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Wednesday, Dec. 04, 2013

New Mass Notification System bridges digital divide

Don’t be the last to know: Users can receive emergency alerts via text message, email

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Fort Benning will launch a new crisis communication tool in mid-December.

The Army’s Emergency Management Modernization Program is in the process of fielding a mass warning system that will provide better cover for Fort Benning’s populace. The Fort Benning MWN system will provide alerts to registered users through multiple means, including options to receive alerts via computer desktop pop-ups, emails, telephone calls, text messages, social media and even a smartphone application.

“This new system minimizes the amount of time it will take to alert people in the event of an emergency, while maximizing the ways we can communicate with them,” said Terry Wydra, an installation emergency manager. “It also gives them the freedom to determine how they want to receive their alerts.”

The new system, which launches Dec. 17, makes it possible to warn registered users of emergency situations, terroristic threats, weather alerts, installation closures, security risks and changes in force protection conditions. Next week, the Emergency Operations Center will test the new system in preparation for its launch. They will run through an emergency scenario and send alerts to various agencies on post in a variety of ways to ensure operations run smoothly, Wydra said.

One of the most important aspects of the new system is that it allows the EOC to quickly circulate information about the event, send updates, give recommended actions and get feedback from recipients in the form of acknowledging receipt of the message. This information also provides leadership with a real-time status of the emergency notification process throughout an incident.

The Army’s push to modernize mass notification systems came in the aftermath of the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting in late 2009. After a 2010 review of Department of Defense approaches to force protection, the Secretary of Defense outlined actions to take and placed a high priority on development of a mass notification and warning system to alert all personnel on an installation through unclassified means within 10 minutes of an incident.

“Ten minutes or less can save a life,” Wydra said. “When tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham (Ala.), they had little warning. Sometimes 10 minutes is all you need in order to avert mass injuries and loss of life.” The Category EF4 multi-vortex tornado that tore through portions of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham in 2011 killed 64 people and caused $2.4 billion in damages. Many people had no warning of approaching tornadoes after an initial line of storms caused weather radio transmitter sites set up by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to stop functioning.

While radio-based communications are still a primary means — and time-honored staple — for many to receive emergency alerts, Wydra said the benefit of Fort Benning’s new system is its portability and accessibility in a variety of circumstances. Users can manage their information through the system’s self-service portal and switch between various contact methods.

Once the system is launched, anyone with a Common Access Card will be able to register themselves and family members to receive alert messages. The Fort Benning Network Enterprise Center will push the software to all workstations on the Fort Benning domain the third week of December. EOC officials said the date for self-registration will be set next week.

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