By Samantha HillJanuary 4, 2019
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - Army Materiel Command is joining an Army-wide effort transitioning from different commercial mass warning systems to one government-operated system.
The command's headquarters started transitioning from the AtHoc system to a system called Alert!, said Mark Schmitz, AMC emergency management program manager. It is expected to be implemented by the end of February.
"Alert! is the quickest, easiest way to get messages out to a lot of different people," said Schmitz. "If something bad is happening, and we can tell you before it gets here, you can take action to save yourself."
The history of mass warning systems within the Army can be traced back to the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. Army leadership tasked emergency management program managers with coming up with a way to better alert people in the event of an emergency, said Chris Rattray, the Alert! Development Lead at AMC's Tank-automotive and Armaments Command. This led to the creation of Emergency Management Modernization Program.
"Out of what happened, what failed, what we could do better, stood up EM2P," Rattray said.
EM2P acted like a mandate, Rattray said, starting the alert process from scratch. After the 2016 Chattanooga shooting, the need for quicker communication across different organizations became apparent. Army leaders tasked Rattray and his team with finding a better solution, eventually leading to the migration to the new Alert! system.
As a commercial, off-the-shelf product, Schmitz said AtHoc has a per-user license fee. Because Alert! is a government, off-the-shelf program, the system doesn't have license fees and is cheaper to operate.
In addition to its benefit of saving the Army millions of dollars, Rattray said Alert! provides emergency managers with different ways to disperse warnings. Commanders could send specific alerts to an entire organization, a headquarters, or specific staff sections.
"It provides a more granular cap to notify a geographically diverse workforce," said Rattray.
Alert! allows for dual use between commanders and installation leaders, he said. It is a multimodal system, sending alerts through computer networks, phone calls, emails and text messages. Using the information submitted into the system, like personal and work addresses, the system will send alerts if something is happening nearby.
Although the system is advanced, Rattray said the system is only as good as the information employees plug in. Alert! does not track users' locations in real time. If an employee is traveling for work, the system allows users to plug in the dates and locations to set up alerts temporarily for those locations.
As Army Materiel Command and the Army begins transitioning, Rattray and the TACOM team is helping roughly 100 installations switch systems. The team split up into five different travel teams, each visiting two installations a week and walking emergency managers through how to transition. His message to employees transitioning to Alert! is to simply sign up.
"We are using this system to notify you to try and save your life," he said. "I can't do anything to protect you unless you put your number in there."