Out with the old - In with the new

By COL Ronald Ells, Deputy Commander, U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterMay 13, 2021

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Changing the way the Army safety and occupational health community communicates

Shortly after BG Andrew Hilmes assumed command of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) and simultaneously became the Director of Army Safety in August 2019, he charged the organization with evaluating how we communicate with the field. This directive put our communication capabilities, which include the archaic email list server system, in the crosshairs.

With social media platforms in mind, the USACRC’s web services division developed SafetyNet, a knowledge-based online collaboration tool built exclusively for the Army safety and occupational health (SOH) community. The platform, which is managed by the USACRC’s knowledge management section, encourages professional ideas and dialogue and facilitates the exchange and storage of loss-prevention information from across the Army. With SafetyNet’s release in the very near future, we will likely say farewell to our use of mass email distribution.

That’s not to say email isn’t a useful tool; it has been since its use became widespread in the early 1990s. But for our use in connecting to our primary audiences, mass email is not as efficient as we would like. With more than 19,000 subscribers on our six primary email list servers, we face the typical challenges most large organizations encounter when employing mass email.

First and foremost, we don’t want to spam our audience and we recognize emails can potentially be disruptive and cause information overload. Risk management and loss prevention are topics that consistently require retuning and refining. This is one of our greatest communication challenges when marketing “Army Safety.” Second, we lack precision targeting and rely on broad email blasts to reach our audiences. While we can confirm that a message was sent, we are never sure it was received. Additionally, Microsoft Outlook, when used on DoD-administered computers and networks, limits the appearance, utility and functionality of the message. Last, although two of our six list servers permit two-way send-and-receive capability and allow for collaboration, most users don’t want to collaborate on issues they are not directly involved with or are hesitant to respond when they know their comments will go to nearly 2,000 other subscribers. In short, we risk target reach and penetration with mass email messaging.

Collaboration and information sharing are the essence of SafetyNet. Using a commercial off-the-shelf architecture, SafetyNet users will employ the two key functions of Community Ideas and Community Discussions to seek, share and store information. Its central repository is indexed for ease of navigation to desired communities and topics. Based on a user’s preferences, access to needed information is tailorable and searchable.

Take for example two unit safety personnel; one is a Department of the Army civilian serving a mechanized infantry brigade and the other an Army chief warrant officer serving a UH-60 Black Hawk assault helicopter battalion. Both safety officers serve units with broadly different missions. However, by the nature of SafetyNet’s taxonomy, the two are able to join established communities where their shared interests reside. Common to both of them are communities such as off-duty safety and government motor vehicle operations.

Pending the final Electronic Adjudication Management System (EAMS) login process approval, the USACRC will open SafetyNet to a select few Army Aviation safety officers for 30 days. This test group will provide their assessment of capabilities back to the USACRC, which will allow us to resolve any issues. Following the limited release, SafetyNet will open to the greater Army Aviation branch. By late spring, the more than 7,000 Army SOH personnel will have access to SafetyNet, allowing them to share ideas and information and collaborate on loss-prevention issues for the sole purpose of keeping our Army capable and ready.

GEN Eric Shinseki, 34th Army chief of staff, often said, “In the industrial age, the big ate the small. In the information age, the fast eat the slow.” SafetyNet is a 21st century communication platform that will give Army SOH professionals both speed and accuracy as we communicate across our profession.