How can technology protect public spaces and ‘soft targets’? A PRoTECT web conference

April 2021 – Can technology protect our public spaces, which are by nature vulnerable to terrorism because of their open nature? This is a question that many local authorities ponder as they seek to secure their city squares, tourism landmarks and other easily accessible ‘soft targets’ such as shopping venues, schools and transport systems. In the framework of the PRoTECT project (Public resilience using technology to counter terrorism) in which it is a partner, Efus organised a web conference on that question, on 28 April.

The meeting gathered about 75 representatives from European cities, law enforcement agencies, local security practitioners, tech companies, and national, European and international stakeholders. It was the third and last in a series of web conferences organised by Efus on the role played by local and regional authorities in protecting public spaces and the tools they can use to better respond to terrorist threats.

Safeguarding public events: the case of Tampere

Anniina Autero, Senior Project Manager at the City of Tampere (Finland), described the SURE project (Smart Urban Security and Event Resilience), which is funded by the EU’s Urban Innovative Actions initiative, and how it is helping the City Council to improve security at collective events. Tampere has a population of 290,000 and receives about 4.3 million visitors each year.
SURE assists the local authority and event producers in planning, anticipating and testing the different elements of an event to ensure its smooth running. This monitoring is done through CCTV and sensory detection without any disturbance for local residents and in strict compliance with privacy provisions. It is based on a systemic approach that includes continuous measurement and analysis of sensory data, which is used by first respondents, police, the fire service, traffic control, etc.
Ms Autero highlighted the ethical issues raised by facial recognition and stressed that Tampere uses sensory technology detection to monitor general crowd movements and activities, rather than track individuals.

Hybrid networks

Jorge Donadeu Prieto, Senior Director EU & International Institutions at Airbus Secure Land Communications, explained that secure communication is a key element of coordinating security efforts within and across organisations and authorities. Today’s fast-paced society demands increased situational awareness and proactivity from our authorities, he said. Private Mobile Radiocommunication and Information Communication Technologies enable us to share our data with the right people, transfer data securely, and improve collaboration across authorities.
The Hybrid Networks concept aims to integrate various technologies to create a secure multimedia solution, including secure messaging, private video calls, real-time secure location sharing, and end-to-end encryption. Key benefits include enhanced sharing, team expansion, efficient collaboration, and effective management between the control room/leadership and people working in the field.

Sensory-monitoring technologies

Dr Philo Daniel, Global Director for urban security at Smiths Detection, presented various sensory-monitoring technologies used to detect threats to public safety and security. iCMORE Weapons is used by the National Baseball Association (NBA, USA) to deliver a high probability of detection and low false alarm rate using deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) through collaboration with customers and security authorities.
BioFlash is a mobile, high-sensitivity biothreat detector first developed to counter bio-terrorism. It can also be used to detect Covid-19 in enclosed spaces, and thus enhance public security and perceptions of security amid the ongoing health crisis.

Key takeaways

Debating the various solutions presented, their benefits, pitfalls and ethical ramifications, participants in the web conference agreed on four main points:

  • The performance of new technologies is beyond dispute, but their development and deployment must be conducted in a collaborative way with the local authority/organisations that will use them.
  • The adoption of any new technology should always respond to a real need, which should be confirmed by a local security audit.
  • Data protection regulations (such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR) and ethical issues must be carefully considered when deploying any new technology.
  • Transparency with the public is essential not only for ethical reasons but also because otherwise the arrival of new technological equipment (CCTV or other) might generate anxiety.

Save the Date! The PRoTECT project is organising its final event on 14, 15 and 16 June. Titled “Mitigating security gaps: How to support local and regional authorities in adopting a comprehensive methodology to identify vulnerabilities and evaluate solutions?”, it will include three online sessions. Registration (free of charge) is open here.

> More information on the PRoTECT project
> The SURE project
> Airbus Secure Land Communications
> Smiths Detection