Commander: Northcom Increases Crisis Response Capabilities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 20, 2013 U.S. Northern Command is working with its partners to improve its ability to support civil authorities during disaster responses, and is now better postured to do so through a new construct that improves coordination among the forces involved, the Northcom commander told Congress today.
Pointing to the command’s role when Hurricane Sandy dealt a devastating blow to the Atlantic coast in October, Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. told the House Armed Services Committee that Northcom gained valuable insights and experience that will pay off in the future.
“Hurricane Sandy offered us a glimpse of what a complex catastrophe which spanned several states and regions could look like,” he told the panel. The challenge now, he said, is to build on lessons learned to improve the processes Northcom provides the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other designated lead federal agencies.
Jacoby called partnerships the strength of the paradigm that enables Northcom to collaborate in ensuring the homeland’s safety, security and defense.
He noted in his prepared remarks that Northcom responded to multiple requests for assistance during 2012 from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service, the FBI and other agencies along the U.S. Southwest border.
“This last year speaks to the critical nature of our strong interagency partnerships and the continued requirement to support our partners,” said Jacoby, noting contributions the Defense Department is able to provide during crises to complement those provided by state and local communities.
“DOD has capabilities that can save and sustain lives, reduce suffering, protect property, mitigate the damage to critical infrastructure and get citizens quickly and solidly onto the path of resuming their daily lives,” he said.
During the Hurricane Sandy response, Northcom helped with power restoration, dewatering, fuel distribution, transportation and public health safety.
The challenge is “not to be late to need,” Jacoby said, and recognizing that DOD assets can be useful only if they’re accessible and responsive to relief requirements. To ensure they are, he said, Northcom’s staff works closely with state and local officials to plan for disasters before they occur.
Jacoby called the so-called “dual-status construct” first authorized in the 2012 National Defense Appropriations Act a major step in improving support the military is able to provide.
The arrangement authorizes a designated National Guard flag officer to command active-duty, reserve and National Guard forces when states request federal forces during a crisis response. This, Jacoby said, provides a unified response not possible when military forces report to separate commanders.
Northcom successfully applied the construct during its response to the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, Colo., in June and during Hurricane Sandy, in both New Jersey and New York, Jacoby reported.
“We will continue to mature the successful dual-status command construct … so that we will be ready to act swiftly and with unity of effort when the unthinkable happens and we are called,” he told the House panel.
Northcom’s core mission of defense support to civil authorities falls second in priority only to the mission of homeland defense, Jacoby said.
“Our citizens have high expectations of our ability to defend and support them here in the homeland, and rightfully so,” he said. “In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, U.S. Northcom meets those expectations by leveraging a tremendous capability and capacity of the Department of Defense to support a lead agency, such as FEMA.”
Jacoby also reported during today’s hearing that U.S. ballistic missile defenses are capable of protecting the nation against growing threats from North Korea and Iran. He emphasized, however, the need to continue improving these systems in light of “an increasingly complex and dynamic security environment.”
Responding to a question, Jacoby said he believes Iran is on the path to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, and could feasibly begin testing that capability within the next few years.
Jacoby said he supports Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s decision to add 14 more ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska. This initiative to expand the West Coast-based missile defense system by almost 50 percent would increase defenses against both Iran and North Korea, he said.
Jacoby said he also welcomes studies about the feasibility of a third U.S. missile defense site, on the East Coast, and other efforts to increase missile-defense capabilities.