What makes government applications of AV different from, or unique among, general commercial applications in 2018? What trends do we see evolving for government over the coming year? We’ll explore those questions in this discussion.
When we talk about government applications of AV, we’re typically focused on a few specific areas of government, such as law enforcement, emergency response, traffic management, and city and urban planning. Of course, there are other areas that are classified as government, such as military, education and airports, but, for purposes of this discussion, we’ll leave those as separate and distinct.
Government tends to be organized around geography—towns, cities, counties, states, regions and countries. So, it’s natural for government to manage itself using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It is “the map” that is the central feature of government system design. The system is built using technologies such as United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps, satellite maps, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), Open Streets, Google Earth, Bing and building plans (computer-aided design), as well as zoning maps. The maps become the index for searching information throughout the city, and they’re constructed so that every point in the city has a polar coordinate (longitude, latitude and elevation).
Data of many sorts—structures, assets, people, traffic, behavior patterns, events—can be laid on top of these maps. Through advances in technology, video data, audio and acoustical data, and sensor data can be tracked in real time. For example, the Internet of Things (IoT) generates loads of data that can be populated onto GIS. GPS trackers in buses, taxis or ride-sharing systems, for instance, allow real-time traffic monitoring.
Social media also generates data that can be mapped. Tools like Geofeedia summarize, track and map events as reported through social media. That information, too, can be displayed and combined with all other sources of data. And computer-aided dispatch systems (not to be confused with computer-aided design) can track city assets, such as vehicles and personnel, as well as caller locations, in real time.
So, government applications, then, often fall into displaying maps, representing data or summaries of data onto the maps, and disseminating portions of that data to people who need to see it: police officers, firefighters, inspectors, the media and citizens at large.
On the back end, this data flows into systems that can run correlation models and look for patterns of behavior. This information can be displayed on the maps, as well, in the form of heat maps, pinpoints, animations and alarm indicators.
The result of this is that smart cities, which are lit up with all of the above technology, require a hub for control—typically, an emergency operations center or something similar.
AV systems must be able to support the operations of these centers in several ways. Let’s look at them.
Workflow: Video and audio are generally monitored by a user who is responsible for a subset of a city’s resources. That person has front-line responsibility for dealing with day-to-day operations. He or she needs an AV workstation that supports a myriad of incoming systems, that’s intuitive to use, that can be monitored by a supervisor, and that can shared quickly and easily with others when an incident occurs. Keyboard, video and mouse sharing, or remote desktop access, are typically part of this workstation design.
As an incident evolves, data might have to be summarized, compartmentalized and distributed from the front-line staffer to a supervisor, and then from a supervisor to field assets or other interested parties. AV systems have to be able to deal with video and audio routing and information distribution flexibly.
Security is also a critical factor to workflow. Who has privileges to access information? Who can share it, with whom, when and how? All of these issues have to be addressed in the workflow of a modern AV system for government. It’s difficult to predict exactly what the requirements will be; for that reason, AV systems have to have flexible tools, such as standard, open programming languages like Python, C++ and Java.
Distribution over IP: Once real-time data is collected and analyzed, and it’s determined it should be shared, a ubiquitous distribution system has to be used. AV systems can consolidate video from many sources onto one screen or into one data stream. This can be done using windows from various systems, or by overlaying data with color keying. Once composited, the video can be packetized into standard formats, such as H.264, which can be streamed out to smart devices over virtual private networks (VPNs) or private content-distribution networks. AV systems have to support this type of capability, so that agencies can share information internally, or with other agencies, easily. Standards for formats, codecs, access methods, permissions, etc., all have to be planned well in advance. AV systems have to interoperate with these supporting technologies.
Archiving and Records: Government agencies are held accountable for maintaining public records of all the information that they gather, produce and process. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are common, and agencies are being held accountable for providing records on demand. AV systems must be able to support archiving of information for government agencies.
AV systems typically have the fullest context of information flowing through them, because they are displaying many discrete systems and reflect the information that decision makers are actually using. As with distribution over IP, the ability to display many sources of data as windows in a single display—sometimes referred to as a multiviewer—and then stream that video to a digital recording system, can allow government agencies to create archives of data more cost effectively.
Reliability: Government operations centers often deal with life-and-death situations. Emergency response, law-enforcement activities, disaster management and other critical operations mean that government entities are held to a higher standard in system reliability. AV systems must be built with complete reliability in mind.
As 2018 rolls on, government entities will continue to have a growing demand for data visualization, control, workflow management and information distribution, and they’ll insist on the highest level of reliability. Technologies are evolving to support this, and AV is adapting to the market’s new paradigms.