News | July 1, 2017

Twister Assist

By Toby Brevitz, DLA Information Operations

In just 12 minutes, a 150-mph twister ripped across 71 miles of South Georgia — a path that included Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, home to 170 employees of Defense Logistics Agency Distribution.

The Jan. 22 tornado, rated 3 on the five-point severity scale, was on the ground less than an hour but tore through five Georgia counties. It uprooted or snapped almost all the trees in its path. It was one of the largest tornadoes in any winter month and left one of the longest tracks on record. 

The storm did significant damage to MCB Albany and shut the facility down for four days — including DLA Distribution Albany, Georgia, the Marine Corps’ primary source of wholesale and retail storage and distribution processes of secondary repair parts and expendables.

When DLA employees were safely able to return to work, they discovered the damage to the facility and area utilities prevented them from using their normal information technology equipment, needed for important operations. The call went out to the DLA Information Operations Contingency Information Technology Team. 

The CIT Team formed in 2007 to provide immediate support to DLA Distribution after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, it has deployed across the United States and the world in support of disaster relief and contingency operations, supporting the entire DLA enterprise. 

Immediately after the tornado, the foremost concern of DLA Distribution leadership was the safety and well-being of all 170 DDAG employees and their families. All employees and families were accounted for, with no serious injuries. And although many employees’ homes had major damage, only one was a total loss.

A DLA Advanced Echelon Team arrived a few days later from New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, to assess the damage to buildings, stock, equipment and systems. This team was joined by the DLA Distribution Expeditionary team with truckloads of equipment, including the mobile command trailer, a heavy-duty commercial truck, a yard truck, forklifts, generators, a rough terrain vehicle and front-end loaders. 

Three days after the Albany twister, Information Operations CIT Branch Chief Harold Morrow met with DLA Distribution senior staff in New Cumberland to develop a support plan. 

“Initially, the staff only requested the [Information Operations] CIT Mobile Command Vehicle,” Morrow said. “When I learned the scope of the damage, I recommended we expand the requirements, and include the Mobile Emergency Response Center and Deployable Operations Center.” 

That same day, the CIT Team deployed its MERC, operated by Jay Wolk and Sean Mace, from New Cumberland. Upon reaching Warner Robins the next day, the MERC linked up with the MCV and DOC, operated by Tony Johnson and Paul Chamnan. The MERC, MCV and DOC established operations in Albany, providing command and control capabilities to DLA leadership there, along with capabilities to the DLA Distribution Expeditionary Operations Center.

The team used the operations center to establish a tactical network and communications, including the Distribution Standard System. DSS manages all of DLA’s warehouse operations, including receiving, storage, consolidation, packing, shipping, inventory, inspection and workload management. 

As important as those initial capabilities were, the team needed to create additional connectivity to bridge the gap until full repairs to the infrastructure on the base could be made. A few days later, DLA Information Operations dispatched Richard Shumway and Charles Hatter from New Cumberland to Albany, to assess the network infrastructure damage and help restore connectivity.

They assessed the damage and worked with Robert Davis, Local Area Network Management North East Region team lead, and technicians Dustin Kramer and Bob Young to restore services to the buildings, which had lost connectivity due to damaged fiber cable. 

“We’re not typically a part of a disaster or emergency response team,” Kramer said. “However, given the circumstances, we knew we could get the site back on the network … so they could keep working.”

Shumway described the scene as he drove into the Albany area and onto the base.

“Driving into the Depot, I was amazed at what I encountered,” he said. “Traffic was backed up, traffic lights not working, power lines and poles down, along with many trees that were destroyed. Homes and businesses along the route were in shambles. 

“Once on base, there was so much debris it was hard to navigate,” Shumway continued. “Vehicles were flipped over, windshields broken, power poles bent over and destroyed, trees uprooted and tin structures were torn apart. The brick warehouses appeared to survive but many of the roll up doors were damaged and destroyed.”

The team quickly developed a plan to create the backbone of a wireless mesh network from building 1221 to the outlying buildings, whose fiber-optic cable was damaged. They decided to mount nine wireless access points on masts above the buildings’ rooflines. The team would integrate this backbone mesh into each building’s existing internal network to connect the rest of the equipment and restore full function to each building.

The team spent long hours each day climbing on roofs and between rafters, pulling cable and configuring equipment. They had to deal with no lights, no heat, and debris scattered across the base. But within a week, they restored connectivity to all buildings, and the site was back in operation.

One of the important systems the CIT Team focused on was the Distribution Standard System, an automated information system that manages all functional processes used in DLA’s warehouses. These processes include receiving, storage, consolidation, packing, shipping, inventory, inspection and workload management.

A main problem was a lack of power to any buildings within DLA Distribution at the site. DLA Troop Support came to the rescue, providing generators to help DDAG address the most pressing concern.

The CIT Team continued to provide local site support and expeditionary communications for about two weeks until the wireless mesh was fully operational.

Overall, the cost of repairing all the damage to MCB Albany was $38-$40 million, not including equipment and the fiber-optic network.

DDAG started receiving trucks on Feb. 4 and returned to full operation. 

All DDAG employees reported to work Monday, Jan. 30 — only eight days after the tornado. And by Feb. 4, DDAG returned to meeting 100 percent of the requirements from its largest customer on base, Marine Corps Logistics Command, thanks in great part to the efforts and expertise of the deployed Information Operations team.

Dawn Bonsell of DLA Distribution Public Affairs contributed to this article.