From College Campuses to Sports Stadiums, IoT May Hold the Key to Public Safety

By Casey Hynes, Contributor

Every day, more than 2.6 million people fly through U.S. airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2018, over 17 million plus football fans crowded stadiums to watch regular season NFL games, with many tens of thousands showing up at every game, according to ESPN. Between 39,000-57,000 students matriculate the top 10 U.S. colleges with the highest enrollments each day, and those numbers don’t include faculty and staff—or the tens of thousands of people who live and work on the other 5,290 college and university campuses throughout the country.

What do these statistics have in common? In each of these cases, security teams work behind the scenes to ensure safety. They’re responsible for identifying suspicious behavior, helping people in crisis, and responding to emergencies.

And that’s just the people responsible for managing crowds. Police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel are also tasked with maintaining security and well-being, often in highly unpredictable environments. This is at a time when the FBI reports that active shooter incidents are increasing, and the need for fast, responsive threat management is greater than ever.

Technology plays a critical role in addressing public safety emergencies, from surveillance cameras to biometric scanners to sensors used for gunshot detection. But it’s the Internet of Things (IoT) that enables such devices to be connected…

Technology plays a critical role in addressing public safety emergencies, from surveillance cameras to biometric scanners to sensors used for gunshot detection. But it’s the Internet of Things (IoT) that enables such devices to be connected, allowing for real-time threat monitoring and faster, smarter response tactics that keep the public—and those tasked with protecting them—safe.

Behind the Curtain

Every day, public and private sector security professionals venture into the unknown. In one regard, their jobs will always be reactive, responding to crises as they arise. But as predictive technologies advance, public safety strategies are becoming more proactive at the same time.

That’s largely thanks to IoT, which digitizes physical environments. Devices such as surveillance drones, body cameras, sensors, and GPS triangulation systems can capture vital information from the scene of an emergency or crime. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms can process the data and trigger alerts to emergency responders when threats are detected. Telemetry and facial recognition programs analyze data transmitted via sensors and cameras, providing real-time insights into who is in a given location and what is happening there.

The real-world implications of IoT connectivity are profound. Consider the following examples.

Examples of real-world implications of IoT connectivity include: emergency medical response, gunshot detection, firefighting, campus safety and sporting events.

Emergency Medical Response

In the case of car accidents or other medical emergencies, IoT devices can help emergency responders find and treat victims using readily available data. While in the ambulance, emergency responders can use smart devices to capture and send vital health details to the hospital, giving caregivers instant access to this information and wasting no time in treating victims upon arrival. Back at the accident scene, rescue teams might use drones and thermal imaging to identify other victims nearby.

Gunshot Detection

Automatic, smart gunshot detection uses acoustic sensors to capture sounds, while machine learning algorithms analyze them. If any sounds resemble gunfire, the system transmits an alert to emergency responders without the need for human intervention.

Firefighting

Hand-held or drone-mounted thermal imaging cameras can improve firefighter safety by providing visibility into where a fire is strongest, where it may have spread to hazardous materials, or to the location of someone trapped in a burning building.

Campus Safety

At colleges across the country, security officers are using high-definition cameras and AI to identify individuals who aren’t allowed on campus. These cameras can detect faces and license plates, then analyze those images against a given list and alert authorities if the program detects a match.

Sporting Events

The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi (NCS4), which develops training programs related to security and safety concerns, is currently exploring the use of sensors to gather information about weather patterns, hazardous gases, and abnormal sounds at sporting events, according to Dr. Lou Marciani, director of NCS4.

“By integrating all these data streams, we can learn so much more about what is happening in a given environment,” Marciani says. “More importantly, this allows us to make predictions about what is likely to happen next, and then take appropriate action.”

Pairing IT with OT

Within the next two years, 130 million fixed surveillance cameras and 73 million mobile surveillance cameras will ship annually, according to IDC, indicating the rapidly growing reliance on IoT devices.

This growth in IoT adoption can create new challenges for companies. Highly sophisticated surveillance cameras that capture high-resolution images, along with a network of sensors that collect massive quantities of data, which requires significant processing power to analyze. Organizations also need to contend with expanding data storage requirements, depending on the types and sizes of the files and length of time the information is held.

For example, police departments encounter such data storage issues with body-worn cameras. If the footage captured from a body-worn camera may be used as evidence in a court case, state law mandates how long it must be stored, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Otherwise, individual departments may decide how long to preserve the footage—though they must also contend with privacy laws and public requests to view the footage.

Any organization using IoT devices must also contend with security concerns as smart sensors and cameras create additional entry points for hackers and other malicious actors.

Ken Mills, general manager of Dell Technologies IoT Surveillance Solution, says the first step organizations should take toward addressing these infrastructure and security requirements is changing how their internal teams approach safety. Two critical departments—operations (OT) and information technology (IT)—must work together, he says.

“It’s really important to start to treat surveillance and digital evidence, safety, and security as IT data.”—Ken Mills, general manager of Dell Technologies IoT Surveillance Solution

“Surveillance, digital evidence, crime scene forensics, and all things around safety and security require high-end computing, graphics processing units, lots of storage, virtualization, and hybrid cloud,” Mills explains. “It’s really important to start to treat surveillance and digital evidence, safety, and security as IT data.”

Functionally, this means putting together the people who monitor physical entry points with those who oversee data and IoT. While security directors come from policing backgrounds and tend to be focused on protecting assets and securing physical areas, IoT technicians are worried about securing safe networks. At the same time, policing individuals may fear that collaboration with IT will mean giving up some of their jurisdiction to those who are not as versed in security protocols, members from the IT team might assume that working with operations teams means taking on physical security responsibilities.

“From a leadership point of view, you have to push your OT and IT organizations to work together to establish a proactive working relationship.”—Ken Mills, general manager of Dell Technologies IoT Surveillance Solution

In truth, when OT and IT work together, they can ensure that the right technologies are in place to meet both the company’s safety and security objectives. “From a leadership point of view,” Mills says, “you have to push your OT and IT organizations to work together to establish a proactive working relationship.”

Together, they can choose the appropriate tech systems and implement them in smart, secure ways. “When you’re looking at the security data holistically,” Mills continues, “you’re much more able to provide a real-time answer as to the question, ‘Is something going on that I need to be involved in?'”

A Lifesaving Tool

Technology such as surveillance cameras, cellular analysis of cell tower data, and thermal imaging have already been invaluable for identifying dangerous individuals, such as the Boston bombers in 2013 and the Austin bomber in 2018, Mills notes. But the increasingly advanced, increasingly connected IoT security strategies go beyond the reactionary, allowing security teams to install systems that can prevent crises, whether that’s someone falling ill and needing medical assistance, or mitigating the threat of a shooting tragedy on a college campus.

Companies and security agencies can take steps toward a more secure future by supporting their OT and IT teams in using IoT technologies to build safer, more agile environments. “It’s not just about catching the bad guy,” Mills reminds us. “It really becomes a life-saving tool for lots of different use cases.”