New Security Department Reinforces NORTHCOM Mission
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2002 The National Guard has given the U.S. Northern Command a base that it can build on, one of that new organization's high-ranking officers said recently.
Furthermore, the new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security will reinforce the Northern Command's mission of safeguarding this country, Air Force Maj. Gen. Dale Meyerrose maintained during a Nov. 13 summit on homeland security.
President George W. Bush signed the legislation creating the new department on Nov. 25. Meyerrose is the director of architectures and integrations for the Northern Command that was stood up at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Oct. 1. He is also director for command control systems at the North American Aerospace Defense Command's headquarters at Peterson. He is the chief information officer for both commands.
Meyerrose is responsible for creating the communications and informational architecture so that Northern Command personnel can support and share information with civil authorities, including the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, when directed by the president and the secretary of defense.
"I think it will only make our job easier," Meyerrose told reporters about the new Homeland Security Department that President George W. Bush has championed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. House of Representatives approved 299-121 on Nov. 13; the Senate decisively endorsed the homeland security bill 90-9 on Nov. 19.
"It provides an organization at the national level which links what we do in the Department of Defense with other departments and, hopefully, down to the states and other jurisdictions," explained Meyerrose, one of the keynote speakers during the summit organized.
The new department will include all, or parts of, 22 separate federal agencies, including Customs, the Coast Guard and the FEMA, in the largest governmental reorganization since the Department of Defense was formed in 1947.
It will help, Meyerrose said, because "a lot of architecture, constructs and concepts of operation that need to be put in place are beyond the scope of the Department of Defense and Northern Command. That's where the Department of Homeland Security, of which we will be a supporting part, will come in handy."
Nearly 200 people attended the conference, which explored ways in which computer-driven technology can help numerous agencies protect the United States. It is critical for all federal, state and local agencies to be able to communicate quickly so information can be transformed into action should this country be attacked again, Meyerrose and other speakers insisted.
The challenge, Meyerrose explained, is finding the best way to transform a voice report from an emergency responder who is first on the scene of a terrorist attack or natural disaster into a digital format that provides reports to all coordinating agencies.
"I need to change my foundation from 'need to know' to 'need to share'" without compromising the security of sensitive information that could help an enemy, observed Meyerrose, an Air Force Academy graduate who has been a communications officer for 27 years. "We must be able to move secret information from trusted environment to trusted environment," he added.
The Northern Command, commanded by Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, is primarily responsible for protecting the continental United States and its contiguous waters, from the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific Ocean to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, from external threats and attacks, Meyerrose stressed.
It is also prepared, when ordered by the president or secretary of defense, to support a lead federal agency in case civil authorities cannot deal with a catastrophic domestic event such as the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. That is when it is critical for Northern Command to be able to communicate with the FBI or FEMA, Meyerrose added.
"It is our belief that the unity of command embodied by NORTHCOM will allow this country to raise that capability to a new height," he said.
Meyerrose said that he and his Northern Command colleagues would strive to improve the informational architecture by coordinating communications systems that already exist and by improving on procedures that are already in place.
The National Guard already has established procedures that will help, he said, because 26 of the adjutants general in the 54 states and territories already serve in dual capacities as state military leaders and state emergency managers.
"They have lots of existing programs for consequence management activities," Meyerrose said. "They already have existing lines of communications and interoperable systems that become an avenue for expanding into a more encompassing thing.
"That's an example of somebody who's been working [at this] for a period of time and has made a lot of progress. Now we're trying to provide that unification across the entire country."
The issue of homeland security is not new, said Meyerrose, even though the formation of the Northern Command marks the first time that a single military combatant commander has been placed in charge of homeland defense since George Washington took command of the new Continental Army on June 15, 1775. "Many people have toiled over this for several years," Meyerrose added.
"Make no mistake," he said. "We already have the capability to meet today's mission requirements by building on those that previously existed within the Department of Defense and other agencies."
(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office, Arlington, Va.)