Smart City Perspectives: Rethinking Security and Life Safety Solutions

Our world is getting smarter at an accelerating pace. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already noticeably affecting how we go about our everyday activities. This has far-reaching implications also for commercial buildings. Networking isn’t going to stop at our front doors! More and more communities are already adopting "smart city" approaches. But what does "smart" actually mean? How do ordinary buildings become smart buildings? And how will security and life safety, and especially related solutions, change over time?

Smart City Perspectives
Fig. 1: The physical traffic flows in our cities are increasingly being joined by data flows as networked smart buildings generate more and more value. (Photograph: Bosch Sicherheitssysteme GmbH)

By Heiko Schwichtenberg Projections indicate that the global population will swell from 7.6 billion today to 9.8 billion by the year 2050. Half of the planet’s population already lives in urban areas, and based on current trends this figure can be expected to reach 70% by then. Cities currently account for three quarters of the world’s energy consumption, with buildings alone using 40% (and rising) of the total.

Future-proof solutions and farsighted action are essential for mastering the mega-challenges of our age, of which increasing urbanization is only one, and for achieving sensible environmental protection and energy reduction targets. Fortunately, the trend toward smart cities is putting a host of new possibilities at the fingertips of both urban and building planners.

Smart cities are first and foremost a way of coping with the steadily growing challenges that cities now face with regard to air quality, energy consumption, public safety and local traffic. In this context, “smart” will help us improve residents’ safety and comfort while optimizing resource use. At its core, it stands for intelligent infrastructure and sensor-controlled solutions for remotely monitoring and controlling entire cities and the individual buildings comprising them. It is already significantly improving transportation and traffic, and innovative energy supply approaches are making it possible to sustainably and cost-effectively supply electric power to entire urban districts. Ultimately, smart means creating an environment in which all systems are networked and interact with one another. In this context, intelligent solutions and innovative technologies learn from each other and make it easier for us to lead our everyday lives.

From smart building…

In all vertical markets from healthcare to factories, existing buildings typically contain a large number of completely isolated subsystems. This starts with the fire protection systems that are required by law, extends across data networks and telecommunications, and includes access control, video surveillance and lighting systems. In many cases, these facilities are additionally addressed and controlled by separate management systems. In practice, this all adds up to enormous complexity that is very costly to maintain.

As the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) dawns, innovative, integrated management systems are already capable of connecting building and security and life safety systems, taking advantage of existing IT infrastructure, and incorporating third-party systems. But buildings can be far more than just a jumble of interlinked subsystems and data interfaces. Now security and life safety systems no longer need to be hermetically separated from one another; instead, they can be merged into larger systems and controlled via a single all-encompassing user interface.

Thanks to intelligent systems of this kind, users and building operators can continuously keep track of the situation and receive advance warning of potential risks and hazards. Unified monitoring processes and defined action plans limit the effort required to run everything while slashing costs into the bargain.

Even more significant are the synergies that result from integrating a building’s various subsystems. The skillful integration of business intelligence in so-called SaaS (software as a service) solutions meaningfully bundles measurement values and other metrics as well as data from a variety of other sources in a kind of data dashboard. This allows the users to visually model and grasp information much more easily, which in turn enables them to independently, quickly and reliably resolve situations as they arise. A single platform combines a host of management and automation functions, thus transforming an ordinary structure into what is widely known today as a “smart building”.

These days, smart equipment is already the standard. The physical basis of the IoT is billions of connected devices. This generates immense quantities of data, and it’s no easy task to funnel and condense them into useful information. Especially since not all systems speak the same language or use the same data format. A smart building relies on intelligent sensors, standardized transmission technology, and systematic data capture and analysis.

A range of different data protection requirements need to be met. At one extreme, industrial and office buildings have sensors that capture data on energy and water consumption, register the temperature, climate and relative humidity, or trigger an alarm in response to fire or an intruder. Typically no personal data are involved in these cases, so data privacy hardly plays a role.

The situation is quite different in the case of security and life safety systems like access control and video surveillance. However, it is also possible to design security and life safety solutions that completely dispense with the need for personal data, as is shown by applications in which sensors have multiple uses. For example, intelligent sensors like fire detectors equipped with additional functions can autonomously tell whether people are present by monitoring the temperature and relative humidity and measuring the concentrations of CO2 and volatile organic compounds in the indoor air.

Another example is video-based fire detection in conjunction with intelligent video analysis: visualization can help the building operator and firefighters verify alarms and ascertain the situation within the monitored area.

In this context, pixelating techniques can be used to automatically obscure the identities of persons in surveillance images in real time while all of their movements and actions remain recognizable. This approach provides important information to support judgements and decisions, appropriately plan interventions, and minimize damage and costs – all without violating the privacy of individuals.

…to connected building…

To deal with complex interdependencies and huge data volumes, it is becoming increasingly important to exchange and correlate data from different sources such as neighboring buildings and their subsystems. Thanks to intelligent networking and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze and interpret Big Data, each individual building of a complex can benefit from information received from the others.

If all of a city’s buildings are smart and connected, the resulting benefits extend far beyond purely technological advantages. Smart buildings can considerably enhance overall security and life safety by automatically sharing information on current conditions and threats with other nearby buildings that may not yet be affected themselves. If an event such as a fire triggers an alarm, all neighboring buildings can be kept apprised in real time of how the situation is developing. This advance information can permit responses or even proactive measures to safeguard people, property and the environment. And this is just one of many possible scenarios.

In extreme cases, the operators of adjacent buildings are enabled, after appropriately assessing the situation, to begin evacuating them before a fire has a chance to spread.

Smart City Perspectives (2)
Fig. 2: In the smart cities of the future, buildings, security and life safety systems, firefighters, police and other players will constantly share data. (Photographer: Bosch Sicherheitssysteme GmbH)

…and ultimately to smart cities

“How long have you been in operation, fire detector, and how are you today?”

“Thanks for asking, I have been operating for 45,556 hours and my contamination level is 51.6%.”

A dialog like this is a vivid example of the seemingly abstract Internet of Things. A private cloud platform querying a fire detector: contact between virtual and physical worlds.

This kind of intelligent data analysis is a good basis for the makers of security and life safety systems and vendors of integrated security and life safety solutions to develop innovative and highly useful application scenarios that support the emergence of smart cities.

Besides sharing of information on current events, accidents or dangerous situations and automation of tasks that have traditionally been done by hand, smart service approaches are another of the forces driving data analysis across buildings and systems.

As a result, for example, it is no longer necessary to service buildings or individual systems at fixed intervals. Instead, approaches like these can help analyze the state of security and life safety systems, elevators, or HVAC systems in real time and then pass on the resulting valuable building system data.

Rigid maintenance schedules can thus be replaced with adaptive approaches that flexibly respond to actual requirements and use.

Beyond this, historical data can be analyzed to identify the risk of malfunctions and risks and nip critical situations in the bud (called “predictive analytics”). In addition, predictive maintenance serves to optimize time windows for maintenance work without interfering with ongoing activities, or to schedule required investments well in advance.

The operators and users of security and life safety systems benefit from predictive analytics and maintenance by gaining the ability to evaluate components and processes at any time. These can then be replaced, cleaned or adjusted in time to prevent problems and failures, in addition to improving the energy efficiency of buildings and manufacturing facilities.

Bosch, for example, has launched EffiLink, a cloud-based cross-vendor data sharing and analysis solution that supports all IP-based security and life safety systems and functions. The service goes by the name of condition monitoring. Bosch is the first in the world to provide not only classic remote maintenance and similar services for building security and life safety systems, but also additional value-added services based on them.

Used across companies, this solution is also able, for example, to warn neighboring and other potentially threatened buildings in the event of a fire alarm and recommend appropriate actions unless existing functions for automatically closing windows etc. are not enough.

Since EffiLink is vendor-neutral, it does not matter which security and life safety systems are used in different buildings. This makes it both an attractive solution for existing environments and a strong argument for developing new residential neighborhoods and industrial parks. In such an environment, operators have full control over the security and life safety systems in their own buildings while also benefiting from additional intelligence and analytical capabilities as part of a larger network.

Smart security and life safety solutions need dialog

The commercial buildings of tomorrow are safe, comfortable, efficient and smart. Smart is often equated with “technology-driven”, and technology is definitely one of the pillars of smart concepts.

Connected smart buildings provide a host of opportunities to improve processes across domains, improve security and life safety, and simplify the operation of these security and life safety systems to the benefit of both users and operators. New functions and services also arise for optimizing, accelerating or automating processes. However, smart also means that buildings or their individual subsystems no longer have to be considered and planned in isolation. To tap this potential, while planning new infrastructure, buildings and spaces, it is important to ensure that these are compatible with innovative building and security and life safety technologies. More than anything else, the success of smart solutions depends on dialog.


Heiko Schwichtenberg: Safety Portfolio Manager at Bosch Energy and Building Solutions

The article was published in FeuerTrutz International, issue 1.2019 (January 2019).
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