Lt. Col. Kenneth C. Blakely: AKO opens virtual community center

Blakely's speedy organization of an online center helped Army staff affected by Hurricane Katrina contact relatives and find shelter.

The day after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Lt. Col. Kenneth Blakely received an urgent task order from Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer. Boutelle asked Blakely to act quickly to establish an online assistance center.

Army staff displaced by the hurricane needed to re-establish contact with family members. Many of them needed financial assistance. Some had to find a place to live.

Three hours after the task order arrived, Blakely’s group in Fort Belvoir, Va., opened the Katrina Information Center on the Army’s intranet Web portal, Army Knowledge Online (AKO).

“Doing things quickly is business as usual — that’s how we’ve been successful,” said Blakely, chief of operations for AKO. But sometimes that meant coordinating at lower levels in the chain of command rather than going higher, he added. “We have selectively ignored certain portions of red tape so that we could make something happen, and we did that in a few cases relative to Katrina.”

As Army personnel escaped the devastated Gulf Coast region and arrived in places where they could use the Internet, the Katrina Information Center gained attention. The number swelled from 1,000 users a day to nearly 20,000 daily users. “It was in heavy use almost a month before we moved it off the front page,” Blakely said.

Through the Katrina Information Center, Army personnel found a new discussion forum — Need Shelter, Have Shelter — which posted offers by other AKO users to provide housing for hurricane evacuees. The center served as a virtual community hall where Army active duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel and their families could use servicewide e-mail, instant messaging, chat room and file storage services. Kenneth Wojcik, business manager for the AKO Program Executive Office, said the Army is now in a good position to quickly establish similar centers “in the next crisis or whatever it might be.”
Katrina evacuees who logged on to the Army’s intranet portal could benefit in many ways from Blakely’s contributions, said Col. Gregory Chasteen, AKO’s director. They could gain access to 144 military applications by typing their user names and passwords once. Blakely established a standard, repeatable protocol for Army applications to take advantage of that single sign-on capability, said Chasteen, who is Blakely’s supervisor.

Blakely “has a unique combination of personal qualities, being highly intelligent and at the same time commonsensical,” Chasteen said. “These two qualities, plus his work ethic and his military qualities, come together in such a valuable package that, I tell you, I’m going to hate to lose him.”

Blakely is as modest as his supervisor is effusive. “If I had a contribution, it was as a proselytizer for single sign-on,” he said. “I made it my mission to make sure that our processes worked correctly, so that if you came to us and asked for that service, we could provide it.”


Photos copyright 2006 Matthew Borkoski

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