Visibility in Harbin dropped below three metres making surveillance difficult
It's sad but also amusing to hear the pollution is so bad in China that it has made surveillance very difficult, raising fears of not being able to detect terrorist attacks.
Beijing has invested so much in its nationwide surveillance network that the police can see what's going on in every major street of large cities.
But since smog has enveloped many places, such as Harbin last month where visibility dropped to below three metres, it makes it more difficult for surveillance.
"According to our experience, as the visibility drops below three metres, even the best camera cannot see beyond a dozen metres," said Kong Zilong, a senior project engineer with Shenzhen Yichengan Technology, and expert in video surveillance technology.
The central government realizes this is a serious issue and has commissioned scientists to come up with a solution. The National Natural Science Foundation of China has funded two teams, one civilian, the other military to study the issue and find solutions within four years.
Professor Yang Aiping is an expert in digital imaging with the School of Electronic Information Engineering at Tianjin University and leader of the civilian team.
"Most studies in other countries are to do with fog," she says. "In China, most people think that fog and smog can be dealt by the same method. Our preliminary research shows that the smog particles are quite different from the small water droplets of fog in terms of optical properties," she said.
"We need to heavily revise, if not completely rewrite alogrithms in some mathematical models. We also need to do lots of computer simulation and extensive field tests."
Meanwhile professor Zhang Li, an image processing expert with the department of electronic engineering at Tsinghua University, said researchers may have to be more creative, suggesting microwaves of electromagnetic waves could travel through smog and bounce back if it hit objects, but then it would generate radiation that could be bad for human health.
What we can't understand is -- why can't the country seriously start cutting back on air pollution? It has started to cut down on the number of coal-fired plants, but there are too many cars on the roads. Although lower-end factories are closing in the south and the rest are moving westward for cheaper labour, heavy industry such as making steel is still going strong.
China prided itself on being able to manipulate the weather before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the capital had the best weather (and hardly any traffic) during that period.
Many Beijing residents hoped the arrangement of odd and even license plate number cars on the roads would continue, but alas the dream was not possible as the restrictions were too extreme.
Nevertheless we find it interesting that China is worried that terrorists may choose the smoggiest days to launch attacks in the country. But even they would have trouble seeking their targets too, no?