How smart cities tech can make our military bases smarter, too

Cities and military bases have a lot in common, so much so that bases can in many ways be considered small cities. So it seemed like a good fit for Council Global Lead Partner AT&T when it approached Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama and suggested a pilot project to transform base operations and infrastructure. If it seems surprising that the U.S. military would be receptive to smart city technologies, it shouldn't. All branches of the military were early adopters of renewable energy, smart grid technologies and alternative fuels to enhance the efficiency, reliability and safety of battlefield deployments and other operations.

The story below covers the highlights of the Maxwell AFB project. It also illustrates a larger perspective: smart city strategies and technologies have advanced to the point where they can be used in very different applications. — Doug Peeples


"Military bases are operated much like small cities, so our Smart Cities concept applies itself well to this context. Maxwell was seen as likely to be receptive with a progressive mindset, so our team approached them and we worked together on which use case we could bring to bear to suit them."

That's how Rocky Thurston, AT&T Air Force client executive VP for Global Public Sector Solutions, explained the origins of what became a collaboration earlier this year to enhance base security with IoT and related solutions.

Base security was chosen for a variety of reasons, among them the safety of base personnel and their families — and because the base also includes Air University, the Air Force's center for education and leadership, the 908th Airlift Wing and more.

Also, base perimeter fencing was inadequate and considered a focal point for the pilot project. The solution, Thurston explained, was to install smart perimeter devices that emit infrared beams to detect intruders. The chips in the devices were linked to an AT&T-provided cellular LTE network. Video surveillance that automatically turns on when an intrusion is detected also was installed. The surveillance can send video to security personnel remotely through AT&T's messaging toolkit.

Sensors have been installed at the gates to the base. The project is intended to assess how well different networks perform when integrated. The perimeter gear is connected through a cellular network while the video cameras are hardwired through an existing network and the gate sensors communicate via WiFi. And they feed into one dashboard, a glass pane that displays the information recorded — which is accessible by laptop or smartphone.

The deployment was conducted on a tight schedule with each component of the overall system installed in a month's time and fully functional by the end of the third month.

Thurston said the Air Force has been "thrilled" about the installation. "And now that it is successful, we are starting talk about other types of use cases, and how to use the IoT to make the base smarter and smarter."

Some possibilities include radar solutions at the gates in addition to facial recognition technology and integrating the dashboard more closely with the base's daily command and control routine. And AT&T also is using its experience at Maxwell to shore up security for the IoT network itself, Thurston said. "Security of IoT is a big issue. We also are going to document and prove out the controlled network aspect of this – because as you put a lot more things on networks there are security vulnerabilities so  have to demonstrate the security of the network itself."

Also, AT&T recently won a 10-year contract by the Defense Information Systems Agency to replace its Hawaii-based communications network that supports U.S. military services in the Pacific Region.

Mark your calendars for Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC...
Smart Cities Week Silicon will bring together city leaders and technology innovators to explore trends and disruptive technologies for smart cities. The conference kicks off on Tuesday, October 3 with in-depth pre-conference workshops on crucial topics such as resilience and readiness. Click to learn more and register.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.