Safe City Project operational, awaits formal inauguration

Published March 29, 2016
The command and control centre in H-11. – White Star
The command and control centre in H-11. – White Star

ISLAMABAD: The Safe City Project, under which 1,800 surveillance cameras have been installed across the federal capital, has become operational, but is yet to be formally inaugurated.

The project’s command and control centre has been established in a bombproof building at H-11 which will monitor important buildings, entry and exit points, roads, commercial centres and a sizable portion of the city’s residential areas.

The command centre spreads over 2,009 square-metres, and all the cameras are connected to it by 500 kilometres of fibre optic cables and operated through a 4G network.

According to the project director, Dr Tahir Akram, the project is ready and will likely be inaugurated in the coming weeks.

Project’s efficacy may be called into question if district admin, police are not utilised properly

The project aims to secure the life and property of the city’s residents, as well as counter a terrorist activity effectively and efficiently.

However, the project’s utility may be compromised if the government fails to ask the relevant authorities from the district administration and police to be present at the command and control centre to respond to situations accordingly.

The outer gates of the project command and control centre are as unremarkable as any other government department.

The main gate is permanently closed, so no guards have been deployed there. The other entrance is hardly an improvement, while police officials have been deployed, they are there largely to welcome visitors in a casual manner.

However, behind the unassuming exterior is a compelling command centre.

In addition to several offices, the main hall consists of over 100 seats for representatives who will receive citizen calls and pass information on to the relevant departments, such as the police, fire brigade, district administration or Rangers.

Inside the control room, special software has been installed on 100 computers. The district administration, police and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) officials will monitor the footage on the 1,800 cameras within the control room, where it will be displayed on 70 screens.

According to Dr Akram, Chinese companies provided 1,950 cameras, out of which 1,800 have been installed in strategic locations identified by the Islamabad police and other law enforcement agencies. He said the remaining cameras would be used sporadically, as they can be transported from one location to another.

Worth $125 million, the Safe City Project was completed in a couple of years by Nadra and the Chinese firm, Huawei Technology.

The Chinese government provided the aforementioned sum to the Pakistani government as a ‘soft loan’ payable in 25 years. The project was conceived by the PPP-led government, and was approved on December 29, 2009, following an agreement between Pakistan and China.

However, the project was challenged in the Supreme Court, and on Aug 23, 2012, a three-member bench, comprising justices Nasirul Mulk, Asif Saeed Khosa and Sheikh Azmat Saeed, struck down the contract. The project was renegotiated with the Chinese company after the PML-N came to power.

According to Dr Akram, cameras have been installed at around 150 entry and exit points, key intersections, convergence points and near important buildings.

“Though the entire territory of the federal capital hasn’t been covered through these 1,800 cameras, we can monitor every car coming out of any residential sector in Islamabad,” he said.

He added: “We can monitor the movement of any suspect, and his/her information along with a photograph would be shared with the nearest mobile police team through a handset supporting 4G technology.”

The project’s technical director, Kashan, said the system could link with input from hundreds of cameras installed by traders and private individuals outside their residences and business centres.

He said it was also capable of facial recognition, and can read vehicle registration plates.

“The Excise and Taxation Office (ETO) recently shared its database with Safe City, so the stolen vehicles, fake or tampered number plates can easily be recognised which will minimise the chances of car theft in the federal capital.”

He said Islamabad police had solved at least six cases with the help of the Safe City Project, including a bank robbery and vehicle theft.

Mr Kashan said the system can alert law enforcement agencies of the presence of suspects in the city, as well as detect traffic violations and trace violators using the ETO database. He said the cameras can also read registration places and detect a vehicle’s speed at night.

However, an insider said the system would be useless if it was not handled appropriately. He said the cameras could have helped police monitor the movements of crowds that entered the Red Zone on Sunday.

He added officials did not visit the command and control centre even after the sit-in began at D-Chowk, and were instead relying on television news coverage while they sat in their respective offices.

He suggested that for an effective response to such a situation, officers of no lesser rank than a deputy commissioner or a senior superintendent of police should monitor the situation from the command centre. He added that the project director had proposed to the interior ministry that senior district administration and police officials be asked to stay at the centre on a permanent basis.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016



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