New technology safeguards Benelux community
May 3, 2010
CHIEVRES, Belgium - USAG Benelux has launched a new e-mail and desktop notification system called Desktop Alert to increase the safety and well being of its personnel.
The company's Chief Executive Officer, Howard Ryan, said this is life-saving software that leverages existing Army computer technology.
The 39th Signal Battalion pushed the software to all of the computers on the Benelux network in the spring. It is managed by each garrison's Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security office, and will be used to notify personnel of emergencies.
"Desktop Alert can get a message to all of our personnel within seconds of sending it out, no matter what they're doing on their computer," said Rik Bertrand, the USAG Brussels Antiterrorism/Force Protection officer. "While they are in their offices, a Desktop Alert popup will override their computer work and display the emergency message."
The software does not replace regular methods of command information. It's use is intended for emergencies, which is why content is strictly controlled by moderators and administrators.
Bertrand, the administrator for Brussels, has been using the software for a couple of months, and he said he's impressed with how user friendly it is.
"Desktop Alert can be used during an emergency to send out weather information, traffic information, emergency guidelines, shelter in place instructions or lockdown orders. It can literally be used to update all our personnel during a crisis, with them never having to leave their offices," he said.
Users may have already noticed the new antenna-looking Desktop Alert icon located on their taskbars. By right clicking on the icon, users will see their names and e-mail addresses already entered because the software recognizes users when they log onto the computer with their common access cards.
Additionally, the software is programmed to know which users are associated with which Benelux distribution lists. Therefore, when a moderator sends out a message to a select list, he or she doesn't have to identify each individual, which adds to the speed and effectiveness of emergency communications.
When an alert is sent, it pops up in the bottom right hand corner of the monitor. Users simply read it and then click on the X to close it. DPTMS can track who has and hasn't read it. With that tracked information, commanders can then decide if they need to activate a call roster for 100 percent accountability.
Ryan added that Desktop Alert also has an archive feature available to end users. This can be useful in an event like a weather warning.
If a user closes the weather alert, but a few hours later decides to go back to see how long the warning is supposed to last, the user can visit the archives and get that data by just right clicking on the icon.
"An additional feature of Desktop Alert is the e-mail add on," said Bertrand. "When an alert is sent out, it can be programmed to send that same alert to e-mail boxes whether they are in-house employees or family members at home."
Bertrand added that each garrison is also installing Desktop Alert's new Electronic Display Units that will be placed in common areas, so customers without computers nearby will also get emergency messages.
The Benelux is the second European garrison to launch the Desktop Alert system followed by USAG Heidelberg. It's also been deployed in Iraq, throughout the National Guard, at West Point and at various stateside installations.
"We are the largest providers of this type of technology to the U.S. Army," said Ryan.
Even though the product is used throughout the Army, the Benelux is transforming Desktop Alert to meet its unique environment.
"Each facility - Schinnen, Brussels, Benelux - has kind of their own autonomy. They have their own way of conducting business, and yet we've consolidated Desktop Alert costs by sharing the product's capability across all the domains," said Ryan. "If there is a protestor creating a disturbance at one facility that might be an alert that you want to send across all the installations. That capability is there already."
Because the CEO recognizes the Benelux's uniqueness, the software company is working with administrators to create specialized folders for each garrison. The folders will contain each garrison's common distribution lists, personalized alert templates and more.
"We're scaling down the cost, but we're going to be putting in some customizations that allow each facility to efficiently use the system without the distraction of seeing too much data from the other facilities, although they will always be able to," he said.
Bertrand pointed out how the system's efficiency transcends into workforce efficiency.
"The alert can be set up to send to groups or individuals; to as few as one person or to tens of thousands based on who is selected and the capacity of our server," said Bertrand. "It can be used for the commander to get word to all his directors on a non-scheduled meeting in five minutes or to the community to advise them of a demonstration."
It can also be used for business continuity.
"An alert might be sent out as follows," said Ryan. "The Microsoft Exchange Server is down right now. Please do not call the help desk. We are aware of this problem and are working on it. You will receive a desktop alert when the Microsoft Exchange Server has returned to operational status."
As the administrators continue to use the system, they will contact Desktop Alert with suggestions for future adjustments that benefit the Benelux.
"This system is effective because it's easy and fast to initiate. The administrators and moderators of the program can simply push an execute button to send out a prefabricated message such as an evacuation alert," said Bertrand, "and that alert can help ensure the safety of our community."