technologies, policy makers need to improve the process and people too. “Customers” of public safety agencies are always unwilling customers. Who wants to be a victim of crime? Which witness of crime likes to be inconvenienced by a bureaucratic investigation process?

Public safety agencies need to re-engineer their organization and process, to appear as one to make the unwilling customers more willing. Behavior and professionalism of the public safety officers have to catch up with time too, especially as we know the importance of public-private partnerships in the fight against public safety threats.

Q7. How can cities make sure their technologies are scalable and sustainable — especially when they have limited financial and time resources?

Hong-Eng: Acquiring technologies are not buying tables and chairs. You don’t go for the cheapest. You go for the cost effective ones that are secure, scalable and are high performance to support mission-critical operations.

Why use multiple devices and networks, and pay more, when you can have a converged communication system?

Why build silo systems, when the applications can run on a shared Policing Cloud (usually private) that even allows sharing of information between the applications?

Why have different video surveillance systems with independent storage, when there is integrated and tiered storage for better cost efficiency?

And these solutions, like those offered by Huawei, have to be scalable and sustainable. We did it by following international standards ensuring the users are not locked in. Examples include OpenStack for cloud platforms, and 3GPP for eLTE networks.

Q8. Most people I know are excited about the Internet of Things (IoT). Whether it’s their lights automatically coming on when they enter a room or their coffee pot checking the weather forecast each morning, we are excited about the possibilities. What role does IoT (and connectivity) play in Huawei’s Safe City Solution?

Hong-Eng: Yes, IoT, especially powered by Huawei’s NB-IoT technology, is increasingly playing a crucial role to support safe cities. In Europe, for example, the eCall 112 implementation requires cars manufactured in Europe to automatically dial the 112 emergency center when it detects a traffic accident, without human intervention. Huawei’s Integrated Communication Platform (ICP) is ready for today’s voice and video, and also for tomorrow’s IoT data.

Cities will need other IoT and sensors to detect other threats too, such as flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes, and CBRN (chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear) threats.

Do you know police officers in a vehicle dislike changing shifts? They have to check for all weapons and equipment for the hand-off and take-over. Some departments are now testing IoT in the vehicles to automatically account for the weapons and equipment.

Likewise, there are trials involving IoT on the protective/equipment vests worn by police officers. We are not far off from the day when the command center can detect an officer’s medical condition and whether a weapon/equipment is removed from the vest.

But all these applications require wireless data communication, another reason Huawei’s eLTE is important. We need to move away from the traditional narrowband voice network.

Q9. When I think about technology making our surroundings more fluid and proactive based on our needs as a society, it seems as though people are a big component of the Safe City Solution.

Instead of being on the outside looking in, human beings are becoming contributors by interacting with our environment and providing the data and information needed to make our cities safer.

Instead of reacting to our environments, we’ll move with them in real time, as part of them. This human/machine integration seems to be gradually happening, and it feels like a seamless, smooth transition. It’s a shift in our evolution, and an important part of the ICT tech required to make our cities safe.

Only time will tell how successful this integration will be. It seems as though we are becoming part of the brain of the Safe City. Do you agree with this? And if so, can you elaborate?

Hong-Eng: Totally agree with you! This is why I said earlier, in addition to IoT, we should be talking about IoP, Internet of People! Humans are becoming the Eyes/Ears, Brain and even Arms/Legs of a Safe City.

Consider these scenarios:

• Active use of social media, as elaborated earlier. Very often such unintended postings, coupled with Big Data analytics, provide a threat picture to city officials. When many people in a neighborhood are posting about them falling sick, it could be a case of pandemic.

• Body worn/carried IoT devices. How is Google Maps predicting the traffic condition of a road? All their users are their sensors.

• Mobile apps. In Pakistan, some local authorities encourage people to report unusual water ponding through a mobile app. While the reliability and accuracy are not perfect, it is a sure cheaper way than to install flood sensors, at least for the short term.

• Advancing video analytics are allowing interesting observations on people, especially those with abnormal behaviors. For example, a single person walking against a crowd of people or a person loitering when the rest of the people are walking straight. I have even seen video analytics that detect whether a person is happy or sad!

• Keeping the best for the last: Arms/Legs of a Safe City. In Singapore, volunteers install the MyResponder app on their mobile phones. Imagine that there’s a case of heart failure. The command center will not only dispatch an ambulance, but also dispatch volunteers with this app within 400m of the incident. The app will even tell the volunteers the location of the nearest AED device. Many lives have already been saved by such volunteers (and technology) in Singapore. I called this crowd-dispatch.

(I snapped this pic during a smart/safe city demo at Huawei HQ in Shenzhen.)

Q10. Civic engagement is one of the most important parts of the Smart City initiative since it’s ultimately focused on improving the quality of life for the citizens of a given city. Smart Cities bring promise to their citizens as much as they do doubts of their future effects on services, politics and security.

How much privacy will citizens have to sacrifice in order to feel safer? How can we make people feel better about their data being shared with the municipality, developers and other citizens though open data programs?

Hong-Eng: I have actually highlighted such public-private partnership in Safe Cities a couple of times above. Such as “The Road to Collaborative Public Safety” paper, China’s Qiqihar taxis and MyResponder in Singapore.

I am a strong believer that in any city, at least 80% of the people are law-abiding, wanting to have a stable and good life in the city, good education for the kids, good healthcare, good employment, etc. With a good police-public relationship, the people are willing to help.

After all, when UK’s Sir Robert Peel established the first modern police force, he said “The police are the public and the public are the police”. We need to re-establish such community policing, especially in this age of social networking, this age of crowd-sourcing. It takes a network to fight a network.

Properly thought of, safeguarded and implemented Open Data programs can support safe cities too. Due to the silos in government agencies and lack of funding, sometimes individuals and organizations may be in a better position to develop applications to analyze such open data, identifying public safety threats before they occur, or identifying the suspicious entities after a threat occurred. But clearly a major concern is privacy.

Any infringement is counterintuitive to Collaborative Public Safety, where trust between the people and public safety is paramount. Police and the government have to protect the privacy of their constituents. Laws, policies, governance, compliance and audit trail have to be in place allowing constituents to maintain their privacy. A law-abiding citizen should not be afraid.

However, in this world of cyber-facilitated crimes (e.g. pedophiles targeting victims through social networking, terrorists recruiting and enabling online), proper judicial process need to be in place for police/intelligence agencies to access some of these usually privacy-protected data sources. Strict governance and audit trails are needed to prevent and detect abuses.

(I snapped this pic at the Huawei Global Analyst Summit in Shenzhen last month.)

There is also a need for separation of duties, such as between a data custodian and a law enforcement agency. It is important to realize that one cannot uphold privacy without security. All the laws and policies point to the need for information and cyber security, including infrastructure security, identity management, cloud security and mobile security. Huawei offers a very comprehensive suite of such security technologies too.

Q11. This reminds me of another conversation I had a few months ago at Huawei. We were talking about artificial intelligence, and whether or not it would be a good or bad thing in our society overall.

Ultimately, we concluded that the answer depends on the intentions of the people behind the tech, and how they choose to use it. Would you say the same thing applies to Safe City technology?

Hong-Eng: Indeed, every piece of technology can be a double-edged sword. This is why I always propagate:

• Good guys using the latest technology to fight against the bad guys who are using technology too.

• Government agencies need to ask for RFPs, bad guys don’t. And Government agencies always have budget problems. This is why we need more innovative collaboration between the public and private sectors.

• In using technology, we need to protect it to uphold its security and data privacy. Threats to security can be from anywhere, including from inside, be it due to negligent and malicious intent.

Conclusion

After interviewing Hong-Eng, I’ve decided that a Safe City Solution is more of a necessity than a luxury. As Hong-Eng explained, “It’s a foundation to a Smart City, the economy, and ultimately the well-being of society.”

I know there are those who may still have an issue with the privacy aspect. As with all tech solutions, we have to weigh the good with the bad. I’m in the tech sphere every day, and I think it’s always a tug-of-war between openness and privacy — or in this case, good and evil.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Huawei’s Safe City Solution. Please leave a comment below. I welcome all viewpoints. Having an open dialogue about Smart Solutions is how we make progress.

Thank you, Mr. Hong-Eng Koh, for allowing me to interview you. You’ve been a wealth of information, and I learned a lot! I hope everyone who reads this comes away with a better understanding of Safe Cities, and how they can make our world a better place.

Tech journalist, Apple ACN, Digital Transformation, IoT, 5G, AI and the future of tech.

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