By Carel Coetzee, CEO of XON
The potential for safer and more secure cities and public spaces in Africa has never been greater. Crime and terror are global issues, with terror taking the lead in certain parts of the world and crime in others and the same is true for various parts of Africa. And increasingly urbanising populations place greater pressure on governments and businesses to deal with the safety and security issues.
Safety and security take prominence in dealing with rising social and civil issues because they underpin the success of all others. Businesspeople and citizens cannot function effectively without being safe and secure.
Populations are generally urbanising to a greater extent, yet more so in developing countries, a trend that’s been spiking since 1990 when the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 40% of populations were urban, a figure expected to reach 70% by 2050. In actual numbers, in 2009 there were 2,5 billion people living in cities in developing countries and the number is expected to be more than 5 billion by 2050.
In Africa, as is the case in many other parts of the world, governments and businesses are already struggling to create safe and secure public spaces. And budgets are generally being cut rather than expanded. This seems to be a catch-22 with agencies being asked to do more with less.
Even in those parts of the African continent where budgets are increasing, they will have to increase astronomically in order to deal with the current and future safety and security issues. Unless agencies start looking at new, economical, and effective strategies that will help them meet future needs.
Those needs vary by geography. Kenya, for example, with its proximity to Somalia and Sudan, gives prominence to terror threats over and above the threat of crime. South Africa’s separation from terror hotspots mean civil crime takes prominence. The same is true of Botswana where diplomatic agencies ascribe it a low terror threat as well as a low crime threat. Yet, even in comparatively safe and secure Botswana, emergency and police services are reportedly under pressure due to budget constraints.
Budget constraints are understandable since the safety and security net is cast wide. Agencies must cope with citizen services and immigration control, general law enforcement, public administration, critical infrastructure, emergency and disaster management, and finally inter-agency collaboration.
Key to achieving the economy and efficiency required for pressing safety and security issues in increasingly urbanised and more highly mobile populations than ever before is technology. Our faces are crucial aspects of identification, more so than traditional fingerprint and other biometric data types. Facial recognition is a non-contact, non-interaction way to identify people, a crucial advantage when dealing with large numbers. Images of faces can be captured at a distance and they are already used by law enforcement agencies to identify people after crimes are committed – particularly via CCTV cameras.
Agencies can slash the number of personnel they need to monitor screens by using intelligent software that builds and links to databases of known criminals and persons of interest, automatically alerting them whenever a known person is identified even from a sea of faces on camera. Linked to emergency response centres, these technologies can help agencies immediately locate and quantify resources, despatching them appropriately based on their ability to respond to any given situation.
Perhaps most crucial of all: these technologies enable agencies to be proactive instead of reactive.