Emerging technology: Is it a boon for businesses or another intrusion into personal privacy?

Image result for remotely controlled street lights

Businesses and communities of all sizes might benefit from emerging technology in the areas of emergency management; however, the system has as many detractors as advocates.

A recent technology being developed by Intellistreets would allow the common lamppost, found in every community, to detect rising floodwaters, display evacuation routes and help citizens safely leave areas.

The Intellistreets system consists of a wireless digital infrastructure that allows streetlights to be controlled remotely by means of a ubiquitous wi-fi link and a miniature computer housed inside each lamppost. This would allow “security, energy management, data harvesting and digital media,” according to the Illuminating Concepts website.

Wireless technology inside lampposts will provide emergency alerts, “homeland security” surveillance, and public safety functions, according to Ron Harwood at Intellistreets.

“The system was invented as a response to the chaos created at street level during 9/11,” Harwood, the president of Intellistreets, told reporter Elaine Pittman at http://www.emergencymgmt.com.

The company has the capability of retrofitting existing street lamps or installing new high-tech lamps. The technology consists of a dual radio mesh wireless system with microprocessors that allow for information and data collection such as an analysis of what a streetlight is “hearing,” “seeing” and “smelling.”

The features vary and can include:

n Emergency alerts, digital signage

n Hazardous environment alerts

n Two-way audio

n A pedestrian counter

Harwood says this is known as “edge processing.” This process provides first responders the opportunity to get real-time information provided in English or graphics that originate from the site, instead of analytics available through backdoor processors.

The information is accessed via the web. 0perators and first responders can get the alert when various environmental factors trigger the system. Once the system is triggered, action can be taken remotely.

Harwood told Pittman that by outfitting streetlight poles with water sensors in an area that has flooding or water main issues, the streetlight with the built-in intelligence would activate a warning light when water reaches a certain depth (for example, detected above the curb). Other streetlights in the area that have the technology would begin to flash and warn traffic to slow down, according to Harwood.

Intellistreets’ audio features also increase public safety in a two-way fashion, Harwood says. Emergency blue light buttons allow people to signal for help, and speakers provide a way for government officials to make announcements or issue emergency alerts.

Then digital signs can display standard information, such as civic announcements, and be updated with important information like an evacuation route, if necessary. The system features built-in signage and announcements for standard situations. This will allow a public safety representative to click a button on the Web-based system to start audio alerts or change what’s being featured on the digital signs.

Harwood says their goal is to have an iPad in each patrol vehicle so officers can easily update the messaging when needed.

Although not yet widespread, the technology is being used at Sony Pictures in Culver, Calif., where the digital signs provide departure routes during the movie lot’s weekly evacuation exercise.

Price reports that a demonstration of Intellistreets was installed in Farmington Hills, Mich., last year. Although the local government isn’t using the system’s high-tech tools, city officials think the features would be beneficial.

Farmington Hills City Manager Steve Brock told Price that he thought the potential for their use is huge and said, “We haven’t used much of the technology that I think is available with regard to messaging, signage and things like that. But when we went through the demonstration of them, when they sort of christened them if you will, I was very impressed with their capabilities and what it could mean in all sorts of environments.”

According to the company’s previous You Tube video of the concept, which has been removed after controversy about the technology arose, the primary capabilities of the devices include “energy conservation, homeland security, public safety, traffic control, advertising, video surveillance.”

In terms of Homeland Security (DHS) applications, each of the light poles contains a speaker system that can be used to broadcast emergency alerts. In addition, there is a display that transmits “security levels” (presumably a similar system to the DHS’ much maligned color-coded terror alert designation) and shows instructions by way of its LED video screen, according to reporter Paul Joseph Watson at http://www.infowars.com.

The lights also include proximity sensors that can record both pedestrian and road traffic. The video display and speaker system could also be used to transmit advertising, as well as “Amber Alerts” and other “civic announcements.”

Watson reports that street lights as surveillance tools have already been advanced by several European countries. In 2007, leaked documents out of the United Kingdom Home Office revealed that British authorities were working on proposals to fit lamp posts with CCTV cameras that would X-ray scan passers-by and “undress them” in order to “trap terror suspects.”

So-called “talking surveillance cameras” that use a speaker system similar to the Intellistreets model are already being used in UK cities like Middlesborough to give orders and reprimand people for dropping litter and other minor offenses, Watson says.

Although some communities and businesses see the value of such systems in protecting property, Watson says that the transformation of street lights into surveillance tools for Homeland Security purposes will only serve to heighten concerns that the United States is fast on the way to becoming a high-tech police state.

Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents are being empowered to oversee such control grid, most recently with the announcement that TSA screeners would be manning highway checkpoints. This is a further indication that security measures we currently see in airports are rapidly moving onto the streets and highways in the United States, according to Watson’s article.

The ability of the government to use streetlights to transmit “emergency alerts” also dovetails with the ongoing efforts to use radio and television broadcasts for the same purpose, via the Federal Emergency Management’s Emergency Alert System.

Watson says that the federal government is keen to implement a centralized system of control over all communications, with the recent announcement that all new cell phones will be required to comply with the PLAN program (Personal Localized Alerting Network). The PLAN program will broadcast emergency alert messages directly to Americans’ cell phones using a special chip embedded in the receiver. The system will be operational by the end of the year in New York and Washington, with the rest of the country set to follow.

Some communities and businesses see such technology as advancement toward protecting their properties and citizens. Others see such a system as even more of an intrusion into personal privacy.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds the Intellistreets technology, not surprisingly, through grants. Greater security for businesses and communities versus more invasion of privacy – what do you  think?

Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at drdarryl@aol.com or 1-888-340-2006 or www.ldarrylarmstrong.com

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