Northern Command Integrating Lessons Learned From Katrina
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 14, 2006 The Defense Department and U.S. Northern Command learned valuable lessons from the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and those lessons are being applied to prepare for future civil support operations, the commander of Northern Command said here today.
The two most important lessons learned from Katrina pertain to unity of effort and unity of command and communication, Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
To prevent conflicts or misunderstandings of the type seen immediately following Katrina between federal and state agencies in regard to command structure, Northern Command and DoD are working closely with state leadership, Keating said. In February, Northern Command hosted a hurricane preparation conference in Colorado Springs, Colo. The conference gave 10 adjutants general from the Gulf Coast states and Northern Command senior leadership the opportunity to discuss mutual efforts to prepare for the 2006 hurricane season, he said.
Northern Command also has begun collaborative planning and preparation efforts with the adjutants general of all states and is integrating "defense coordinating officers" into each Federal Emergency Management Association region, Keating said. Also, Northern Command participated in February meetings of the National Governors Association and the Adjutants General Association of the United States, which provided a forum for leaders to discuss challenges and responsibilities and to enhance their partnership, he said.
Hurricane Katrina also showed Northern Command and DoD leaders that they need to develop better communications systems that are compatible with the systems of their civilian partners, Keating said.
"We need immediate, reliable communications that are survivable, flexible and interoperable with our civilian partners," he said. "These communications must be mobile, they should be secure, and they have to be both voice and data capable."
Northern Command and the Department of Homeland Security are deploying cellular-based communication systems and working with FEMA and the National Guard Bureau to develop common data sets that will allow them to communicate quickly and more accurately, Keating said.
To further prepare for future disasters, Northern Command's Air Force component is working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Guard Bureau on a joint search-and-rescue center for large-scale operations, Keating said. Northern Command also participates in FEMA-hosted weekly video teleconferences on logistics and supply issues, he said.
Since Katrina, Northern Command and DoD have invested considerable time in their lessons-learned process, Keating said. Leaders established a Web site where lessons learned are submitted; these observations then go through an extensive vetting process and, after thorough analysis, are distributed throughout Northern Command to determine appropriate corrective action, he said. After those actions have been implemented, Northern Command verifies through an extensive exercise program that those lessons learned are applied to the proper situations, he said.
While the civil support aspect of Northern Command is important, it is not the only thing the command does, Keating said. "Although our civil support response received significant attention in 2005, be assured we remain very active in planning and coordinating homeland defense operations," he said. "Day-to-day, we are focused on deterring, preventing and defeating attacks against our homeland."
Northern Command maintains constant situational awareness and readiness to protect the U.S. against all threats, Keating said. The North American Aerospace Defense Command protects the country from air threats, and frequent maritime operations ensure the security of waterways, he said.
"We posture and position forces to deter and prevent attacks," he said. "We maintain quick response, rapid response and consequence management forces at appropriate alert levels to meet potential threats."
Northern Command also continues to support law enforcement agencies in border security operations, Keating said. Flights of unmanned aerial systems assist in the detection and apprehension of illegal trafficking along the southern U.S. border, and DoD technology has assisted in the detection of 40 tunnels along the northern and southern borders, he said.
Northern Command made significant progress in 2005 in developing its homeland defense and civil support plans, and those plans will be finalized this year, Keating said. Northern Command conducts at least five large-scale and 30 smaller exercises each year to test these plans, and leaders remain committed to their important responsibility to deter, prevent and defeat threats to the nation, he said.
"In everything we do -- planning, exercising, conducting real-world operations -- we continuously hone our ability to support civil authorities in responding to national disasters, while never losing focus on our primary mission -- homeland defense," he said. "Our enemies should make no mistake about our resolve or our capabilities."