REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Redstone Arsenal's military, employee and retiree base reaches throughout North Alabama and South Tennessee. And so does its concern when those Arsenal community members along with their families and neighborhoods are threatened by devastating disasters.

Concern for the welfare of Arsenal community members as well as for residents throughout the area turned into real-time action in the days following April 27, when numerous tornadoes brought destruction to North Alabama.

"We're very fortunate the Arsenal itself has extremely limited physical damage," said Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton. "There are some trees down and some roofs damaged. But physical damage has very little impact on the Arsenal itself."

Yet, during a Friday overflight of the areas affected by the tornadoes, Arsenal leaders could see "huge patches of destruction from multiple tornadoes all around the Tennessee Valley, all around Redstone Arsenal and all around Huntsville. The city was impacted more on its periphery," he said.

On Redstone, as electrical services came to a halt around 6:30 p.m. April 27, generators were activated immediately to ensure critical services continued, including Arsenal support of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Marshall Space Flight Center's support to the space station and the upcoming space shuttle launch.

"Strategic hubs that are needed to stay up 24/7 have backup generator power," Hamilton said. "But if power is out for an extended period of time (more than a week), there will be an impact on everyday support that goes beyond the critical mission support."

During ensuing days, the Garrison responded to community needs, opening its stores and providing social services to Arsenal-connected families impacted by the tornado or the loss of electricity.

Emergency support actually began at 6:30 a.m. on April 27 when the Garrison's Installation Operations Center began operating under full alert based on weather reports of impending tornadic activity in the area. Daily watch operations in the IOC include the employees of the Garrison's Current Operations Branch, but that team grew as activation of the Installation's Emergency Operations Center involved a Crisis Management Team of Garrison employees across all its directorates.

"Every day, in the IOC, we have daily watch operations ongoing for emergency management," said Tim D'Ambrosia, chief of plans and operations for the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

"We are here every day for the assessment of natural and manmade disasters. But, when this system came through, we activated the EOC to be at full operations involving all Garrison emergency services."

D'Ambrosio and the IOC's Current Operations Branch were aware on April 26 that a weather event was expected to occur in North Alabama. On the morning of April 27, the EOC entered the preparation phase to monitor the tornadic activity passing through the area.

The EOC then entered its response phase at 5 p.m. as tornadoes touched down in Madison County and its recovery mode once electrical power went out throughout North Alabama.

On Thursday, the EOC began damage assessments both on- and off-post. Garrison commanders met to assess the situation and to coordinate recovery efforts with local officials. With electrical power out throughout the region, there was no other choice than to close the Arsenal to its work force.

"We closed for mission support and we had very limited ability to provide services on Thursday," Hamilton said.

But the EOC and its growing support staff was on the job.

"Our main objective was power generation, restoring power, first, to basic operations for life and safety, and then to all of Redstone," D'Ambrosio said. "Another objective was to support the local community as much as possible. And the third objective was personnel accountability. Our critical priorities were the installation's command and control centers, and tenant support, and trying to provide support for displaced personnel and retirees."

The EOC also supported Alabama National Guard, activated in support of emergency relief in the area, by providing on-post lodging, and transport equipment.

"We provided equipment to the National Guard so that it could support Huntsville and the surrounding communities," D'Ambrosio said. "We also provided lodging on post for state troopers who were assigned to provide emergency support in the Huntsville area."

The EOC also worked to stand-up an Army Community Service satellite office at the PX/Commissary to provide support to Arsenal families.

Although Redstone was closed to its work force for several days due to the loss of electrical service, its basic services were available beginning on Thursday. The Shoppette was the busiest center of activity due to availability of gasoline, groceries and, on Saturday, generators. The PX/Commissary soon followed suit, opening by the weekend with groceries and supplies.

"While the post is certainly closed to the work force, its basic services are available," Hamilton said during a community press conference Saturday.

"Basic services are here for military, civilian employees, retirees and absolutely anyone who can get access through our gates ... The entire community, state and federal are coming together. We do have support available on the Arsenal. If you've got the credentials, you can get on the Arsenal and get the support you need ... If you need life support services and you are one of our employees or one of our military, you can get support."

During the press conference, Hamilton also urged Redstone Arsenal employees to make contact with their supervisors and co-workers so they can be accounted for by their organization.

Personnel accountability became an increasing issue of concern during the days following April 27. Even though other issues - electricity, basic services, medical facilities and social services - were important, accountability topped the list, said Alvin Odoms, director of the Directorate for Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

"Our employees are the most important and we are really struggling with that. We need to have some way of knowing they are OK," he said.

Even though that message was broadcast through the media at the community press conference, 100 percent accountability was not available during the days after April 27. For instance, on Saturday afternoon, only 83 percent - or 3,320 -- of the more than 4,000 employees making up one Arsenal organization were accounted for.

"Everybody is working extremely hard to find out about employees and to provide services," said Garrison deputy commander Curtis Clark. "Most of Team Redstone is participating in providing status of personnel and helping where needed.

"We want to know how we can support folks. We want to know what our employees' status is and where help is needed. We have consolidated all of our housing assets and we can provide those assets to those employees and retirees who have lost their homes or who have homes with damage."

Redstone's role, though, goes beyond its own community, Clark said. The Arsenal is also working to provide support to the entire North Alabama region.

"The bottom line is we are marshaling all of our resources to take some of the stress off Madison County, Huntsville City and Madison City," he said.

With some 75,000 retirees in the North Alabama area, the Arsenal can impact the stress on the community's food and equipment supplies by working to provide those same supplies through its on-post stores.

"We can impact the area. A pretty good percentage of the population has access to the Arsenal. If they come here for what they need (gasoline, food, generators, other equipment), then that leaves more in the community for others," Hamilton said.

"But, depending on where they live and the services provided to them, it may make better sense for our employees and retirees to stay put where they are until this situation ends. The important thing is they get to a place where they can get the services they need."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16