Smart City Geelong

As with so many forward-looking cities Geelong started to implement a ‘smart’ project well before the term ‘smart city’ became fashionable. But, as we have been discussing, like most of these projects also this one was at the start not undertaken in a strategic context, and again like most other projects elsewhere being implemented as a silo solution, which then in most cases leads to a situation of ‘death by pilot’. However Geelong was able to learn from its mistakes and turned the project into a success story.

In their case they looked at a CCTV solution for the city centre. They understood that an attractive and liveable city needs a vibrant night life and they wanted to provide this in a safe and friendly environment. However they only had half the money needed for such a project and therefore asked the supplier to do it within that limited budget. At the same time the police were rather reluctant to participate and so the council started off on its own.

For the money they had they could deploy six cameras, and they had to use a rather low bandwidth wireless system. Soon problems began to occur. The picture quality was often not good enough because of poor lighting and poor picture quality, and incidents, accidents and criminal activity often took place at the edge or beyond the camera footprint. The system was therefore of little use. This created political embarrassment and rather quickly council decided to add an extra six cameras to the system. But having initially been done on the cheap the system crashed as it could not handle that extra capacity.

So it was back to the drawing board, and this time a robust system was designed – and, importantly, this time in a collaborative way – together with the police, venue owners, taxi companies, security operators and event organisers.

A total of 46 cameras have now been installed, linked to a fibre optic network and delivering very high quality video. The control room is also manned on weekend nights when demand for the service is highest. Through radio and mobile systems venue owners, taxi drivers, event managers and others can alert the police of unwanted activities, and, as the experts in such cases, the police can use the CCTV system to observe the situation in order to provide the right response.

The infrastructure is now also used to provide free Wi-Fi within the footprints supplied by the CCTV poles, and other new services are under consideration, such as gathering traffic data that can be used to monitor and manage the various pedestrian and vehicular traffic situations. This will no doubt lead to more smart city projects being developed within Geelong.

It is clear that the project that started off in an isolated way has now turned into a true strategic smart city project, with broad collaboration across various stakeholders and a range of unrelated applications that all benefit from sharing the same basic infrastructure.

While in most cases such a project would have become a stranded asset, Geelong was able to use its start as a steep learning curve, turning the project upside down and creating a real, valuable asset for the community.

In a separate development Geelong Council aims to convert almost 24,000 globes across the municipality to energy efficient LEDs within the next five years. The project has been costed at $8 million but would lead to significant savings on the council’s roughly $1.5 million annual lighting bill and $1.4 million operation, maintenance and repair costs while leading to a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Paul Budde

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