Interoperability for the Safe City

Physical Security

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Interoperability for the Safe City
 

​​Today's cities often use video management systems or other platforms to view camera footage, protect citizens and property, analyze incidents, evaluate security, and determine appropriate responses to events like natural disasters, disruptions to public transit and other municipal services, and other threats to public safety. 

Cities implementing this connected security approach are typically referred to as safe or smart cities. Most safe cities share a common infrastructure and operate using sensors and cameras over a shared municipal network. Synthesizing information from these sensors and the data from other devices through one interface, government officials and law enforcement are afforded a comprehensive view of a city's security. 

Integrating the Many Parts of a Safe City

There are operational challenges that accompany the many systems that are included in a safe city deployment. Interoperability continues to present one of the greatest challenges, particularly with video management systems, video recording devices, and cameras. The most common scenario is that municipalities have several management systems for city operations that were created by different manufacturers, each with proprietary interfaces for integration.

To connect their different systems together, cities often end up employing a single-vendor "build once and maintain forever" approach, in which the continuing cost for integration of systems becomes prohibitively expensive. In a world where technology and features change quickly, this approach is not practical because it severely limits an end user's ability to try new technology and different vendors' products and requires a substantial financial commitment to specific manufacturers and proprietary interfaces.

Standards in Safe Cities

ONVIF was founded in 2008 by Axis, Sony, and Bosch to create a global standard for the interface of IP-based physical security products. The organization was developed to provide increased flexibility and greater freedom of choice, so installers and end users can select interoperable products from a variety of different vendors. 

Product interoperability is a driving force behind ONVIF. Interoperability is a simple concept: it is the ability of a product or system to work with another product or system, often from different brands made by different manufacturers. 

ONVIF profiles are subsets of the overall ONVIF specification. They group together sets of related features to make product selection easier for end users, consultants, and systems integrators. Products must be conformant with one (or more) of ONVIF's specific profiles. 

ONVIF's current profiles are:

Profile S for IP-based video and audio streaming, including:​

  • Video and audio streaming
  • Pan-tilt-zoom control and relay output
  • Video configuration and multicast
     

Profile G for edge storage and retrieval, including:

  • Configure, request, and control recording from conformant devices
  • Receive audio and metadata stream


Profile C
for IP-based access control, including:

  • Site information and configuration
  • Event and alarm management
  • Door access control


Profile Q
for easy configuration and advanced security, including:

  • Out-of-box functionality
  • Easy, secure configuration
  • Secure client/device communications using transport layer security (TLS)


Profile A
for Broader Access Control Configuration

  • Granting/revoking credentials, creating schedules, changing privileges
  • Enables integration between access control and IP video management system
     

Profile T for Advanced Video Streaming is currently in draft form and is scheduled for initial release in 2018.

Standards, such as those from ONVIF, provide the common link between disparate components of safe city systems. Designed specifically to overcome the challenges in multi-vendor environments, ONVIF's common interfaces facilitate communication between technologies from different manufacturers and foster an interoperable system environment where system components can be used interchangeably, provided they conform to the ONVIF specification. 

In 2014, ONVIF member company Meyertech helped the city of York, United Kingdom, deploy a safe city solution for the city's public spaces and transportation system. Using Meyertech video management software (VMS) and information management software, the city integrated IP cameras with the many legacy systems for its York Travel and Control Centre command center. 

The city's control room monitors more than 150 cameras from different manufacturers in York, and city representatives reported an immediate impact on crime rates. The integration of legacy and new IP cameras with the new VMS, which interfaced with the information management software, was made possible through ONVIF's video specification. 

A standardized approach for both file format and associated players, which is often a challenge in multi-vendor environments, is also provided by ONVIF, increasing the efficiency of the process and also adding the potential of including metadata—for example, data from an analytic, indicating number of objects, speed of objects, or even colors—in exported materials and reports. Standardized file formats include MPEG4, H.264, and, with Profile T, H.265, which are readable by many standard video players on the market, including Windows Media Player, VLC, DVD players, and many more. 

ONVIF has also released an export file format specification that outlines a defined format for effective export of recorded material and forensics. These specifications together make it possible not only to integrate devices in multi-vendor video security system deployments in safe city environments, but also to offer a common export file format that can streamline post-event investigations where authorities are trying to react as quickly as possible to apprehend suspects or to defuse an ongoing situation. 

Another ONVIF member, Huawei, is considered a leader in smart city solutions. Huawei's video management system was used in Shanghai, China, as part of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security's safe cities construction initiative. One of the key challenges of the project was to integrate old and new technology. Huawei's VMS uses ONVIF to integrate cameras from manufacturers Dahua, Haikang, Axis, Sony, and others. 

Multi-Discipline Standards

A multi-discipline physical security standard that specifies parameters for video surveillance, access control, and other essential operations of a safe city command center would likely increase the prevalence of safe cities even further.

Many in the broader technology industry see standards as an important component in both safe cities and the Internet of things (IoT). The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and other standards groups are already working on IoT standards for technology-based industries, and some experts that global IoT standards will be introduced by the end of this year. 

As standards and industries collaborate even further and establish minimum interoperability standards together, the need for a multi-discipline physical security standard will become more urgent. ONVIF envisions that all physical security systems will eventually have the same interfaces for interoperability, and the organization is dedicated to facilitating the work of its members in developing such a multi-discipline standard.

Jonathan Lewit is chairman of the ONVIF Communication Committee.