Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., took advantage of smart city technology to create a “smart base” pilot that demonstrated the effectiveness of IoT technology on things like perimeter security. 

Feb 21 2019

Q&A: Air Force's McDonald on How Maxwell Air Force Base Tests Smart City Technology

Looking for ways to upgrade security, the Montgomery, Ala., base piloted a “smart base” program successful enough that it may become permanent.

The location: a 3,700-acre Air Force base located along a river. The challenge: to improve security along that difficult-to-monitor border. The solution: the Internet of Things.

Officials at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., took advantage of smart city technology to create a “smart base” pilot, enabling security personnel to keep a sharper eye on that fluid river border.

With a new network installed by AT&T, the base found enough advantages to the program that officials are in the early phases of preparing contracts and thinking of ways to expand its use. FedTech spoke with Lt. Col. Lloyd McDonald, commander of the 42nd Communications Squadron at the base, about the project.

VIDEO: Watch federal IT leaders bust some common myths about the Internet of Things. 

FEDTECH: What was the attraction of smart technology?

MCDONALD: We were exploring how we could insert technology into our current environment to enhance our capabilities for security and readiness and situational awareness, to be more responsive to events that happen on the base and to mitigate issues before they happen.

FEDTECH: How did it work?

MCDONALD: The system consisted of an integrated dashboard that received information from sensors through an AT&T network. There was a tool developed by AT&T that captured data from all the sensors and presented it visually to us in our control center. It was a closed LTE cellular network; all the information from sensors traveled on an encrypted LTE tower back to the AT&T hub and then out to us.

The data dashboard is a visualization of the base perimeter. Say someone breached the perimeter fence. Operators would see an alert flash up on the dashboard, as well as an icon for a video feed. With that, they know immediately where the alert is. They can pull up that video feed and go back 10 seconds to see exactly what triggered that perimeter alarm. From there, they can look and see where the patrol cars are, so they can make an intelligent decision on which patrol to dispatch to that alarm location. And using the smart video technology, personnel know exactly what to expect as they respond to that alarm.

FEDTECH: What challenges did you face as the technology was being installed?

MCDONALD: We had to learn how to filter out false positives from the data and how to recognize good data from bad. Then we had to ensure that our operators understood what the technology was intended to achieve, and ensure that they were cognizant of what the data on the dashboard was telling them, so they could make good decisions. 


FEDTECH: What’s the status of the pilot?

MCDONALD: The pilot ended in February 2018. It was a one-year pilot. We’ve already gotten the report back, and from that, we are moving forward with attempting to get this technology integrated into our normal day-to-day business. Then we plan to actually pursue a contract to integrate some of the smart technology into the base.

FEDTECH: What would be the long-term benefit of having the system in place? 

MCDONALD: It gives us a redundant security posture, so if the Air Force network, for whatever reason, failed, then the security is on a separate loop, and remains unimpacted by what happens to our traditional IT infrastructure. Basically, we have uninterrupted security.

FEDTECH: What other uses are you considering for this technology?

MCDONALD: Energy management is a primary concern. We’re looking at ways that, through IoT sensor technologies, we can do predictive maintenance on things like HVAC systems before they fail. It also gives us a good idea of how we’re using energy. Are we cooling or heating an empty building? It allows us to effectively manage how we use energy and gives us a return on investment through lower energy costs. 

FEDTECH: Do you plan any integration with the local smart city efforts?

MCDONALD: At this point, it’s totally base-oriented, but we have had discussions with the city of Montgomery as they move forward with their own smart city project. We’re looking at areas where our interests coincide, and where Defense Department rules for public-private partnerships might allow us to partner on different pieces of technology insertion that would benefit not only the base, but also the city.

William Birchfield/U.S. Air Force

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