How Do We Keep Our Cities Safe in Times of Crisis?

Nick Koiza, Head of Business Development, Security

By: Nick Koiza

Head of Security Business

17th July 2020

5 minute read

It’s no surprise that in times of crisis there is an increase in crime.  We are already seeing higher levels of criminality during the Covid19 pandemic, from high tech cyber-crime, down to basic fly tipping. Where people find financial pressure or greater opportunity, there will be security related issues. Yes we want smart cities, but we also want safe cities. In this blog, I give my opinions of the problems and some of the solutions to help keep densely populated areas safer as we move from the current crisis towards our ‘new-normal’.

Background to the urbanisation of the human population

The UN has forecast that 68% of the global population will live in cities by 2050 and in many countries that figure could be much higher. You can see the current rates on Wikipedia:  Urbanisation by Country. Our cities are growing and along with that should be a focus on safety planning and crime prevention.

Smart city planners internationally have been working on how to get a balance between a high density of people and healthy living spaces. Where there are healthy spaces and enough food for the population, there is resultingly less crime.  Vertical farming and sustainable design are becoming more commonplace and architects are becoming more practiced at integrating  ‘green architecture’. One of the latest examples is from Italian firm Luca Curci Architects’ ‘The Link’ project, which houses 20,000 people in four towers with two million plants. These kinds of initiatives are not possible without the use of technology to enable sustainable living and  healthy living spaces. Sustainable environments  with integrated security technology, I believe, is the key to safe, smart cities.

Which technologies underpin successful urban civilisations?

Technologies used to support humans in an urban environment fit into these main areas:

  1. Food and water security
  2. Healthcare
  3. Economy/business
  4. Recreation
  5. Security and Protection
  6. Transportation
  7. Education
  8. Physical Spaces

There is a huge amount of technology needed to underpin urban living, from IoT, data communications, telecoms and hardware devices. Incorporating  all of these makes a healthy ecosystem.

What changes may happen to the planning of smart cities due to the Covid-19 pandemic and future global recession?

Below are some areas that security and  IoT professionals need to consider to  support  future populations:

How do you manage a higher density of people in mega smart cities when physical connections are a vulnerability in the future?

We have more people needing more space between them, in a densely populated area. The use of sensors to detect and communicate pressure points could be useful.

How can you make supply chains more localised without impacting the global economy?

Balancing supply and demand with volatile supply chains is not easy. With easy access to food and other amenities, we alleviate pressures on security. The use of drones and other autonomous vehicles for ‘last mile supplies’ could be key to keeping large scale dense operations agile.

Will there be a move to more homeworking/flexi working and a desire for less distance in travelling for work/services?

Single use buildings with ‘dark’ times suffer from more break-ins, and office blocks that are underutilised while more people are homeworking are vulnerable. Perhaps more mixed-use buildings will be key not only for building security, but also to reduce travel for food/work/recreation. People can stay within their building during a ‘local lockdown’, but still have all the amenities for a satisfying day-to-day life. However, New York has a high level of mixed use buildings and experienced a high level of CV19, probably due to the high population density and its global connections. So, there is a level of population management required, through both strategy and technology, to support safe environments.

Is regular air travel still viable?

Our airports are key to connecting global trade and a huge number of businesses. I hypothesise that with the expense and risk of air travel in the future, there could be two tiers of megacities: air connected (major hubs) with investment by multinational corporates in the land around them for industrial space, and non-air connected (perhaps regional towns). These can have separate pandemic strategies.

What other scenarios are there in a world that combines greater urbanisation with pandemics/crises?

We need to think about our own industries or area of expertise and reflect on how we can impact the future in a sustainable way that considers future crises.

Do crises create more safety issues in dense urban areas?

We are seeing weaker economies collapsing; youth unemployment in some countries scarily high (circa 45% in some Gulf countries for instance); China  currently losing 35% of its  manufacturing, along with mass Global migration. All these factors are adding to the levels of localised crime from poverty. It is suggested that Covid-19 may cause an additional 1.4billion people to move into extreme poverty.

Cyber security companies can deal with much of the online crime, but how do we make cities smarter and better able to eliminate the ability to commit crime, without compromising human rights, with more  security cameras or human tagging, for example?  Or is that just a given now that we need to make that human rights compromise for safety?  Historically, town planners have struggled with keeping residents safe.  A prime example is underpasses. While they ar  brilliant for pedestrians crossing roads safely, they are also notorious for assaults and other crime.  We need to  integrate security technology to focus on the suspected increase in future crime.

Accentuate the positives

It’s not all doom and gloom. Here are some examples of technology that exists today that can be used to keep  future populations safe and there will be many others.  They should give us faith that there are solutions and  provide inspiration for your own security technology projects.

  • People counting: In order to highlight and target passenger safety and security on public transport, this project was to develop non-camera, sensor-based technology; which was highly accurate, compact and unobtrusive and could be positioned in the doorway of buses, trains and trams to detect the numbers of passengers on board. More information here:
  • Logistics support: As our cities get denser, we need more efficient ways to get tasks completed. Finding a parking space, for instance, in a busy city can be frustrating. It is also a leading contributor to traffic congestion and air pollution within urban environments. Gorizont Telecom launched a system to improve parking in smart cities.  Case study here:
  • It’s worse at night: Where there is light, there are less security threatsTelensa’s PLANet is a world leading street lighting control system, deployed 1.5 million street lights around the world. Centrally controlling light means environmental benefits, while  local sensors ensure the lights go on when the sun goes down:
  • Drones for surveillance: When it is either not safe, or not physically possible to use humans for surveillance, drones are becoming more common. Above Surveying is a company that uses drones to inspect solar farms – potentially the life blood of our future megacities:   


What can we do as a tech community?

We must continue to innovate and develop our technology to work harder for our Critical National Infrastructure. For more information and case studies specifically on safe cities, please visit our dedicated web page

We also have a useful booklet on Mission Critical IoT for Public Safety