JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — When a natural disaster or real-world event impacts the Total Force, two branches at the Air Force’s Personnel Center come together to provide comprehensive support: the Airman and Family Support Branch and the Personnel Readiness Branch.
Both branches sprang into action during 2017’s vicious hurricane season says Angela Cottman, Airman and Family Support Branch Crisis Support Program manager.
“By following the live news coverage of recent hurricanes, we were able to target support to potential impact areas and help more Air Force personnel,” Cottman said.
Among her many duties, Cottman oversees Air Force Personnel Accountability and Assessment System training for more than 1,000 case managers at more than 80 Airman and Family Readiness Centers, various command headquarters, as well as Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve offices.
AFPAAS is a self-reporting tool that monitors the status and location of personnel and family members who may be affected by a catastrophic event that has potential for widespread injury or death.
“Even before the AFPAAS notifications went out for Hurricane Irma, people were looking for information on evacuation routes, shelter locations and transportation,” Cottman said. “Because Irma had the potential to impact both coasts of Florida, our team and members of the Personnel Readiness Branch wanted to be proactive, so we pushed the needs assessments first before the activation of the personnel accountability piece.”
Normally, needs assessments are the second part of the AFPAAS process where people in affected areas can identify their needs after they account for themselves and their affected family members in the system.
The needs are divided into 19 categories that range from housing and child care to legal services and financial assistance.
As assessments were entered into AFPAAS for Irma, Airman and Family Support Branch members reviewed each of the 279 cases to determine the most appropriate Airman and Family Readiness Center to provide support.
“Airman and Family Readiness Centers located as far away as California provided assistance during this event,” Cottman said. “It doesn’t matter where the case manager is located since our support capabilities are worldwide. They are all trained to provide support, information and referrals through AFPAAS.”
Assessing family needs is only one portion of AFPAAS. The system is also used by the Air Force to account for members and their families. When a disaster occurs, the AFPAAS process usually begins with personnel accountability. Personnel Readiness Branch members build an accountability event and activate the system for the affected geographical area of interest. Email and text notifications are then sent out to Total Force Airmen and civilians in the impacted area alerting them to log in at https://afpaas.af.mil and account for themselves and their family members.
Members can use their smartphones to log into the AFPAAS website via a user ID and password. New or updated password and username information can be obtained or established on the desktop site. Total Force personnel include active duty, Guard, Reserve, government service, nonappropriated fund employees and immediate family members.
The Personnel Readiness Branch serves as the Air Force focal point for all personnel actions required to support crisis situations and natural disasters.
Edsel Walker, Personnel Readiness Branch chief, said most events are established as Air Force-wide events, so commanders can account for personnel on leave or on temporary duty in affected geographical areas.
“AFPAAS allows commanders to account for and manage their personnel,” Walker said. “This accountability information is critical when a large scale disaster occurs.”
The goal is for commanders at all levels to have 100 percent accountability within 48 hours after an AFPAAS event is initiated. After the initial 48 hours, the branch’s staff members begin contacting readiness offices at the major commands who are still at less than 100 percent.
“Our folks usually go above and beyond to ensure the correct information is available Air Force-wide and that as many people as possible receive assisistance,” said Walker. “When calls to the readiness cell were dropped during hurricanes Irma and Harvey, our staff members used their personal cell phones to return the calls and assist customers.”
When a crisis occurs, Walker’s staff provides 24/7 operational support. During Irma, branch personnel established contact with more than 114,000 Airmen and achieved 99.94 percent accountability.
“Whenever there is a crisis situation, it requires everyone involved from the accountability and needs assessment teams to come together to help displaced Airmen and their families,” said Walker. “It is definitely a team effort.”
Individuals who do not have computer access to AFPAAS should contact their Unit Control Center, Command Officer Representative or Installation Personnel Readiness Office. IPR offices unable to update AFPAAS will contact their major command’s readiness office. MAJCOM offices should call AFPC’s readiness cell at 800-435-9941 or DSN 665-2020 if they are unable to perform AFPAAS updates.
For more information, Airmen can visit myPers and enter “AFPAAS” in the search menu.