When multiple tornadoes ripped across Alabama April 27, 2011, hundreds of thousands of Alabamians were left without electricity and communication was at a standstill. Traditional land lines were down for more than a week and cellular service was extremely spotty.
These were dire circumstances, recalls Jeffrey Davis, Huntsville Center emergency management specialist. Hours after the last tornado passed, Huntsville Center leadership and supervisors were tasked with accounting for the Center’s employees, and they were doing so the best way they could.
Davis said he believes if Center employees had used the Army’s Disaster Personnel Accountability and Assessment System (ADPAAS), a method of accounting, assessing, managing and monitoring the recovery process for personnel and their families affected by a wide-spread catastrophic event, the process would have been more streamlined.
ADPAAS is a secure, web-based system developed by Headquarters, Department of the Army, G-1, which provides personnel location information and accounting report status, allowing commanders to make strategic decisions that facilitate a return to stability.
“If ADPAAS had been in place, and with the proper training on how to ‘self account’ we could have easily accounted for all of our employees in a responsible amount of time,” Davis said.
Following a natural or manmade disaster, ADPAAS allows commanders to account for their personnel in a matter of minutes, not days, and alleviates reporting problems by allowing individuals to log in and account for themselves and their family members.
“That is why it so important for each employee to log into ADPASS and verify and update their contact information. To access and verify or update information on the ADPAAS, go to https://adpaas.army.mil/,” Davis said.
After the tornadoes of 2011, Huntsville Center was at a loss for command and control. Power was out throughout the region. There was only enough electricity from an emergency generator to operate a few offices and bring up a selection of required servers for communication. Within 12 hours after the last tornado touched down in the area, Center leadership began the arduous task of determining if its employees were safe. Then-Deputy Commander Lt. Col. David Bailey recalls that he was mostly relying on supervisors to up-chain personnel status reports.
“If supervisors hadn’t been able to contact a person, they were relying on driving out to people’s homes to check on them,” Bailey said.
Bailey said oftentimes those supervisors found the homes empty.
“There was no electricity and some of people’s homes were damaged, and many people were leaving the area to go stay with family or friends elsewhere in the region,” he said.
“But a big problem we had was that some people had previously moved residence and not updated their current addresses with their supervisors. So we had some supervisors out there trying to piece together a person’s location by talking to neighbors or emergency officials, which was quite frustrating.”
Bailey said as people got to wherever they were going and as communication began to flow again, people were good to call their supervisors and let them know their status.
“Finally, after about 48 hours we were able to account for everybody and report to headquarters,” he said.
“But the situation in 2011 is a good example of why ADPAAS is a valuable tool. If employees can’t be contacted over the phone yet ADPAAS is updated with current address, eventually someone can get out to you and check on you to see if everything is ok. At least if you are registered with ADPASS, leadership has a good idea of where to find you and ensure the safety of you and your family,” Bailey said.
Davis said the bottom line is that after an emergency, all Army-affiliated personnel (Soldiers, family members and civilian employees) are to report their status to their command at the first available opportunity.
“In some cases, the Secretary of Defense will direct all DOD-affiliated personnel in the affected area to report their accountability status as soon as possible,” Davis said. “When this happens, if you have access to the Internet you are to report your status online through ADPAAS so the commander has a means to assess the impact of the disaster and to provide assistance where needed. But if the situation is as ugly as it was in 2011, at the earliest available opportunity, call or text your supervisor to account for yourself and your family,” he said.
Davis said the Army conducts two Army-wide exercises that involve disaster personnel accountability reporting in ADPAAS. The first one is Ardent Sentry that takes place in the spring and is focused on natural large scale disasters. The second one is Global Thunder, Vigilant Shield, Positive Response that happens in the fall and is focused on the road to war from conventional to global nuclear war.
He said he is hopeful to have 100 percent of the Huntsville Center workforce register and update ADPAAS prior to Ardent Sentry.
“Exercises like Ardent Sentry are important to assess our capabilities, but when real disaster strikes like it did in 2011, we need to be capable of assessing your safety.”
ADPASS also has a Mobile Web App available to sponsors and personnel affected by an event. The app is designed only for iPhone, Android and certain touch-screen Blackberry phones.