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Red Cross Opens New Military Emergency Messaging Center

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 27, 1999 – The American Red Cross opened a state-of-the-art communications center July 26 at Fort Sill, Okla., completing a two-year modernization effort for the agency's emergency messaging services.

The opening of the center means that all military installations in the contiguous 48 states now have access to one-stop emergency communications services, according to Sue Richter, vice president for the Red Cross' Armed Forces Emergency Services. A similar center opened in Falls Church, Va., in November 1988, but only covered military installations in 13 East Coast states. The Fort Sill center expands the service to the entire country.

Richter said the two centers consolidate services previously provided in offices at 145 different military installations.

"This makes it easier for active duty military personnel and their families to reach the Red Cross," she said. "They will do that through one toll free number [1-877-272-7337] and regardless of whether it's midnight or 6 a.m., they will get a Red Cross worker who is standing by ready to help."

The automated telecommunications system will route callers either to Fort Sill or Falls Church, depending on their point of origin. Richter said she expects the Fort Sill center will handle about 75 percent of the traffic, or about 600,000 calls per year.

Service members stationed overseas who have emergencies must still contact their local Red Cross office, but she said they benefit because their messages will move more quickly and efficiently once the information reaches the U.S.-based centers.

Every day of every year, the Red Cross delivers news of family emergencies to service members stationed around the world. Whether delivering news of the birth of a child or the death of a family member, a Red Cross message provides service members and their commanders with the information they need to start such key personnel actions as emergency leave or compassionate reassignment.

"This is a considerable improvement in service delivery," Richter said. "It utilizes the new communications technology to the greatest advantage of the Red Cross and its customers." She added that it also will reduce overall operating costs by up to $6 million annually. The two centers are equipped with the latest in call-center technology, computers and software to process and document casework.

The agency's emergency messaging services will receive another boost later this year when the Red Cross ties into DoD's Defense Messaging System. DMS, as it is known, is a secure e-mail system DoD is in the process of implementing worldwide. Richter said the link would help speed up message delivery both within the United States and overseas.

There are no current plans to install similar centers overseas, Richter said. "We're going to look overseas to see if these centers can be beneficial," she said. "We don't know that yet because technology is not the same and toll-free calling is not as simple or inexpensive. All that will change, however, and we want to be right there to take advantage as we can."

DoD has been an integral player in the establishment of the two emergency messaging centers. Gail McGinn, DoD's principal director for personnel support, families and education, as well as other DoD staff members, worked with the Red Cross on the project from the beginning to help ensure service members' needs would be met.

The center "is critical to the Defense Department, service members and their families," McGinn said at the opening of Virginia-based center last fall. She said that without Red Cross support, DoD would have to establish a massive communications network that would be costly, time consuming and labor intensive. And even then, she pointed out, it wouldn't have the Red Cross' trusted reputation.

When commanders in the field receive emergency messages from the Red Cross about service members, they know the messages are reliable, McGinn said. Similarly, she said, "Service members know they are getting information that has been verified and that there's someone who can arrange financial assistance and help with travel."

Completion of the emergency messaging center project will not alter other Red Cross services provided at installations worldwide, including health and safety education, volunteer recruitment, and placement and disaster services.

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