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AtHoc system aims to save lives

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- AtHoc is a network centric emergency mass notification system that is able to notify thousands of impending danger in a matter of minutes.

Currently, the "big four" -- severe weather, active shooter, base closure and alarm condition changes -- get pushed out on AtHoc the most, but the system is capable of alerting the masses for just about anything in a short period of time.

AtHoc integrates not only the computer pop-ups, but also cellphone text messaging, email messages and home or cellphone calls in an effort to get the word out, according to Maj. Jesse Scott, 552nd Air Control Wing Command Post Chief.

According to Master Sgt. Zachary Harley, 552nd ACW Command Post superintendent, it is very important that everyone go in and update their information in AtHoc. On the lower right corner of the screen, click the purple globe icon and the user is prompted to fill in their information such as where they work, and at the top there is a tab for updating device information and users can update cellphone numbers, home number and even email addresses to receive emergency notifications. Everyone is encouraged to update the information and to keep it up-to-date.

Major Scott said AtHoc has already proven to be a valuable tool. It was used in the September 2013 Naval yard shooting. AtHoc sent out text messages and some people in the vicinity of the shooter were able to text back to AtHoc operators with important on-the-scene information such as where the shooter was, if anyone was hurt and needing assistance and so on.

"The system works," Major Scott said. "It still needs a little fine tuning, but it does what it is intended to do, and that is to get the word out."

The major said the AtHoc system can notify 21,000 people by text message in two minutes.

"We are working to make AtHoc less invasive during notifications," Major Scott said.
Sergeant Harley said the system used to keep calling a person over and over until someone acknowledged it. "Now, it will make the call and move on," he said.

Sergeant Harley said the AtHoc system is only as good as the information people have stored, so everyone needs to be vigilant and update their information.

Anyone working on a computer connected to the Tinker network has seen the pop ups that come up and warn of everything from lightning and wind to a tornado and even base exercises. According to Sergeant Harley, the pop ups are color coded with grey for information, yellow for a watch and red for tornado warnings, active shooters or anything serious that requires an immediate reaction.

Sergeant Harley said AtHoc has more uses, but Tinker officials don't want people to become too desensitized to it.

"We're trying to use it only in extreme situations now," he said.

AtHoc can recall a crisis action team or battle staff. Also with commander's approval, things like gate closures can be issued.

"We have many different scenarios planned and ready at the push of a button, like tornado warnings, bomb threats, civil riots, weather, changes to FPCON, gate closures and so on," said Sergeant Harley.

The Giant Voice is timed along with AtHoc. Though sometimes people inside don't hear the Giant Voice, Major Scott said it is meant to warn everyone on base, in the fastest way possible, so that is where AtHoc fills the gap.

Sergeant Harley said everyone is encouraged to enter their information in AtHoc.
"This isn't about convenience, it is about saving lives and resources," he said.