SINGAPORE: When bombs went off during the Boston Marathon in April 2013, information from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, social media, licence plate readers and videos and photographs from members of the public helped Boston police to identify the bombers.
Combing through this data, the police released footage of the two bombers in just three days, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 20). This effort, he said, prevented the bombers from moving around freely, and allowed police to track them down, kill one and arrest the other.
Information technology, he said, can help with public safety and security.
Mr Lee, who chairs the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), also shared what a member said during a meeting recently.
“Singapore had a reputation as one of the safest cities in the world, so she was surprised to find that when it came to using IT to make a city safe, other cities were ahead of Singapore. I told her she was quite right,” Mr Lee said.
He noted that Singapore has doubled up on its efforts in the past years to build its own network of sensors such as CCTV cameras at HDB void decks and lift landings. He said this has met with success, with the number of cases of loan shark-related graffiti decreasing.
Singapore’s national water agency, PUB, has also used sensors to detect water levels in drains, and Mr Lee said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has cameras to monitor traffic conditions and deter illegal parking.
Private entities such as hotels, shopping centres and office buildings also have their own surveillance systems, Mr Lee added.
“But we have not brought all the different systems together,” he said.
“When the Little India riot happened in December 2013, we were caught a little flat-footed. There were too few CCTV cameras monitoring Little India. We had to rely on footage posted by the public on social media.”
But since then, he authorities have made progress building an integrated national sensor network, Mr Lee said. For instance, authorities have installed more CCTV cameras in public places.
Playing on former Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s slogan of making “Every school a good school”, Mr Lee said authorities are now making “Every lamp post a smart lamp post”, where they are mounted with different types of sensors.
This will allow authorities to combine inputs from various sources; from the police, LTA, hotels and commercial buildings and even mobile phones.
Mr Lee said authorities are learning to analyse this combined data to, for example, allow artificial intelligence to flag authorities automatically when something unusual is unfolding.
“So that if one day we have an incident like the Boston bombings, then the Home Team can assess the situation quickly and respond promptly, or even pre-empt it from happening,” Mr Lee said.
Elaborating on the Government’s move to improve connectivity between the different networks of sensors, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) provided more details on what is being done to use data to improve public and municipal services.
SNDGO, which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office said the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) is developing the Smart Nation Sensor Platform. Insights gained from data collected will be used to support public service operations. These operations include urban planning, security and incident response and maintenance of public spaces.
For a start, it said GovTech and its partner agencies will look into enhancing estate management by monitoring noise, water and sewage levels. This will be done through a smart water meter trial for homes.
The trials will use the Smart Nation Sensor Platform’s wireless sensor network. They will be conducted in Orchard Road and other housing estates over a one-year period starting October.
SNDGO also elaborated on Mr Lee’s “every lamp post a smart lamp post” analogy, saying GovTech and the Land Transport Authority will use lamp posts in selected areas over the next 18 months as a platform to trial the wireless sensor network. GovTech will be seeking private-sector collaboration through an open tender at the end of this year.
It said the Government is exploring how to collaborate with businesses and private enterprises by sharing with them and exchanging “non-sensitive data”. For example, environment data on footfall or vehicular traffic could be shared with these entities for them to be able to improve on their offerings to customers and end-users. The agency has given a five-year timeline for this project.