DoD Officials Planning, Defining Roles for Disaster Response
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 24, 2006 With hurricane season nearing, the Defense Department has tremendous assets to offer a civilian-led response to a major disaster, a top DoD official involved in the process told reporters here yesterday.
"Those assets are ready for deployment, and ... we are better prepared than at any point in our nation's history to move that assistance as rapidly as is humanly possible," Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said.
DoD defense coordinating officers will be assigned full-time to each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency's regional offices to ensure coordinated planning and operational integration among DoD, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. In addition, DoD can offer aviation assets capable of providing near-real-time damage assessments, McHale said.
Coordination and communications also were issues in the aftermath of 2005's disastrous hurricane season, Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said. In addressing the former concern, significant discussions have led to an understanding between the National Guard and Northern Command about how each will respond to a disaster, he said.
Each of three Northern Command communications units will allow dozens of cell phones to operate from a mobile tower. The command also will distribute hundreds of satellite phones this summer, as it did during Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA also has a new understanding of the nation's communication architecture, George Foresman, undersecretary of FEMA for preparedness, said.
"Our National Communications System ... (has) gone out and mapped the communications architecture," Foresman said. "What that means to us is, in advance of a storm, we will know better what communications assets we need to be able to put on the ground to support state and local systems that may be impacted by the storm."
The National Guard's $800 million interoperable communications package, funded by Congress, also will help alleviate issues faced during the 2005 hurricane season.
"This year we're more ready than we have been in the past," Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said. He added that 376,000 citizen soldiers and airmen are "ready and prepared to respond to whatever comes our way during the hurricane season."
Noting that 17 storms, five considered significant, have been predicted for this hurricane season, Blum said the National Guard knows its role and capabilities.
"There will be no command-and-control issues this year," he said, adding that his troops would work very closely with NORTHCOM's active-duty forces. "Our job is to save lives, not waste time arguing about who's in charge. The governors will be in charge of their National Guards."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff thanked DoD and its representatives for being true partners in mapping out a hurricane-preparedness strategy.
"We have really ... achieved a degree of integration in our planning that we've never seen before," he said. "I think the ... beneficiaries of that will be the citizens of any community that find themselves on the receiving end of a hurricane."