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Maxwell Virtual Ops Center becomes AF ‘Best Practice'

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The Virtual Operations Center, or VOC, currently being used at Maxwell-Gunter was named an Air Force Best Practice for 2009, and its creator was chosen as a "Top 10 Performer" for his efforts at the Air Education and Training Command Symposium in January.

Using existing Sharepoint software, Maj. Scott Loller, the deputy chief of the 42nd Air Base Wing Plans and Programs office, developed a virtual method to manage information during emergency situations and base exercises.

"We've been using the VOC for about a year and were able to showcase it at the AETC Symposium," he said. "Air Force Instruction 10-2501 requires every base to have a VOC, but it doesn't provide the software for the center. So, I took Sharepoint and built a VOC that satisfied all the requirements."

Rand Singleton, a command and control analyst as well as a common operational picture subject matter expert who is assisting with the VOC program, said Major Loller modified the Sharepoint software, and the template he designed is being used by more than 40 Air Force bases worldwide. At present, Major Loller's program is the interim standard for the Air Force.

"Everyone I've talked to likes the versatility of the VOC," he said. "I have had a couple more bases say they are interested in developing a VOC."

Major Loller said Sharepoint is a Microsoft application that all AETC bases already have, so there is nothing to buy and it's no cost to the base. He said, in addition, it is a Web-based collaboration tool that can be used by everyone with permission to use it at all times.

Teri Baker, 42nd ABW Plans and Programs chief, said the VOC program has been extremely useful for a number of projects, especially for the base's Emergency Operations Center.

"Before the EOC had the VOC, we had to fax information to people and wait for replies. Now, we can make real-time decisions based on real-time inputs with virtually no delay," she said.

Ms. Baker said during one of the hurricanes last fall that brought evacuees to Maxwell-Gunter, the program was very valuable.

"The VOC allowed people to think ahead and develop courses of action, and that got a lot of people quickly out of harm's way," she said. "We had a large influx of people coming to the base, a fact immediately obvious to those involved because of the VOC, and that allowed them to make decisions on how many shelters would be needed. The VOC really reduced the confusion a situation like that can cause."

Another aspect of the program is the elimination of wasted time, effort and money that puts the program in line with Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century goals. Major Loller estimates that each base using his template is saving about $100,000 in software and development costs, and that amounts to a total savings of about $4 million for all 40 bases.

Dr. Phil Chansler, Air University's Lean Business Office director, said the major is going though the AFSO21 certification process, and the VOC fits right into that process.

"He needed to be able to facilitate a group of people through a problem, and he was able to use his AFSO21 certification training to make the VOC a better product," he said.

Dr. Chansler said the VOC removes waste from the energy management process and allows people to focus on adding value to the process by more efficiently and effectively accomplishing the mission. Also, when you remove waste in a process, it tends to save resources.

"Also, when you use less people and resources in a process, it tends to save money," he said. "At the wing level, however, most importantly, you are giving Airmen back their time by ridding the process of waste."

Another satisfied customer is Deborah Root, chief of the Combat Support Division for the 42nd Services Division. She said the VOC allows multiple users immediate access to critical information, and it eliminates the delay and human error factor in transferring on scene information to support response agencies.

"The VOC eliminates the headache of creating and filing multiple documents during accountability drills," she said. "It drastically reduces the coordination process and saves resources, such as telephone lines, for more critical functions. At the end of the day, you have a perfect repository of information."

Major Loller said another advantage of the VOC is accessibility.

"People can be at home, on temporary duty or deployed and still participate in the 'war,'" he said. "Also, once the VOCs are in place, the system could go Air Force-wide by simply hubbing all the VOCs together."

The major said changes on the site do not require a programmer, just plain text entries, and all information pertaining to an event is in one place. He said one drawback is that some people are worried everyone will be so concentrated on computers and the VOC, there will not be any cross-talk between members.

"Setting the program up is easy. I built one site from scratch in a day and a half," Major Loller said. "The only problem I had was figuring out how I wanted to organize the site."