For release: 05/16/02
Release #: 02-122
Marshall's 'Mr. Emergency' calls the shots during severe weather
When the skies darken, Pete Allen lights the emergency management team at the Marshall Center into action. Whether it's snow and ice that may shut Marshall down, or severe weather such as tornadoes that can immediately threaten the safety of employees, Allen - known as "Mr. Emergency" at the Center - and his team go to work, reading the latest data from a high-tech forecast center.
Photo: Pete Allen works with the emergency response team (NASA/MSFC)
Peter W. “Pete” Allen saw twisting spirals of red, yellow and green with every sweep of the weather radar on his monitor screen.
Volunteer storm spotters across NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., were calling in reports. It was almost 4 p.m. commuting time for employees. Tornadoes were reported touching down less than 20 miles west of Marshall.
Allen double-checked the eyewitness information with the data on banks of computers and TV monitors. He had to make a decision that would affect the lives of some 6,500 people. And he had to do it quickly.
That storm occurred about five years ago, but the scenario is a recurring one. Making safety decisions is Allen’s everyday job. Nicknamed “Mr. Emergency,” he is the Marshall Center’s director of emergency management a post he’s held since 1997.
Allen’s responsibilities at the Marshall Center include “basically any event that requires an emergency response,” he said. “It’s my job to assure Marshall has a sharp emergency management response program.”
The NASA center is home to many rocket scientists and engineers conducting a wide range of research designing ways to do things that have never been done. In their work, emergencies do occur: chemicals can react in unexpected ways; fires may erupt.
But Allen’s profile is raised when severe weather threatens be it snow and ice which may shut down the Marshall Center or severe weather such as tornadoes that can immediately threaten the safety of employees.
When threatening weather is forecast, Allen and members of his team gather in the Emergency Operations Center a cluster of bunker-like basement rooms in a Marshall building. There, a row of phones is lined up on a conference table, flanked by evacuation maps on the walls. Television monitors are not only tuned to local weather, but also give closed-circuit views of Marshall. Computers with flickering radar screens complete the scene.
“You’re dealing with people’s lives, so you have to be extra careful,” Allen said. “We tend to make decisions on the conservative side because of that.”
Now with severe weather season having arrived when thunderstorms can produce tornadoes or winds of immense force Allen said part of his goal is to make sure all employees are aware that weather situations can develop rapidly.
Since that day several years ago when tornadoes threatened Marshall, Allen’s team has gone through many drills. That day, he said, was the most serious his team has faced. “We had evacuated everybody to their protective areas. We had reports of tornadoes at the Redstone Arsenal borders.” Marshall occupies numerous buildings on the federal installation on Huntsville’s western edge.
One of the protective areas where employees gathered was outside the doors to the Emergency Operations Center. It was loud in the hallway, filled with people, some constantly knocking on the door wanting information.
“We were dealing with a lot of touchdowns,” Allen said. “Then, all of a sudden, it was quiet outside the door.”
When he checked, Allen discovered the hallways empty everyone had left. “The danger was still there but people ignored the danger and left.”
Fortunately, no employee was injured during the ordeal.
“One of your goals in any emergency situation is to minimize injury or loss of life,” Allen said. “Thankfully, we haven’t had to deal with either scenario at Marshall.”
Allen credits the
“top notch Emergency Operations team for helping make Marshall a safe place to work.
It’s a strong, cohesive, well-trained and well-functioning team,” he said. “Ultimately, they are the ones that make all of our emergency management activities successful.”
Allen began his career at Marshall in 1987 and was named deputy emergency management director in 1995. A native of Auburn, Ala., he graduated from Auburn University in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He earned a master’s in management from the Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Fla., in 1992.
Formerly manager of Marshall’s Facilities Engineering Department, Allen is now helping establish an Integrated Customer Support Department. It includes integrating the facilities management, logistics, information technology management, protective services and environmental engineering functions.
In 2001, he was selected as a NASA Fellowship recipient and completed the program, “Leading with Impact: Linking People, Strategy, Results,” at Pennsylvania State University.
Allen is married and has two children. He began working at Marshall in 1987.
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