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    NY National Guardsman manning call center to fight COVID-19

    Operation COVID-19

    Photo By Senior Airman Sean Madden | Members of the New York Army National Guard discuss procedures at the Coronavirus...... read more read more



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell 

    New York National Guard

    LATHAM, N.Y., (March 31, 2020) — Nearly 100 New York National Guard Airmen and Soldiers from have been staffing three call centers as part of New York State’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    The Guardsmen are taking phone calls placed to New York’s Novel Coronavirus Hotline, answering questions and concerns about COVID-19 at call centers in Brooklyn, Rotterdam and Schenectady. Guard Soldiers also staffed a call center which was set up in Hawthorne in the Hudson Valley for two weeks.

    Along with the other unique challenges presented by the virus, taking phone calls from residents of New York is a first for the New York National Guardsmen.

    Guard Soldiers and Airmen traditionally turn out in emergencies to deliver supplies, clear roads, make health and wellness checks or provide traffic control points. The COVID-19 response has 2,700 Guard Airmen and Soldiers undertaking new tasks like taking samples at COVID-19 testing centers and putting up a hospital.

    Working in the call centers is a truly unique mission, said Maj. Gen. Timothy LaBarge, the commander of the New York Air National Guard after visiting the Rotterdam center.

    “COVID-19 is a unique situation that directly threatens our communities,” said Army 1st Lt. Michel Flickinger, the officer in charge of the Schenectady call center. “Although staffing a call center is not what many of us foresaw when we joined the National Guard, it is a way for us to assist our fellow citizens and connect them with the information they need.”

    Soldiers assigned to the 53rd Troop Command, operating out of Camp Smith Training Site, were the first ones tasked with a call center mission. The state set up a call center in the Hudson Valley Transportation Center in Hawthorne beginning on March 11.

    When that call center was collapsed, the Soldiers who had worked at the Hawthorne center moved to the center in Rotterdam.

    The call centers have seen a vast fluctuation in daily calls as new information is put out by political leaders, explained Army 1st Lt. Amanda Hart, the officer in charge of the Rotterdam call center.

    “The fluctuation is usually somewhere between 5,000 to the highest which was approximately 28,000,” Hart said. “It is a grand total to date of approximately 260,000 calls in the past couple weeks.”

    The Soldiers and Airmen are not working the call centers by themselves. Around 590 people—--mostly state employees who work in call centers or handle calls from home— are also answering the state’s 1-888-364-3065 information number.

    But the Guard call-takers have played a big part, according to state officials.

    Before the Guardsmen showed up, wait times on hold to speak to someone at the call centers was over an hour, explained Army Staff Sgt. Michael Alvarez, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Rotterdam call center.

    Alvarez said they all realize how crucial the information is that the call centers are providing.

    “When we first arrived and before we got started, call volumes and wait times were through the roof,” Alvarez said. “As we integrated into the call center they drastically dropped and leveled out ensuring stress and anxiety of the public were being helped tremendously.”

    “Knowing test sites and areas, also guidelines on what to do if known symptoms are showing,” Alvarez said. “Professionalism and honesty will end up saving lives and I think we have been on the right path to that.”

    “We’ve made a huge impact on the call center,” Hart said. “Within a couple days of getting there we learned that the civilians that also volunteer to do this were doing 16 hour days with no day off and minimal breaks because of the high call volume.”

    With the addition of the Guardsmen into the call centers, average wait time has dropped to around 6 minutes and lowered the stress of the work environment, Hart added.

    Apart from providing information and guidance about COVID-19, the Guardsmen have experienced that some people have simply needed someone to talk to about what they’re experiencing.

    “I’ve had Soldiers tell me that people just called in explaining their symptoms and then at the end of the conversation explain that maybe they just needed someone to talk to about COVID-19,” Hart said.

    Flickinger said that his team have adjusted to these unique circumstances in a way that gives him confidence that they are ready to face whatever comes next.

    For Hart, who joined the Guard from prior service in the active Army, this experience is providing a feeling of service he wasn’t sure he would get in the National Guard.

    “After having a 13 month deployment in Afghanistan on active duty, I was skeptical about going into the National Guard and not being able to participate for my country,” Hart said. "But I was greatly mistaken!”
    Hart said that along with the current state activation for COVID-19, she also participated in the October 2017 response to Hurricane Maria by going to Puerto Rico with elements of the New York National Guard.

    “I’ve definitely found my new passion,” Hart said, “just because you’re not overseas doesn’t mean you’re not giving it all that you can for your country.”

    The Airmen and Soldiers volunteered for state active duty for this mission. They did it because they know the result makes it worth it, the service members agreed.

    “It’s my job to volunteer and help communities, states and my country,” Alvarez said, “every time I put this uniform on no matter how small or big the mission is it’s always about the bigger picture.”

    As of the end of March, New York has 2,750 personnel on missions across the state between the New York Air and Army National Guard, the New York Guard; the State Defense Force and the New York Naval Militia.

    “When this is all over I hope New York, America as a whole will be resilient as they’ve always been and come back stronger than ever, which we all know it will,” Alvarez said. “I’m proud of everyone and every essential worker, nurses, doctors, military, everyone.”



    Date Taken: 03.31.2020
    Date Posted: 03.31.2020 13:57
    Story ID: 366259
    Location: LATHAM, NY, US 

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