AFTAC’s Vital Nuke Mission Continued Uninterrupted Despite Threat from Hurricane Dorian

By  //  September 11, 2019

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Air Force Technical Applications Center relocated its vital 24/7 nuclear treaty monitoring mission

Master Sgt. Michael Scheetz (right), a heating, ventilation and air conditioning project programmer at the Air Force Technical Applications Center, shows AFTAC commander Col. Chad Hartman how he and the recovery response team brought the nuclear treaty monitoring center’s HVAC system back online Sept. 5, 2019, after the organization shut down ahead of Hurricane Dorian at Patrick AFB, Fla.  Also pictured is Master Sgt. Chris Gaskill, AFTAC’s power production project programmer.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA – With a potential Category 5 hurricane barreling toward their headquarters building, the Air Force Technical Applications Center relocated its vital 24/7 nuclear treaty monitoring mission to an alternate location to ensure uninterrupted operations for national decision-makers.

Early forecasts had Hurricane Dorian making landfall over the Labor Day weekend on Florida’s Space Coast, home to Patrick AFB and AFTAC, so senior installation leaders took swift steps to ensure the safety and well-being of its residents, workers, equipment and resources.

AFTAC senior leadership meticulously went over checklists and requirements in order to safeguard the center’s ability to provide direct technical, analytical and evaluative support in the event of a global nuclear detonation or test.

“Ours is a critical, ‘round-the-clock’ mission, and that requirement continues even when a storm is heading our way,” said Col. Chad Hartman, AFTAC commander.

“As the Department of Defense’s sole agency that operates and maintains a global network of nuclear event detection sensors, we have an indispensable obligation to continuously provide senior authorities with up-to-the-minute data associated with worldwide nuclear activities.”

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Because of that fundamental role, Hartman ordered the deployment of an operations continuity team to an alternate facility three days prior to Dorian’s anticipated landfall.

The team of subject matter experts seamlessly transitioned AFTAC’s nuclear surveillance mission, despite the threat to their families and their own homes from the storm.

AFTAC’s team of skilled experts executed its Continuity of Operations, known as a COOP, maintained the capability to perform essential functions with no impact or disruption to the mission.

Rob Atherton (left) and Mike Selig, both members of the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron, Patrick AFB, Fla., help bring the Air Force Technical Applications Center back online after the nuclear treaty monitoring center evacuated during Hurricane Dorian Sept. 5, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

The alternate site was equipped with a full complement of network and information technology connectivity in order to accommodate AFTAC’s unique operational needs.

Led by 709th Surveillance and Analysis Group commander Col. Andy Steffen, the AFTAC COOP Team provided persistent, uninterrupted vigilance to monitor treaty compliance and oversight to AFTC’s overall global surveillance mission.

Throughout Dorian’s westward Atlantic track, the treaty monitoring experts worked non-stop, and the center’s senior leaders kept non-essential personnel informed at their respective evacuation locations through social media, email and group texts.

Once the storm passed and the installation allowed mission-essential personnel to conduct a sweep of base facilities, AFTAC recovery teams inspected the center’s facilities to assess any potential storm damage.

AFTAC’s command chief had nothing but praise for the center’s workforce.

“I was beyond impressed of the work ethics the men and women of AFTAC displayed from start to finish,” said Chief Master Sgt. Amy Long.

“When the news first broke that Patrick AFB was in the ‘cone of uncertainty’ for landfall of this monster storm, Colonel Hartman and I were out of town, but we saw the team come together in every way to get the job done, and it is a testament to the resilience and conscientiousness of our Airmen, including our family members.”

Members were permitted to return to duty Sept. 9 after response teams reconnected the building’s communications capabilities and the mission was transferred back to the AFTAC Operations Center at Patrick.

Hartman extended his thanks not only to his own AFTAC team, but also to the members of the 45th Space Wing, Patrick AFB’s host organization.

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“I can’t say enough about the tremendous partnership we share with Brig. Gen. (Doug) Schiess and his crew here at Patrick,” said Hartman.

“AFTAC employs a team of teams philosophy and the 45th Space Wing was an incredible teammate throughout the entire event.”

Hartman and Long weren’t alone in their praise for those who weathered the storm.

“I’m extremely proud of the way Airmen responded to Hurricane Dorian,” said Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command.

“You worked extra hours to safeguard your teammates, their facilities, and equipment and responded selflessly to the needs of people who needed help. Well done!”