Red Cross opens military communications center








The humanitarian service organization transmits more than 1.4 million messages every
year to DOD personnel and their relatives. The new center will change the way the Red
Cross administers its Armed Forces Emergency Services, officials said.


“This center will provide one-stop, emergency communications services to all
military installations, from Maine to Florida, and to overseas, fleet-based and
operationally deployed destinations, utilizing the latest available computer and
telecommunications technologies,” Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole said.


The new center has a toll-free number that eliminates the need for service members and
their families to contact local Red Cross offices to access emergency services. A similar
center will open in June at Fort Sill, Okla., to handle emergency communications for
Central and Western states.


The Red Cross this year began a three-year, $9.7 million program to modernize Armed
Forces Emergency Services and improve the organization’s service delivery system,
said Sue Richter, the service’s vice president. The modernization effort will save
the Red Cross $6 million annually, she said.


The centers in Virginia and Oklahoma will help consolidate work spread across 145 Red
Cross stations nationally, Richter said. The Falls Church center will process 50,000
emergency cases each year, and the Fort Sill center will handle another 100,000, she said.


The new East Coast center has a 62-person staff and state-of-the-art
telecommunications, PCs and software to process and document casework of DOD personnel and
their families that requires emergency messaging services. The services include delivering
notifications of illness and death as well as news of births to personnel around the
world.


The center “is critical to the Defense Department, service members and their
families,” said Gail McGinn, DOD’s principal director for personnel support,
families and education. “It’s going to make the system more accessible and more
seamless. Basically, you don’t have to worry about finding an office. They are
available with just a telephone call.”


Without the Red Cross centers, DOD would need a large-scale and costly communications
network to provide similar services, McGinn said.


The Falls Church center has 42 300-MHz Dell Computer Corp. OptiPlex GX-1 Pentium PCs
with 64M of RAM and 4G hard drives. The center’s PCs link to two Compaq Computer
Corp. servers running Microsoft Windows NT and two IBM RS/6000 servers running Unix.


The PCs run Microsoft Office 97, Exchange and Outlook 98. A call center application,
Clarify Clear Support from Clarify Inc. of San Jose, Calif., taps an Oracle Corp. database
hosted on the RS/6000s and lets operators process the center’s casework.


The center’s around-the-clock 800 service is supplied by AT&T Corp. under FTS
2000.


The Red Cross has supplied Armed Forces Emergency Services to DOD since 1905, Richter
said. The organization spent $62 million in fiscal 1998 to provide services to active-duty
military personnel and their families, she said.


Defense and Red Cross officials have discussed shifting the services to DOD, but the
present arrangement works well, they said.


The Red Cross also benefits from DOD’s communications infrastructure, said Rick
Davis, director of the Falls Church center.


“It would be impossible for the American Red Cross to provide these services were
it not for our ability to use Department of Defense communications systems—both voice
and data,” he said.


“For all the years that we have been in the business, we have been an integrated
partner in the use of AUTODIN, and we are planning to migrate to the Defense Message
System as time goes by,” Davis said.

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