[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                   October 24, 2008

Mobile warning system helps 
alert troops to bad weather

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

Alerting Soldiers to impending danger at Contingency Operating Locations (COL) Freedom and Liberty took a significant step forward recently.

Photo: DES Operations Captain Robert Stapel checks the new Mobile Mass Notification System at Contingency Operating Location Freedom.
DES Operations Captain Robert Stapel checks the new Mobile Mass Notification System at Contingency Operating Location Freedom. (Photo by Tom Michele)

The Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) has installed a Mobile Mass Notification System (MMNS) at each of the COLs to announce potential disasters.

DES Operations Captain Robert Stapel said the system is primarily in place to alert Soldiers to possible severe weather, particularly tornadoes.

Also included in the audio announcement is an "all-clear" signal, a chime for testing that is conducted Wednesdays, and a public address capability that would be a live audio message from a dispatcher at the police department.

The potential exists to program additional messages if desired.

"This is a dramatic improvement over the former notification process," Stapel said. "Prior to this, notification was made to Range Control on a radio or landline telephone or Soldiers’ radios. Now the police dispatcher hits a button on his control panel, and the message is broadcast."

Stapel said the new system is about the size of a water buffalo and is capable of being moved by a light-duty pickup truck.

It operates on a diesel engine-driven generator or by plugging it into a public utility electric system. Inside a cabinet is the computer and radio receiving and transmitting equipment. Atop a pole are the speakers aimed in a 360-degree direction. Above the speakers is the receiving antenna, up to about 30 feet in height.

"The radio system operates on multiple frequencies, similar to a pager system, each frequency programmed to the specific message to be broadcast. It’s just a matter of the dispatcher at the police department front desk actuating the right button," Stapel said.

"The radio signal is converted into the prerecorded message that is broadcast," the Operations Captain said. "Any number of different messages may be programmed into the system and used when needed. The option to transmit live and directly from the dispatch console may be used to announce specific instructions, such as for rallying people to a particular staging area. It is mostly for impending severe weather although it may be used for virtually any situation that would require mass notification at remote locations."

"The primary goal of the MMNS is to ensure the safety of Soldiers at the COLs," Stapel said. "So far the system has worked well. We had one glitch when a switch got stuck in the open position and a message continually repeated itself, and we have had to adjust the frequencies. It has performed beyond our expectations and all but eliminated having to send a patrol officer out to the area to alert people."

"We are still exploring ways and audio aspects where it will work better in the dense tree environment that is part of the fort," Stapel said. "Wind also plays a factor in hearing the message. Overall the new system is a dramatic improvement over what we had previously."

Fort McCoy’s existing external mass notification system, located in the cantonment area, plays bugle calls, provides weather alerts, chimes, public address, and all clear.

The external mass notification system has the addition of six bugle calls automatically programmed into it, First Call, Reveille, Assembly, Retreat to the Colors, Tattoo and Taps.

"The old and the new systems complement one another well," Stapel said.

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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