The Physical Security Challenges of Smart Cities

There’s no doubt that a smart city’s network will be ultra-responsive, fast, and reliable. Can the same be said for the physical security measures needed?

September 26, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By Devin Partida

Smart City

Tumisu / Pixabay

Physical security infrastructure remains a challenge that needs to be overcome for cities integrating smart technologies. While smart cities are growing in popularity, understanding how to offer citizens ample protection has yet to be solidified.

There’s no denying that smart cities are the future. Internet of Things (IoT) technology means they can become more commonplace in countries all over the world. These IoT sensors come together to form a vast network capable of collecting data, which can then be analyzed to gain valuable insights into making modern cities more livable.

Some of the building blocks of a smart city include IoT and 5G technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing technologies. There’s no doubt that a smart city’s network will be ultra-responsive, fast and reliable. However, can the same be said for the physical security measures needed? Safety is vital, so planners and developers must consider how to protect citizens during emergencies and natural disasters. 

Here’s more information about the physical security challenges facing smart city development and possible solutions to ensure resident protection.

1. Phasing Out Antiquated Technologies

Based on the existing technologies in modern cities, such as surveillance cameras and fiber-optic networks, it’s safe to say that the technology used to guarantee public safety needs an upgrade. 

Developers will need to build a viable foundation of technological infrastructure, meaning a true cloud application capable of communicating with connected devices. 

Another type of technology that’s been used for decades is closed-circuit television (CCTV). When applying some of the new technologies used in smart cities, this network of cameras can interact on a deeper level and span across an entire city, something that has yet to happen in major cities worldwide.

Regardless, planners and developers should anticipate using new networks and systems to capture high-quality video to help stop crime. This new CCTV network can be monitored from one location and even connected to emergency services, like police stations. 

2. Digitally Transforming Public Safety Agencies

Some of the vital services used to ensure a city is safe are firefighting and police stations, hospitals, and government organizations. They need to democratize their data and improve internal communication capabilities to work in a smart city. 

These organizations need to constantly communicate with each other in real-time, whether it’s putting out a fire or tending to someone experiencing a medical event. Working in silos leads to ineffective communication, but new, smart city technologies like IoT and AI can help agencies work in tandem.

In addition to democratizing their data, agencies can work together to create effective emergency plans to help keep the city safe. These are necessary for everything from hurricanes and floods to pandemics and active shooter events. 

3. Changing Police Recruitment

Police officers must rely on the vast amount of data pouring in from various sources, so there may be a change in how they’re recruited. Rather than gathering information during patrol routes, future officers will patrol smart cities from a single station. 

However, this is not to say they won’t be able to intervene during crimes—in fact, they may be able to respond even faster than traditional methods. With remote monitoring, police officers in smart cities will need to be adept at viewing live-streamed video and interpreting what they see. Currently, they rely on patrolling in person, but that may not be the case in a smart city. 

Recruiting challenges may arise during this transition period. Most police officers lack the formal training needed to analyze data at a sophisticated level.

4. Creating a Private Broadband Network

One smart city that has overcome this challenge is Nairobi, Kenya. Ensuring public safety was high on the government’s agenda. In turn, the country’s National Police Service Commission created a private broadband network with many interconnected devices. 

The network relies on Huawei’s proprietary wireless eLTE network, which links command stations across the city with over 1,500 high-definition cameras. There are more than 200 cameras at city checkpoints and plenty of wireless devices held by city officials. The network is state-of-the-art, and Nairobi has found success with it so far. The new system has enhanced police response times, something many cities struggle to deal with. 

Ensuring Safe, Livable Smart Cities

While these are only a few of the physical security challenges facing the development of smart cities, they can be overcome with the right technology. Those working on planning and implementing IoT, AI, and 5G should be aware of these challenges to plan accordingly.

City residents want to reap all the benefits an urban area offers without compromising their privacy. Planners should acknowledge these challenges so they can find quality solutions. Smart cities will become standard, so it’s vital to ensure they are safe to live in.

Devin Partida

Devin Partida writes about current events, technology, and science. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of

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