Redstone Arsenal Showing Resilience in the Time of COVID-19

Last Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced a new “Safer at Home” order to replace her March “Stay at Home” order. The new edict relaxed some of the restrictions put into place to help flatten the curve of infection caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Garrison Commander Col. Kelsey Smith

It allowed more businesses to open Monday, as long as they adhere to policies put forth by the CDC, the Alabama Department of Public Health and federal guidelines to ensure the wellness and safety of their customers.

Redstone Arsenal has stood in solidarity with the cities of Huntsville and Madison, and the dozens of communities from which they draw their 40,000-plud daily workforce. They began synchronizing their COVID-19-related policies to mirror those of the communities surrounding them. From six feet apart social distancing to closing all nonessential businesses and activities and enforcing the wearing of face masks when out in public; the arsenal garrison has also kept a watchful eye on hospital treatment capabilities in Huntsville, Athens, and Florence.

Key to their commitment to the people of Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal relies as much on bed space, personal protection equipment, and other mission essential capabilities as the communities that support them.

Redstone Arsenal has about 7.8 million square feet of administrative or office space and the workforce shares common-use space.

What has life been like on Redstone Arsenal, and how will it look beginning May 19 going forward?

“Some of the steps we’ve taken are very similar to what businesses around the community are doing, as well as what the governor has suggested,” said Redstone Arsenal Garrison Commander Col. Kelsey A. Smith. “We did occupational health assessments of our buildings with the intent of spacing people out and creating that six-foot physical distance between people.

“We have gone through with our contracting partners to clean all that workspace and disinfect those areas, and we put up signs that designate when that cubicle or those offices were last cleaned. The idea being to allay workforce concern as they come into work.”

Smith said their intent has been to minimize the workforce’s opportunity to gather in large groups, leading to the closing of all dining facilities except for take-out. MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Benefits) runs the cafeterias, sports facilities and activities, the Pagano Gym, Redstone Arsenal Links at Redstone golf course, as well as the Automotive Skills Center.

The garrison closed the Auto Skills Center and golf course to minimize their interactions. Golf, Smith said, is a socially distancing sport but, for every person that comes onto the course, there are still 20 people at work who are exposed.

“For me to move workforce out of harm’s way, we minimized the workforce and reduced both ancillary and amenity benefits and trimmed ourselves down to mission essentials,” he said.

“I would tell you that like any businessman or woman, I would certainly like to open up my revenue-generating organizations. But my first job is to protect the health, safety, security and welfare of the population, no matter how much we want to get out and play golf or go bowling.

“Until we see this virus isn’t virulently spreading, and we can actually bring people together in groups of greater than 10 without that happening, I will be reticent to opening up any MWR on the installation.”

He said for essential face-to-face customer service benefits where a customer and an employee come into direct contact and can’t keep a 6-foot distance, they have installed plexiglass shields.

As some restrictions were lifted Monday, Smith said they will begin a conditions-based but methodical four-phase plan to reopening.

“We will provide some goal-setting of increasing to 25 to 35 percent of the population; 40 to 45 percent in phase two; then 60 to 75 percent,” he said. “We may begin restoring ancillary benefits that support our mission-essential functions, but that will depend on our constant monitoring how the virus performs within the entire community.”

He said they are providing some goals for tenants to attain if they need to. Included in those are teleworkers.

“Telework has become much more effectual, especially since we brought some systems onboard for the Army that allow as to be more cooperative at a distance” Smith said. “We may not see the same growth we might have seen before because we can still get the outputs we’re looking for with a more reduced footprint.

“I’m not saying those jobs disappear, but we may be able to see multiple days of telework for an employee versus five days a week on the arsenal.

“What we have laid out is a template for all the tenants based on what the installation can provide, so we’re looking forward to tenants providing us with their growth template. That will allow me to look at the demand so we can produce the capacity to do that.

“We know our workforce is going to go home at night. They are going to go to Lowe’s. They are going to go eat at a restaurant. They may even come onto contact with the virus, so we need to monitor what we consider the enemy – COVID-19 – and make sure we don’t expose too much of the population too quickly.”

Smith said despite Ivey’s most recent statement, he doesn’t expect to see significant growth.

“I wouldn’t expect to see significant growth until we hit phase two and then we may see a 25 percent growth in the number of personnel, we bring on the Arsenal,” he said. “We bring on about 10,000 people now and by phase two, we may see as many as 20,000 individuals trying to come in, but we will work out capacity ahead of time to be able to deal with that throughput.”

He also likes the idea of wearing the masks because it reminds others, they are doing something for a reason.

Cloth face masks will be required at some places, even after reopening, especially to enter the commissary, PX or any of the public facilities, but each entity will have their own restrictions.

“I caution our tenants that all the custodians don’t walk around with every organization’s specific limitations so different buildings may have different restrictions.” he said. “You may require a face mask at our facilities but not at another. On some installations I’ve seen screening stations at the entrances of the installation, in front of the PX and the commissary, et cetera; but we found that to be ineffectual unless it is controlled or administered by a health official, so that would really just cost us additional people.

“If an organization wants to do it, I support it, but we’re not going to provide them the manpower to do it. Our custodians have to be able to get into your building to clean so as long as your organization is in compliance, we are unified on that.”

Meanwhile, construction on the arsenal has continued to soldier on.

“We have (construction) schedules we have to maintain to bring capabilities into play in the future. That means what we do affects a contractor and their ability to come to work,” Smith said.

Construction continues on the FBI facility at Redstone Arsenal.

“The FBI and Redstone projects have not had a slowdown. Contractors are coming onto the installation, they are doing a very good job of screening their own folks, using much the same policies we have: if you are sick, stay at home. Don’t come to work if you think you might have encountered someone infected.”

All the job sites are up and running and you can see it at Redstone Gateway where buildings are continuing to sprout up.

On the secure side, once you enter through Gate 9 on the left, work is continuing. Also, at Gate 9 headed south on the right as drivers gain access to I-565, there is a lot of prep work for more construction activity, and they will be working the last week of May to get it repaved.

He said in many cases, the traffic slowdown has allowed them to take advantage of opportunities to pave roads such as Patton Roade.

“We have closed Gate 3 in the vicinity of Redstone Road to Hays Farm because we didn’t need that access,” Smith said. “That closure has allowed us to do quite a bit of the paving out there, and it looks like the demand doesn’t require us to get back in Gate 3 until mid-May or late May when we’ll be able to complete that.

“I’d like to say the Zierdt Road project has moved forward a lot, but the reduction in traffic has certainly allowed it to continue moving steadily forward.”

Smith said they are tracking the number of COVID-19 cases on the arsenal, but DoD doesn’t allow him to share those numbers because they are reported with the city’s numbers through the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“I can tell you that all but about one-eighth of those we are tracking have recovered, and the remainder of them remain in quarantine,” he said. “None have been hospitalized.

“Something gets lost when you follow the daily ticker tape of the overall numbers. I would like to be able to see alongside those numbers, the recovery rate because that would be helpful and maybe provide some encouragement to the population. We are tracking very closely, the local case rate. If we report today, we have 14 cases, but yesterday we had 20 and tomorrow we only have 10, that signifies what we’re doing is working well.”

Privacy Officials Call for Cautious Telework Practices

By Lisa Simunaci, www.army.mil

As the COVID-19 situation means more employees are teleworking, Army privacy officials are calling for caution when it comes to transmitting personally identifiable information, or PII.

“Employees are trying to be inclusive and keep each other abreast of circumstances as teleworking expands across our organizations,” said Beth-Anne Ward, the privacy program manager for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command.

Personal Identifying information is any information about an individual which can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity. PII includes information such as rank, name, Social Security number, date and place of birth, mother’s maiden name, biometric data, and financial or medical records. Failure to properly protect PII could result in significant harm to individuals, to include embarrassment, inconvenience, financial loss, identity theft, and other types of distress.

“While we are limiting face-to-face discussions and relying more heavily on email, we must add that extra layer of attention and think things through before we push send,” Ward said. “Exposed PII puts both individuals and the command at risk.”

Ward cautions those who deal with this type of information to carefully consider who they copy on emails, particularly when high-impact information, such as Social Security numbers, are involved.

“Think about who really needs to have that information,” Ward said. “We must be cognizant of all recipients and limit the distribution to those with a need to know.”

Email that includes PII must be encrypted and the subject heading must include “FOUO – PII” or “UNCLASSIFIED//FOUO PROTECTED BY PRIVACY ACT.” The subject marking calls attention to the email content, and hopefully prevents careless forwarding to those without a need to know, Ward said.

“PII data elements require protective handling and safeguarding,” Ward said. “We are reminding our workforce about those data levels to protect peoples’ private information and decrease the risk of data breaches.”

Along with emails, many employees are turning to SharePoint to boost collaboration. Ward cautions that those who need to use SharePoint for PII must contact administrators to ensure their site is secured.

“Otherwise, Social Security numbers do not belong on SharePoint,” she said.

“Protecting sensitive information is everyone’s business,” said AMCOM Chief of Staff Col. Rick Zampelli. “Anyone who suspects a breach or receives unencrypted PII should report it to privacy officials.”

Ward agreed.

“Breaches have a negative effect,” Ward said. “However, we know mistakes happen. I encourage people to report so we can minimize the impact.”

AUSA Cancels Global Force Symposium

Following the Association of the United States Army announcement that the 2020 Global Force Symposium & Exposition has officially been cancelled due to the ongoing public health threat, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau  offered reassurances that the Rocket City remains a welcoming destination for conferences, tradeshows, and other events.

The Global Force Symposium is one of the largest conferences Huntsville hosts annually, bringing together more than 6,000 attendees and representing an estimated $3.6 million in economic impact.

“We understand AUSA’s desire to prioritize the health and safety of their delegates, and look forward to welcoming them in 2021. Going forward, the CVB will continue to work with our hospitality partners and public health officials to ensure that the health and safety of our visitors remains a top priority,” said Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the CVB. “Supporting our local hospitality industry is also of utmost importance – as travel is impacted, we encourage our residents to explore their own backyard and be patrons to our Huntsville/Madison County restaurants, attractions, hotels, and others.”

Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions, said the CVB has worked closely with AUSA over the past year.

“AUSA has long been a close partner of the CVB, and we will continue to provide support for them in all ways that we can,” Koshofer said. “2021 is right around the corner, and we look forward to bringing that business back to the Rocket City.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he is disappointed in the cancellation but the city and AUSA have a strong partnership.

“The City of Huntsville has developed a great partnership with AUSA over the past several years,” Battle said. “While we share in the disappointment of the community, we respect their decision to make the health of AUSA members, participants and our citizens a top priority.

“We will continue to work with them and look forward to seeing AUSA in Huntsville in the coming years.”

Currently, there have been no official reported coronavirus cases in Alabama.

Ardent Preschool & Daycare Breaks Ground at Redstone Gateway

Ardent Preschool & Daycare recently broke ground for its facility at Redstone Gateway.

Redstone Gateway is a mixed-use office and technology park outside Redstone Arsenal‘s Gate 9. Redstone Arsenal is the nation’s preeminent center for logistics services, space operations and missile defense, intelligence and homeland defense, and R&D testing and development.

The school will serve community families and those commuting to the office park or the Arsenal. The 22,000-square-foot facility will be the seventh location opened by the “2019 Best of Birmingham — Preschool and Daycare” award recipient.

We are excited to work once again with TurnerBatson on the innovative new model for Ardent Preschool that will be built outside of Redstone Arsenal,” said Ardent CEO John LaBreche. “The two new locations recently built in the Hoover area have been well-received by parents seeking the highest quality of care for their children.

“Our goal is to offer parents in the Huntsville area a childcare experience that will be a delight for the entire family.”

The Redstone Gateway school will house 18 classrooms for children ages six weeks through kindergarten allowing teachers ample room to educate, lead Bible lessons, and plan arts and crafts activities. Classrooms will be equipped with interactive smart boards to encourage student involvement and allow teachers one-on-one training with their students.

The campus will provide secure entrances with high definition cameras and a state-of -the-art security system. Other amenities include a splash pad, four age-appropriate outdoor play areas with sunshades, and multicolored rubberized play surfaces.

The general contractor is Murray Building Company and TJ Lee with Leeland Ventures will be the local developer bringing more than 25 years of experience to the industry.

Q&A with Sen. Jones: On Military Spending, Families and the Widows’ Tax

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) recently sat down with the Huntsville Business Journal at Huntsville West and discussed several issues important to our state and nation. This is the final installment of five reports from the interview. Today’s topic is the military and military families.

HBJ: Huntsville is a military town, nicknamed “Pentagon South.” Tell us what is going on with military spending and families.

 

Sen. Doug Jones met with the Huntsville Business Journal in the Huntsville West co-working collaborative community. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Sen. Jones: I’m on the Armed Services Committee. Alabama is extremely important to the nation’s security and our military forces. One of the things that we are trying to do, working with the administration, is to upgrade our military forces across the board.

We’ve got to spend money to upgrade what they call the “nuclear triad” of missiles for protection. We’ve got to upgrade submarines, planes, you name it. It’s all aging and we’re going to have to spend some money.

What we’re looking at now, is a whole new area of potential war and conflict. It’s not just in the air or sea or land anymore; it’s in space. This year, in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), we’ve created the Space Force. I’m hoping the Space Command will come here to Huntsville. That decision is going to come relatively soon.

The other thing I’ve focused was families, our servicemen and women. There’s a 3.1 percent increase this year in the salaries for service members, which is the first one they’ve had in a while.

We’ve also done things to put extra money into education, trying to help the kids of service members that move around a lot, and also for kids with disabilities.

We’ve done things for military spouses. Military spouses often have professional certifications that are hard to transfer when they move. We’re trying to do things to make that certification transfer easier.

HBJ: What piece of military legislation stands out for you?

Sen. Jones: The biggest thing that I’m proudest of, after a 30-year fight, is the work that I did in the Senate this year to get the military widows’ tax eliminated for good. It was a really, really big deal.

Sen. Jones on widows’ tax: “Getting this tax eliminated was more than just a job for us, it was a mission; it was a cause.”

Although it only affects some 2,000 people in Alabama, it’s 2,000 people that are now going to get $1,200-$1,500 a month more.

There was a statutory set of money that the VA has administered for a long time.

Those funds were to be distributed to widows when a service member dies in combat or of a service-related injury. In many cases, service members buy additional insurance to provide additional benefits for their families. That money is administered by the Department of Defense and it’s something that service members pay for – out of their own pockets.

About 35  years ago, Congress passed legislation allowing the Department of Defense and the VA to offset the two.

If a widow was entitled to both pots of money, they’d only get 55 percent. This means money that service members have paid into – was going to the Department of Defense and staying there.

I didn’t know about it, never heard about it and then some of the Gold Star widows came to us and talked about it.

I just about blew a gasket. How can that be?

They showed me that it has been tried for 20 years to overturn and I told them, “This year, we’re going to do something different.”

It’s a commitment that was made to our service members that the federal government and Congress has fallen down on. Getting this tax eliminated was more than just a job for us, it was a mission; it was a cause. Everyone in the office chipped in; we ended up getting close to 80 co-sponsors in a very partisan senate.

I got Susan Collins (R-Maine) to co-sponsor it with me in the Senate. Together, we got so many co-sponsors, we organized it like a political campaign.

Every recess, every town hall, there was somebody there, asking about the military widows’ tax.

It got to the point that when it went up to Congress, the negotiators for the NDAA said, “We’ve just got do this.”

When it passed, there were about 25 to 30 of those Gold Star widows up in the gallery.

It was awesome. It was really, really awesome.

I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never been with a group of people so appreciative of an act of Congress as those military widows, it has been remarkable.