DoD Leaders Report on Hurricane Response
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2005 The Defense Department response to Hurricane Katrina was the largest, fastest deployment of military forces for a civil-support mission in U.S. history, defense officials said here Nov. 9.
Testifying before a joint hearing of the House subcommittees on emergency preparedness, science and technology, and on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities, the officials said that this response was unprecedented in size and scope not only in the U.S., but also in the world.
"DoD acted with a sense of urgency and met its civil-support-mission requirements. We did so because our men and women in uniform acted to minimize paperwork, cut through bureaucracy, and provide life-saving assistance," said Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense.
The overall deployment of military assets was more than twice the size of the military response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, McHale said, and the impact of the DoD's efforts was significant. DoD personnel evacuated more than 80,000 Gulf Coast residents and rescued another 15,000, he said. In addition, 2,000 military healthcare professionals provided assistance, including medical evacuations by ground or air, he said.
DoD used nine military bases as logistics staging areas for collecting and distributing ice, food, water, temporary roofing materials and medical supplies, McHale said. DoD personnel also delivered critical emergency supplies, including more than 30 million meals and about 10,000 truckloads of ice and water, he added.
The response of the National Guard was total and immediate, said Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
"When you called out the Guard for Katrina, you called out all of America, in reality," Blum said. "There is not a single National Guard entity that did not make a contribution of Air or Army National Guardsmen in the response to that disaster on the Gulf."
The National Guard did exactly what its National Response Plan intended, resulting in the rescue of more than 15,000 people by the Guard alone, Blum said. Also, more than 78,000 people were relocated by the Guard, he said.
The active-duty force was engaged early in hurricane-relief efforts, said Army Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, director of operations for U.S. Northern Command. NORTHCOM was tracking the storm well before it hit Florida and was coordinating within DoD, with the National Guard and with state and local authorities, he said.
"We anticipated requests at all levels," Rowe said. "Within our command, we co-located at the state, at the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regional level and at the national FEMA level to support planning and thinking ahead of the future operations required."
Despite the quality and speed of the DoD response, all the officials agreed that improvements need to be made in inter-agency communication and coordination. Each agency planned well on its own, but did not integrate efforts with each other, McHale said.
"Our task-organized deployment reflected DoD's total force, but our operational planning did not," he said.
Blum agreed, saying that interagency and intergovernmental relationships are essential to the success of any disaster response. To improve response efforts in the future, the National Guard, DoD, other government agencies, and state and local authorities must exercise and train together regularly, he said.
The devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina resembled in many ways the foreseeable effects of a terrorist attack involving a weapon of mass destruction, McHale said, and therefore, the lessons learned must be applied to protect American citizens in the future.