Communications: The forefront of Coronavirus force protection

By Maj. William Carraway, Georgia National GuardApril 23, 2020

Communications: The forefront of Coronavirus force protection
Colonel Shane Strickland, chief information officer for the Georgia Army National Guard provides an update on database utilization during the Adjutant General’s Update Brief at the Clay National Guard Center, in Marietta, Ga. April 22, 2020. (Photo Credit: Maj. William Carraway) VIEW ORIGINAL

MARIETTA, Ga. – On any given day, the communications staff of a state’s National Guard conducts important routine tasks such as ensuring internet bandwidth, answering computer and telephone maintenance inquiries, and maintaining secure information databases. But Georgia’s coordinated response to the Coronavirus outbreak has brought the Georgia Department of Defense’s (Ga DoD) communications directorate, or G6, to the forefront of the effort to protect not only the most vulnerable populations, but to ensure the Georgia National Guard is able to continue to answer the calls for assistance from state and local agencies.

On April 13, Brig. Gen. Randall Simmons, Commander of the Ga. ARNG and Joint Task Force Commander of the Georgia COVID-19 Response Force charged the G6 with developing a technological solution that would help the Ga. Department of Public Health collect vital information on vulnerable populations. Within 24 hours, the G6 had the answer.

“In collaboration with the Georgia Departments of Public Health and Community Health, the Ga DoD G6 created an online database for nursing home and long term care facilities to input their data which populates the database,” said Col. Shane Strickland, Chief Information Officer for the Georgia Army National Guard. “This allows the facilities to input critical data needed by the DPH and used to make important decisions to combat the spread of the virus.”

The information includes the number of residents, staff, rooms, and suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 at a facility and enables the Ga. DPH and Ga. DoD to prioritize facilities for disinfecting and other resources. No names or medical information is shared on the database.

Throughout the COVID-19 response, the G6 has refined its processes and established partnerships with agencies and academia. Through dialogue with stakeholders and partner agencies dedicated to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the G6 has continued to refine the database to provide information requirements as part of the coordinated response effort.

The G6 is not only innovating solutions to assist the state effort to battle the Coronavirus, it is also playing a vital role in protecting the force. In the early days of the Coronavirus response, Maj. Gen. Tom Carden, Georgia’s Adjutant General, emphasized the importance of teleworking and social distancing to maximize the safety of the nearly 15,000 servicemembers while allowing essential services to continue. To enable personnel and employees to work from home while maintaining access to secure DoD networks, the G6 increased the virtual private network capacity 800 percent. To facilitate teleconferences, the G6 doubled the call-in capacity on dedicated lines and implemented Skype for business across the force. The G6 also supported the teleworking force with collaboration tools like Microsoft TEAMS and Cisco WebEx.

“We have more than doubled our capacity while improving call quality,” said Col. Shane Strickland, Chief Information Officer for the Ga. Army National Guard. “At the same time, we have provided additional wireless and phone platforms for the field and staff sections to help them continue to work”.

With daily information synchronization requirements, the Ga. DoD could not safely coordinate with all staff members while maintaining social distancing. The communications improvements have enabled the Ga. DoD to continue to provide maximum capability to respond to mission requests while minimizing the risk to personnel.

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