When it comes to public safety, the use of IoT sensors offers the promise of enhancing tactical effectiveness and increasing first responder safety.

Public safety professionals face increasingly complex challenges when it comes to their core mission of protecting life, health, and property. IoT sensors can help to swing the pendulum back in public safety agencies’ favor.

In addition to the use of IoT-related technologies for applications related to command and control, communications, surveillance, and reconnaissance, they can also be leveraged to provide greater situational awareness.

There are three key areas where IoT sensors, as well as smart video analytics, can improve operational effectiveness and increase both citizen and first responder safety. Let’s take a look at each of these in detail:

1. Smart building evacuation

It comes down to a simple question: Are there people in a building or other structure, and how many? Buildings – particularly public buildings or high-profile commercial structures – can be outfitted with various types of sensors and video cameras. In the event of a fire requiring an evacuation, for example, command center operators could determine if there is still anyone in the building following the evacuation and respond accordingly.

The traditional approach to building evacuations is to sound an alarm in the event of an emergency, on the presumption that people inside the building will heed the alarm and will know the routes to exit the building. First responders can never be sure that everyone is out of the building; if someone did not leave, it is vital to know where they are.

Use of technology such as sensors, recognition of tags worn by each employee or visitor in the building, or smart video analytics makes it possible to know the number of people inside and their locations. If anyone becomes incapacitated and cannot get to an exit, first responders can be provided that information.

Another good use of IoT sensors would be if a criminal were to take hostages inside a building, police commanders could more readily determine how many hostages there might be, and whether every individual in the building is under the hostage-taker’s control. Information is power in such situations, and the ability to make these determinations would give law enforcement an edge in preventing or limiting loss of life or injuries.

By tying video feeds to an artificial intelligence-powered analytics system, it also allows rapid occupancy analysis. Combining that with facial recognition technology or other analysis can help determine who is there, when they arrived, what they may have brought with them, and what they have been doing since entering the building.

Beyond crisis situations, this type of occupancy and context determination can also provide ongoing security monitoring to determine if visitors to a building left anything behind – which could pose security risks – or left a door ajar, which could lead to possible intrusions.

2. Video surveillance

Smart video surveillance analytics enable the detection of incidents or anomalies in a video in real time, making more rapid action possible in the event of security issues. If a visitor to city hall or some other government building left a package behind and walked away, the analytics system would detect that instantly.

Other surveillance advantages include intrusion detection, the ability to immediately determine when people or vehicles enter restricted areas or any higher-security area. That could be a government building or other facilities such as power substations, which could be targets of criminals or vandals.

Facial detection and recognition are also possible with a smart video analytics system. These systems are invaluable in aiding police when searching for criminals or terrorist suspects or in missing person investigations. They are extremely effective at detecting and logging faces in a video stream. They could be used to trigger security alerts if specific individuals – such as known past offenders – are spotted in certain areas.

Yet another possibility is license plate recognition, in which a smart video analytics system can automatically recognize vehicle license plates and match them to whitelists or blacklists. This can speed law enforcement’s capture of at-large suspects or the recovery of stolen cars.

3. Emergency response

More effective emergency response, including keeping police officers, firefighters, and medical personnel safe, is in everyone’s interest.

Some of the advantages mentioned earlier, such as viewing public safety officer or firefighter activity inside a building, and improving the quality of information available on-scene, offer great potential for more effective response. Sensor and IoT technology can also be invaluable in protecting first responders’ health and safety.

For example, firefighters can be outfitted with body-worn sensors that measure their body temperature, blood pressure, carbon dioxide levels, and other indicators, and provide immediate alerts if a firefighter falls or gets into trouble in dense, low visibility environments. Paired with precise location alerts and leveraging in-building sensors that could detect toxic gases or other environmental threats, firefighters could be as well protected as possible in critical situations.

Similarly, police officers outfitted with body-worn sensors or sensor-equipped armor can be monitored for signs of stress or injury, and the armor could issue its own alert if it is pierced or struck. Along those lines, data could be transmitted immediately if an officer fired his or her firearm, or even removed it from the holster, giving commanders a real-time view.

These same types of technologies, along with smart video monitoring, could be used in training as well, with scenarios mimicking actual emergencies. Commanders could offer immediate coaching when the sensors or cameras indicate areas that need correcting.

As sensor and IoT technology and smart video analytics are increasingly deployed by public safety agencies, the numbers of specific applications and the volume of potential benefits are sure to increase exponentially.