New book offers vision of a safer urban future

Cyber City Safe: Emergency Planning Beyond the Maginot Line explores cybersecurity, modern emergency planning and green city living

Cyber City Safe: Emergency Planning Beyond the Maginot Line
By Allan Bonner
Brennen Schmidt
Roy Damary
and Natalia Pryadilina

Reviewed by Anil Anand
Retired police officer

Cyber City Safe: Emergency Planning Beyond the Maginot Line presents a comprehensive vision of a safer urban future through big data, technology and greenery.

The book has four authors and three sections. The sections are diverse enough to be divided into Books One, Two and Three. But there is a unifying theme.

The theme is the social, health, environmental and economic advantages to be achieved by a range of activities.

The range starts in Book One with cybersecurity for privacy, commerce, policing and even the prevention of war. That’s the focus of co-authors Brennen Schmidt and (Troy Media columnist) Allan Bonner. Together they’ve researched the social media, e-commerce and military implications. In between, they examine the devastation that could occur in banking, health care, government, and retail without up-to-date software and systems. They should know, having responded to breaches in these fields and consulted on the topics for a combined 40 years.

In Book Two, we learn of the significance of the subtitle. After the First World War, France built fortifications along its borders and called it the Maginot Line. The Germans broke through it, flew over it and drove around it, making it irrelevant. The primary author of Book Two, Bonner, contends that this is the state of current urban emergency plans. He should know from his work in crisis response and urban planning. He’s building on his detailed study of urban emergency plans in 100 of the largest cities in the English-speaking world.

Book Three is a collaboration between Geneva-based business consultant and academic Roy Damary, and a forestry and economics professor in Ekaterinburg, Russia, Natalia Pryadilina. Ekaterinburg is Russia’s fourth largest city and has an official policy to green itself. There are lessons for all cities in this section. Greening a city combats both flooding and heat. Greenery also improves air quality and mental health. Greenery attracts tourists and investment. It promotes productivity if citizens have a pleasant walk to work, lunch on a bench or weekend at a park with family.

And it’s not until you read this far that all the connections and themes come together. The cybersecurity, big data and technology referenced in Book One can monitor traffic flow, air quality and criminals. The problems of climate change, heat and flooding referenced in urban emergency plans in Book Two are addressed by trees and other greenery described in Book Three. Everything is connected to everything else, said ecologist Barry Commoner, and a patient reader sees how by the end of this book.

But back to the most urgent issue — cybersecurity. The authors document how there are few laws or regulations at any level – national or international to deal with this new threat. Many organizations have opinions, white papers and studies. Those with such documents include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), Microsoft, the U.S. Defense Department, various United Nations (UN) bodies, and even the Russians and Chinese, who were first to push for international standards.

Schmidt and Bonner agree with some studies cited and advocate for a new Geneva Convention for the cyber age. Meanwhile, without this convention, the authors provide a checklist for maintaining cybersecurity that they’ve put together by adapting half a dozen sources.

In Book Two, urban emergency plans are held up to scrutiny and even mocked. This kind of planning is a fairly new field, required by law in most jurisdictions. But like all new fields, there are differing approaches. Many readers will know the term ‘interoperability’ from the post 9/11 discussions of what went wrong. During the response to the attack on the World Trade Center, it was found that emergency responders couldn’t all communicate with each other on different types of radios and other gear, and on different frequencies. The same is still true of the odd and diverse terms and diagrams found in plans around the world. It’s almost as if an emergency responder from one city would have to learn pages of new jargon to help in response in another city.

Book Three tells us a few new things about the benefits of urban greenery. The authors state exactly how trees and plants clean the air and create micro-climates in urban parks, without getting too technical. They also critique building standards, which can lead to more environmentally sustainable construction.

The four authors bring unique credentials to these broad topics. Bonner has combined urban planning and crisis response. Schmidt lives and breathes all things digital. Damary achieved minor fame in Oxford Engineering by obtaining in excess of 100 per cent on an examination. There was an ambiguity in the directions on how many questions to answer, so Damary answered them all. Oxford instructors marked them all and added up the total accordingly. Pryadilina is what westerners would call a post-doctoral researcher who has published about 50 scientific articles and papers.

The connections that the authors have is a story in itself. Bonner and Schmidt are both graduates of the University of Regina. Schmidt took a course that featured a text written by Bonner and they stayed in touch. Bonner and Damary have associations with Harvard. Damary supervised Bonner’s doctorate in Business Administration. Damary has been working, lecturing and studying in Russia since 1992 and is an honourary professor at Pryadilina’s institute.

Together, these four have shown that the old environmental dictum applies: we all breathe the same air and drink the same water. This is even true in ‘the cloud’ and all over the cyber universe. The work applies to each of us, including those who may think they have nothing to hide. Cyber City Safe shines a spotlight on the ways everyone’s actions – no matter if they’re conducted online or while in public or ‘private’ spaces – are being collected and housed somewhere.

I was particularly interested in the revisiting of old urban protest movements from decades ago – the Watts and Chicago riots, Vietnam and Poll Tax protests in London, the Battle in Seattle and 1968 in Paris. The authors show how big data, wisely used with human oversight, can make a safer city.

But a disclaimer – I know one of the authors, Bonner, and my book on the myth of broken windows policing is cited in Cyber City Safe. I’m happy it is.

Anil Anand is a retired police inspector and the author of Mending Broken Fences Policing: An Alternative Model for Policy Management. He conducts seminars for private clients and at universities.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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