Project Coordinator Andrew Staniforth: “The PRECRISIS Platform Will Help First Responders Improve Security Monitoring of Public Spaces and Provide Greater Levels of Protection”
An interview with Andrew Staniforth, Project Coordinator of PRECRISIS about the overall safety of public spaces in today’s Europe; and how the project will be harnessing AI-based solutions for enhancing the protection of public spaces through early threat detection.
Are our public spaces sufficiently safe today? What are the most critical vulnerabilities in their protection and, more generally, in the prevention of violent crimes or terrorist attacks?
Many of the public spaces across Europe over recent years have seen investments in new protective security measures, including physical protection installations such as barriers to manage access, alongside increased coverage of non-physical protections from surveillance monitoring systems and crowd management tools and technologies. Despite these investments there remains much more to do for all public spaces to have a common and acceptable standard of security protection given the critical threats they face. Many public spaces remain vulnerable to terror attack and violent crimes and more needs to be done to mitigate such threats to public spaces which, by their open and public character, are primary targets for terrorist plots. Thankfully, terrorist attacks across Europe remain a rare occurrence when compared to other types of crime but the impact is devastating when attacks succeed. All in authority must therefore seek new and creative ways for strengthening the protection of public spaces that harnesses new technologies, but also balancing the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens to both protection and privacy.
PRECRISIS is about protecting public spaces through integrated smarter innovative security. What does it mean, in practical terms, for security to be integrated, smarter, and innovative?
In practical terms it simply means combining different technology tools and techniques together for greater impact upon public safety protection. It really is about understanding what each technology delivers and blending this with other technologies to create greater efficiency and effectiveness. It is also about understanding the capacity and capability of each technology and building a system that avoids duplication of effort of different technologies ensuring a more robust and rigorous system to better deliver protection to public spaces. The combined effect of integrating different technologies makes their collective capabilities smarter. Therefore, the approach of PRECRISIS is to seek ways in which to combine technologies to amplify their effectiveness.
The PRECRISIS acronym was specifically chosen to effectively communicate the approach of the project which has a clear focus upon prevention. Of course, the project will be creating new technologies and practical tools for the protection of public spaces, but the overall ethos is providing preventative systems to deter, disrupt and detect threats before they occur. There is an increasing focus across the EU security landscape upon prevention, which is not only a key aspect of the EU Security Strategy and its Counter Terrorism Strategy but also is an important pillar in plans for disaster risk reduction and managing cyber security threats.
PRECRISIS aims at building a network of stakeholders from across the security ecosystem and enhancing public-private cooperation. How will you achieve this goal?
An important part of the PRECRISIS project is to encourage collaboration between agencies and organisations across the security landscape. This includes engaging with public authorities, first-responder agencies at local national and regional levels, as well as research institutes, academia, the private sector, and non-governmental organisations, all of whom have an important role and contribution in delivering public safety. To achieve greater collaboration and engagement, especially to enhance public-private partnerships, we will be creating a community of practice, collaboration, and implementation that will be involved in the PRECRISIS project. Our priority task is to first ensure all consortium partners contribute by identifying a key national, pan-EU and/or international professional group where we can then develop a network of relevant stakeholders across the EU and beyond EU borders who we can engage in project activities, inviting them to events, workshops, and conferences to share knowledge and expertise, as well as seeking important feedback on the development of PRECRISIS project outputs.
The experts in the PRECRISIS consortium will be working on AI-based digital solutions to make public spaces more secure. What can such tools could look like and how would citizens benefit from them?
It is important to mention that recent terrorist attacks or other forms of severe violence have shown a recurrent targeting of public spaces, exploiting the vulnerabilities of soft targets such as mass gatherings and special events. What we are seeking to achieve in PRECRISIS is to synchronise multi-stakeholder efforts by proposing innovative, sustainable, and effective digital and non-digital solutions to strengthen the protection of public spaces with smarter integrated security. To achieve this, it is essential that we go beyond the current state of the art in several scientific areas, in order to detect, prevent, protect against, and mitigate terrorist threats through a trustworthy privacy-preserving AI-based composition framework. PRECRISIS will therefore be harnessing AI-based solutions for enhancing the protection of public spaces through early threat detection. An example includes the development of AI tools to detect anomalous and dangerous behaviours of people in public spaces through surveillance monitoring which triggers an alert to public authorities or first-responders to investigate potential threats further. Our project’s main technological contribution is the design and development of the PRECRISIS Platform, which aims to provide identification of potential vulnerabilities connected to public spaces – citizens will directly benefit as this platform will provide greater levels of protection when in operation.
What are the key expected features of the PRECRISIS Platform?
The PRECRISIS Platform is composed of several layers that include human dynamics. This layer aims to provide a realistic determination, based on the visual analysis of the scene and the detection of specific people’s behaviours from streams of visual data. It also seeks to assess the risk of potential terrorist attacks or violent acts from such behavioural analysis of public spaces and urban environments. This layer will adopt a data-driven approach that learns the complex systems’ modelling of the crowd’s movement, in terms of the patterns of behaviours, actions and reactions of people through different scenarios in both everyday and emergency situations. Through this, the platform will allow for a better risk assessment of public spaces and the identification of vulnerabilities. This is a key feature of the PRECRISIS Platform, helping first responder agencies and local authorities to improve security monitoring measures within public spaces.
What is the benefit for consortium partners of being involved in a project, supported through the European Union Internal Security Fund?
The Internal Security Fund (ISF) prides itself on delivering practical and workable security solutions to have real and positive impact on citizen safety and wider public security. Although high levels of research and analysis are required in funded projects, they are not so academically focused and are required to deliver security solutions in the real world. Accepting the importance of integrating theoretical models and approaches, ISF projects deliver effective outcomes that work and have a direct application. Whether this is a new technology, tool, or training programme, it must have positive impact, so for partners engaged in the PRECRISIS project they can be assured that they are working to deliver outcomes that will make a real and positive difference. Another important part of being involved in ISF projects is the unique opportunity to collaborate with partners from different sectors across the EU, bringing and sharing knowledge and expertise from which all partners directly benefit.
When scrolling through the “Consortium” section of the PRECRISIS website, readers may want to know who would do what during the implementation of this initiative. What roles and responsibilities will the project partners have?
The PRECRISIS consortium of partners have been carefully selected and each has a defined role in the project. Several partners have collaborated previously or are currently working together in the domain of protecting public spaces which adds significant value to effective project delivery. The PRECRISIS consortium is composed of 9 partners and represents 7 EU member states including Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Greece, and Italy. As you can see, it brings forward a broad European perspective. Based in Estonia, we at SAHER (Europe) are the Project Coordinator and our role is to manage the overall project delivery. We are supported by the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Italy who are the project’s technical coordinators, complemented by the technical expertise of the Centre for Research and Technology (CERTH) in Greece. The end-user focus of the consortium is provided by the Johanniter Research and Innovation Centre in Austria, the Development Agency of Lemesos/ANELEM in Cyprus, and the Municipality of Trento in Italy. These partners provide a diverse range of local, civil, public and LEA authorities under their leadership and coordination, offering unique insights to the operational reality of protecting public spaces and facilitating pilot-testing of PRECRISIS solutions. Our consortium is further complimented by the inclusion of the University of Applied Sciences for Public Service in Bavaria, Germany – they deliver operational and executive training to police officers and emergency services, ensuring unique access to first responders at all levels, alongside training programme curriculum development and evaluation expertise. The European Institute in Bulgaria is leading the important role of promoting and raising awareness about the project, while the Centre for Social Innovation in Cyprus brings valuable research and policy expertise within the social innovation domain. All this ensures that the project activities and outcomes will meet the needs and requirements of the stakeholders. The consortium’s collective expertise provides strong evidence that our team has the capability to carry out the project and make an impact upon EU citizens’ safety and security in public spaces.
Let us imagine that we are at the project lifetime’s end and that you are scrolling through media coverage of the PRECRISIS final event. What kind of headlines would you wish to see, describing the expected overall impact of the project?
It would be great to see headlines such as “Unique consortium delivers cutting-edge advancements to public safety” or “Trusted AI solutions deliver the next generation of public space protection”. All PRECRISIS consortium partners are determined to deliver positive impact through PRESCRISIS which will strengthen the protection of public spaces by preventing terrorist attacks and violent crimes and mitigating their impacts. We will develop, test, and roll-out innovative, sustainable, and effective AI-based digital solutions and practical toolkits, in full compliance with ethical standards and related legislation on the protection of personal data, by integrating existing expertise, best practices and privacy-by-design approaches to make public spaces more secure. As you can see, the delivery of PRECRSIS is an ambitious undertaking and we have much work to. I have every confidence that we will deliver the project outcomes on time, within budget, and to the highest professional standards.
Andrew Staniforth is the Director of Innovation at SAHER (Europe) and the Project Coordinator of PRECRISIS. As an international security and innovation expert, with extensive operational expertise in counter-terrorism gained as an intelligence officer and counter-terrorism police detective, Andrew has supported missions of the United Nations Terrorism Prevention Branch. He is a qualified teacher and has designed international multi-agency security exercise programmes and has delivered counter-terrorism training to Senior Police Commanders from across the world. As a Senior Research Fellow and Visiting Lecturer, he has held academic positions at leading research institutes and is the author, co-author, editor, and co-editor of 12 books on counter-terrorism and related security matters. Andrew sits by invitation on numerous international research Advisory Boards and is a member of the Crisis Response Journal Expert Editorial Panel.
Based in Estonia and operating on a global level, SAHER (Europe) is a safety and security research, training and consultancy focused SME. Its name, Saher, is taken from the Arabic word for “watchman”. The strategic aim of Saher (Europe) is to develop the intersection between the four key stakeholders in the international security domain: Citizens; Government Intelligence / Law Enforcement Agencies; Industry; and Academia. Saher’s mission is to provide a collaborative platform for professionals, policy-makers, practitioners, and the public to advance and amplify international security innovations.