AT&T brings Nimitz crew, families closer

AT&T Government Markets has developed an FTS 2000-based interactive voice-response system that the USS Nimitz supercarrier used during a recent deployment to help close the information gap between the 6,000 crew members and their families.

Capt. Alfred Harms, the Nimitz's commanding officer, said AT&T's CARELINE system "has done more for bridging the inevitable gap between a ship and its extended family than anything I've seen in my 10 years of command of a ship or a squadron."

The Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, returned last month from a six-month Western Pacific deployment. This included a "showing the flag" exercise in the Taiwan Straits earlier this year, when mainland China tested missiles by firing them into impact areas near Taiwan.

The Nimitz CARELINE is based on AT&T's InfoWorx network-based, interactive voice-response system, according to Jim Callaghan, InfoWorx product manager for the AT&T Government Markets. InfoWorx storage and processing nodes reside on the AT&T network in New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.

InfoWorx allowed family members of the Nimitz crew to use a toll-free number that connected them to CARELINE over the FTS 2000 network. Once into the system, families could access up-to-date information about the ship, its deployment schedule and whether it was heading into a dangerous area.

Before setting up the InfoWorx system, the Nimitz used one telephone answering machine that could only handle one incoming call at a time.

"This was a terribly inefficient means of getting important messages to a group of people conservatively estimated as high as several thousand, perhaps as high as 5,000 to 10,000, when you consider all the extended families and friends," Harms said.

CARELINE, by comparison, can handle up to 300 inbound calls simultaneously, Callaghan explained, and can also route calls for help to a command ombudsman in real time. Harms said timely information is "one of the most important factors in easing the anxieties and frustrations of military service.... [CARELINE] is the first system that gives families and extended families real-time access to true, accurate information concerning the ship, their sailor or Marine."

Callaghan explained that Harms and his wife Gina made CARELINE a family project, with the CO phoning in updated information to his wife, who then updated the information available to the crew, adding yet another personal touch to the system.

"The captain would call or fax his wife with new information. We provided her with an '800' number and a password, and that allowed her to access the system and do the update," Callaghan said.

A number of federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Education Department and the U.S. Postal Service, use InfoWorx on FTS 2000 for Service to the Citizen programs. The Nimitz, he added, is the first Navy ship to use InfoWorx.

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