In past emergencies involving Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, U.S., the only way to contact some 2,500 military and civilian workers to tell them to return to the base pronto was with an old-fashioned telephone calling chain.
But since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, emergency preparedness on the base has come a long way. A new three-part emergency notification system is now in place, providing telephone, network and loudspeaker alerting systems to immediately communicate details about terrorist attacks, storms or other emergencies to base personnel.
"It was needed to better notify the base populace of what was going on on the base and about any threats," said Master Sgt. Robert English, the superintendent of the command post. "It gets people back to the base faster."
The alerts can be sent to pagers, cell phones and fax machines, and to other wireless devices via e-mail, reaching thousands of users simultaneously. The new system allowed base officials to contact all 2,500 workers and receive confirmations back from them in one hour and seven minutes during initial testing, English said.
Because Vance AFB is located in "Tornado Alley," where strong storms and tornadoes can occur with little warning, an effective emergency communications system was needed, he said. The system will also be used in the event of emergencies related to terrorism, natural disasters and other causes.
The old system also used loudspeakers set up in various locations around the base. (That system is known on the base as "Giant Voice.") But those messages often weren't easily heard outside, English said, and some areas of the base didn't have loudspeaker access at all. People who were inside buildings couldn't always hear sirens that were blasting outside, which reduced the effectiveness of the system.
Base officials looked at alternative ways of improving the alert system, English said. After multiple discussions with various vendors, three companies were hired to build the multifaceted system. AtHoc provided the network alert systems, and Dialogic Communications provided the telephone alert systems. Acoustic Technologies (ATI) provided the basewide loudspeaker communications system.
The installation of the three systems began in August 2005, and the three vendors worked together to have it up and running a month later. Final testing and configuration was completed in November 2005 and the system was accepted by the base. "Basically, it's been working well since September of last year," English said.
The alerting system is a pilot project at Vance and will likely be adopted in the future at other bases used by the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command, English said. "The system has made the job in the command post a lot easier," he said. "Before, we had to call numerous agencies around the base to notify them, and that took a while."
The contract price for the systems was not disclosed.