Stacy Schwartz leads the public safety organization within AT&T‘s public sector business in her vice president role at the global telecommunications company and oversees its services to federal entities such as the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and State.
The AT&T public safety team’s areas of concentration include mobile devices and applications, cloud computing Internet Protocol-based systems, data transmission and cybersecurity.
Schwartz recently spoke to ExecutiveBiz for this in-depth conversation on technology trends public safety agencies want to take advantage of for first responders, her perspective on where AT&T and industry at large fits into that effort and offers both a definition and forecast on the future of unified communications.
ExecutiveBiz: What are two trends that you observe in the public safety market lately?
Stacy Schwartz: The first one is the use of video. We see voracious consumption of video on our network. There is no reason to believe that it won’t continue. Public safety agencies use video to understand events in real-time as well as retrospectively for archival and investigative purposes. Video can be shared instantaneously across mobile devices.
The news over the last year has been full of stories about police using body cameras or vehicle-mounted cameras. Those video images are relayed to command stations and other first responders to help improve incident response. Video seems to be prevalent not just in law enforcement, but among first responders in general.
The challenges that public safety entities face with video include where and when to use it, ensuring that it is runs continuously without interruption, storing it, and analyzing and using the information in near real-time when there is an actual incident.
The second trend is mobility. When we talk about mobility, we are referring not only to the use of a device or a tablet but also to the Internet of Things, where sensors and other types of devices are used to relay information and images. This is being used by public safety in different aspects of emergency response and law enforcement. Sensors can feed data across networks to provide information about an emergency.
Connected cars also use mobility. These are vehicles equipped with sensors to relay location, direction, speed and other vehicle diagnostics. They can also relay video shot on the scene from dashboard-mounted cameras. Public safety agencies can manage an entire fleet of vehicles using connected car and Internet of Things technologies.
This can help them manage and maintain their fleets. The location capabilities allow agencies to deploy vehicles strategically, on the fly, to handle incidents. Network-connected sensors can also be placed to relay useful environmental information. If you think about areas that are prone to natural disasters, network-connected sensors can play an important role in warning of potential problems and mitigating damage when a disaster occurs.
Sensors can monitor levees, for example, and feed data about water levels before, during and after a flood. They can be deployed by utilities that provide water or power to help improve the information flow about consumption, changes to resource levels, and help improve control and management of how the service is provided.
Another way in which network-connected sensors support public safety is by providing data that allows for predictive analytics. Agencies can create a geo-fence with sensors to detect both human and other traffic patterns within a certain area. Using that data, they can create a predictive baseline and track anomalies in behavior. This allows agencies to be more preventative; stopping an incident before it even begins.
All of this is made possible by a mobile network and network-connected sensors and devices. At the intersection of these two trends – more video, more data fed by network-connected sensors – is the first responder accumulating this data on their mobile device. The real challenge is how do you aggregate, parse and present that data in a way and format that helps the first responder make critical decisions and ensure appropriate outcomes?
An underlying aspect of all of this is using both mobile tools and video to collaborate. Mobile networks support the sharing of the video and sensor-fed data across a command center, an individual first responder and other first responders and public safety entities. This can support accelerated decision-making and response times as well as improved outcomes when precious lives are at stake.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see AT&T’s role in some of those areas you mentioned?
Stacy Schwartz: As a premier integrated communications provider, we support a large number of public safety agencies. We provide mobility, cloud, Internet of Things, analytics, devices and end-to-end solutions to support missions for the public safety community.
No technology innovation made possible since the advent of the Internet and, more recently, the Internet of Things, would be possible without networking capabilities. In order for agencies to reap the mission enablement and cost efficiencies that video, sensors connected cars, and collaboration deliver, they need a fast, resilient, highly-secure mobile network.
Also, AT&T is in the midst of a network transformation that can bring benefits to public safety. We are transforming our network to becoming software-centric.
A software-defined network allows more flexibility in the network so that when there is a particular incident or required response, our network resources can be scaled up or down in near real-time to support the needs of public safety users. It allows users to turn up bandwidth very quickly to be able to meet the needs of the public safety mission.
Once the specific need for networking services is over, the services can then be turned back down to a foundational level to support that entity. There’s an analogy to emergency response. First there is mobilization, then scale brought to an incident, then restoration of original service. That’s what a software-defined network can do for public safety.
Another role for AT&T in the public safety market is that we provide both wired and wireless network services. We also offer a secure cloud connectivity solution called AT&T NetBond.
NetBond’s benefits include enterprise-grade network security of virtual private networking, providing predictable performance compared to the Internet and connections to cloud resources from any site on almost any device connected to their AT&T VPN.
AT&T also helps public safety entities and first responders collaborate in real-time from nearly any place and any device. Our mobile and cloud-based suite of solutions can integrate multiple communications and collaboration capabilities such as instant messaging, conferencing, email and voice calling, for virtually seamless interactions between users.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you see the mobile device picture in public safety taking shape this year and the next?
Stacy Schwartz: At AT&T, we are fortunate to be able to provide a broad variety of mobile devices from all of the leading manufacturers. Public safety will continue to use a broad mix of smartphones, tablets, as well as land mobile radios as they have done in the past.
In addition, the Internet of Things and the rapid adoption of video are bringing increased utility to mobile devices – feeding information to them that can help improve the insights that first responders and public safety entities need in their work.
Based on the nature of the mission, we support and supply rugged devices to our agencies. We are seeing increased usage of these mobile devices on both the IT side as well as the mission side of public safety agencies.
First responders are effective when data is moved quickly across our fast wireless network to their mobile device. When you consider the mission of first responders and the environments they have to operate in like fires or floods, those devices have to be able to withstand and work properly in a variety of adverse conditions.
ExecutiveBiz: Where can public safety agencies further apply cloud tools?
Stacy Schwartz: Public safety agencies want to reduce cost and operate more efficiently. They also want technology as a strategic enabler of mission achievement. We see public safety agencies using cloud in a variety of ways. They use it to host and access near real-time and archival video and other applications. Cloud can help them scale resources as needed.
Agencies can scale up their cloud usage during natural disasters, when their workload is high in a concentrated period of time, and then scale back down to normal operational levels once the incident is mitigated. Security is critical, of course, and that’s one of the reasons we developed AT&T NetBond, which I referenced earlier.
It offers the security protections of virtual private networking and allows public safety users to avoid moving their cloud data and applications across the Internet, which may not always afford the required level of security. We deliver integrated cloud solutions to help public safety agencies move to the cloud confidently.
Our solutions combine the power of our network, a robust ecosystem of cloud service providers and AT&T NetBond, an industry-leading cloud networking service.
ExecutiveBiz: How would you describe unified communications and AT&T’s work there?
Stacy Schwartz: Unified communications is a set of communications capabilities that help users connect, share and collaborate within a single solution. Public safety agencies want to be able to connect using tools like chat, texting, voice calling, web-based presentations and video on wired and mobile devices. They want to communicate effortlessly using those communications tools across locations and devices in near real time.
First responders in the field need to be able to quickly connect with their command center and other first responders or emergency vehicles in transit. Our solutions help those users communicate, share and collaborate from almost anywhere as long as they can connect to mobile or internet networks.
It’s vital to public safety entities to be able to get highly-secure, reliable network access when they need it. We provide a suite of mobile and cloud-based solutions that integrate instant messaging, conferencing, email and voice calling. We make it seamless and easy to use.
Our unified communications offers are cloud-based and can be delivered as-a-service so that users only pay for what they use. This provides public safety agencies more cost predictability and control. We deliver unified communications to public safety agencies on our fast, highly-secure and reliable network.
AT&T takes great pride in its work with public safety entities across the country. What could be more important than helping those that are willing to give their lives to help save others? We see first responders and public safety entities as heroes that deserve the best service we can deliver to them. We strive to do that every day.