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NORTHCOM Ready to Respond to Attacks, Other Emergencies

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2004 – Until the Oct. 1, 2002, activation of U.S. Northern Command, "there was no single officer the president could put his finger on" to assign the responsibility for homeland defense and supporting civil authorities in the event of an attack, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.

Today, Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, NORTHCOM commander, fulfills that responsibility, noted Air Force Brig. Gen. Lloyd E. Dodd, the organization's chief medical adviser.

At the direction of the president or the secretary of defense, Dodd explained, the command provides military and other assistance to civil authorities in the event of a biological, chemical, nuclear or other type of attack on the United States.

"Never before in the history of our country has a military entity, a command, been given responsibility clearly in writing to support civil authorities," Dodd observed.

Dodd said his organization coordinates with other federal entities such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or the Department of Energy that would work with public-health authorities and local fire and police departments in the event of a terrorist attack.

If, after an attack, local authorities request federal assistance and the president or the secretary of defense concur, then Northern Command would "get the right forces in the right place at the right time," Dodd noted.

Today, NORTHCOM is "at war every day," Dodd said. The "bad guys," he observed, "are out there, and they are actively prosecuting their war against us."

Consequently, Dodd noted, it's imperative that the command continually evaluates its effectiveness through tests and exercises. "If we don't improve the system," he said, then "people will die who shouldn't die."

Dodd said he tries to forecast what "bad things" could happen, such as a biological or chemical attack, and then outline possible preventive and emergency-response measures.

"Then, when something does happen," Dodd explained, "we coordinate medical response within DoD, and we interface between DoD medicine and medicine of other federal agencies and below."

NORTHCOM's emergency-response system, Dodd pointed out, has been successfully employed to assist local authorities in dealing with natural disasters such as hurricanes and wild fires.

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