DOD, Interagency Rehearse Hurricane Response Procedures
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 12, 2013 With projections of an active 2013 hurricane season and lessons of Hurricane Sandy still fresh in their minds, members of the military and their interagency partners met this week to fine-tune their coordinated response procedures.
Confronted with two nearly simultaneous notional hurricanes -- one making landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border and also near Norfolk, Va., and moving up the Chesapeake Bay -- they rehearsed their procedures to ensure a rapid, well-coordinated response, explained Tom LaCrosse, director of defense support to civil authorities in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
U.S. Army North hosted the annual rehearsal of concept drill that wrapped up yesterday at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, on behalf of the Defense Department and U.S. Northern Command, the U.S. combatant command that coordinates military support in the homeland to civil authorities when requested.
In addition to members of Northcom and U.S. Army North, the 200-plus participants included 11 National Guard state adjutants general from hurricane-prone states and territories, and representatives of the interagency, nongovernmental organizations and the governments of Mexico and Canada.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services and Justice, and the Coast Guard, American Red Cross and national voluntary organizations were among the key participants.
“The purpose of the exercise was to get the people who have responsibilities to respond together and to talk through in a time-phased, play-by-play, what each organization is doing” at progressive points of time, LaCrosse said.
Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of U.S. Army North and Fifth U.S. Army, both based at Fort Sam Houston, championed this approach, which the Army uses regularly to plan overseas contingency operations and other large-scale events and also to prepare for a catastrophic domestic hurricane, Lacrosse said.
Joe Girot, representing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region IV in Atlanta, said the opportunity for strategic-level collaboration with his counterparts at other organizations that would respond to a major hurricane promoted a better understanding of the capabilities they bring to the table.
“It allows us to coordinate, and we can adjust and make recommendations as to how FEMA would react and the courses of action we take,” Girot said. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone participating in this exercise.”
The rehearsal reflected what LaCrosse called the Defense Department’s new, more proactive approach to supporting civil authorities during crises.
“In the past, we would wait to do something, and when we were faced with the tyranny of time and distance to try to get our forces ... where they were needed,” he said. “Recently, we have taken the approach of leaning forward, trying to cut down that time and distance and propositioning capabilities that we think will be needed to save lives and prevent human suffering.”
DOD took a leap of faith before Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the mid-Atlantic coast last fall, LaCrosse said, prepositioning commodities and capabilities where they were likely to be needed.
“The aftermath of that is, we bet pretty well,” he said, shortening the timetable for providing support. “The devastating effects of the storm would have been more devastating as victims of the storm had to wait for some response.”
LaCrosse recognized the National Guard’s vital role in supporting state governors in times of crisis. “They have great equipment, they have great training, they have great leaders, and all of that will be brought to bear in their respective states,” he said.
But when a disaster exhausts what local and state first responders and National Guard forces can provide, LaCrosse said, federal troops, including reserve forces, are ready to step in.
“We are talking about DOD working with our federal partners at FEMA, at [the Department of] Health and Human Services, and providing DOD capabilities that have been honed in overseas contingency operations,” he said. This can range from medical and transportation assets to water-purification capabilities or logistics support, depending on the need, he added.
“Everything that the military does overseas, we are capable of doing it in a domestic emergency,” LaCrosse said.
Wrapping up the rehearsal yesterday, Caldwell told participants it is just the beginning of coordinated planning and preparations for what is expected to be an active hurricane season. Projections call for as many as three or four major hurricanes, compared to two last year, he said.
“This is the beginning of a relationship of whole-of-community,” Caldwell said, in support of FEMA and designated first responders.
“All of us recognize we have got to lean forward,” he added.
LaCrosse said this close cooperation is particularly critical during tight budget times.
“The fiscal environment we find ourselves in is all the more reason that exercises like this are critical,” he said. “The capabilities of not just the whole-of-government, but the whole-of-community are going to have to be brought to bear.
“No one organization has everything they need,” LaCrosse added. “So we have to find an economical way to bring all the capabilities to bear to support our fellow Americans.”