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New Efforts Enhance Irene Response

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. , Aug. 28, 2011 – As about 7,675 citizen-soldiers and –airmen responded today, three capabilities are enhancing the National Guard’s contribution to the joint state and federal support for civil authorities tackling Hurricane Irene.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Maryland National Guard soldiers from units across the state, seen here Aug. 28, 2011, worked around the clock to provide critical support to civilian law enforcement and firefighting agencies in Salisbury, Md., during Hurricane Irene. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Rick Breitenfeldt

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The National Guard Bureau’s new 24-hour, 365-day National Guard Coordination Center here boosted coordination and communication between the Army and Air National Guard and local, state and federal partners, Guard officials said.

The appointment of dual-status commanders to lead state National Guard and federal forces sped up response, officials said, and the deployment of strategically placed force packages ahead of the storm increased readiness.

The coordination center, dual-status commanders and pre-placed force packages are relatively new capabilities born from lessons learned from past natural and manmade disasters.

Additionally, about 7,675 citizen-soldiers and –airmen from 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico responded today to support hurricane relief efforts.

Guard members cleared debris and performed high-water search-and-rescue missions in Connecticut, officials said. They helped transportation officials control traffic in the District of Columbia, and handed out cots and supplies in Delaware. They flew helicopters from Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico and Ohio to stand by in the affected region for search and rescue, damage assessment, transportation and other missions.

Citizen-soldiers and –airmen provided command-and-control support in Maine, filled sandbags and assessed damage in Massachusetts, performed search and rescue and provided security and transportation in North Carolina, and provided shelter in New Jersey.

The National Guard provided maritime transportation to the islands of Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico, supported communications in Rhode Island and provided engineers to local authorities in Virginia.

Throughout the Eastern Seaboard, Guard members helped neighbors hit by Irene. For example, 129 New York Guard members sent in speed boats to help rescue 21 people stranded by floodwaters in an upstate New York hotel this afternoon.

About 101,000 Guard members were available in the affected region, Defense Department officials reported, and the National Guard Coordination Center worked with the states and other federal agencies to ensure the right numbers reached the right places at the right time.

"As Irene approached the United States, our NGCC was coordinating with the states, territories and the District of Columbia; the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and U.S. Northern Command to ensure the most effective National Guard support to civil authorities,” said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, “and enable us to bring the full benefit of our size, skills, training, experience, command and communications infrastructure and legal flexibility to the whole-of-government response to the storm.

"Hurricane Irene demonstrated the vital importance of our new National Guard Coordination Center, which enables us to work seamlessly with our state and federal partners at the first warning of potential disaster," he added.

Among assets coordinated and monitored by the coordination center were force packages that allow Guard officials to strategically position assets to respond to any additional needs states may have.

For example, in Eastover, S.C., the Guard stood up an aerial force package of 17 aircraft -- including UH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, UH-72 Lakotas, OH-58 Kiowas and C-27 Spartans -- with about 100 Guard members.

"Assembling and pre-staging ground and air force packages -- drawn from Army and Air National Guard assets contributed by multiple states -- in strategic locations out of harm's way but near potentially affected areas meant the National Guard stood ready to respond faster than ever to civil authorities' critical needs that might arise in the storm's aftermath," McKinley said.

The appointment of four dual-status commanders in support of relief efforts marked the first time the dual-commander concept has been implemented in support of a natural disaster.

When agreed upon by the secretary of defense and the governor of an affected state, dual-status commanders can direct both federal active-duty forces and state National Guard forces in response to domestic incidents, DOD officials said. The concept is intended to foster greater cooperation among federal and state assets during a disaster.

The nation's governors led the creation of this new opportunity for collaboration.

Dual-status commanders ensure that state and federal military forces will work effectively together, when states request federal forces through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This storm also demonstrated how dual-status combatant commanders who can direct both state National Guard and federal forces in response to domestic incidents increases collaboration, communication and coordination between federal and state assets, improves leadership, avoids duplication of effort and enhances the team response," McKinley said.

In March, the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the bipartisan 10-member Council of Governors adopted the "Joint Action Plan for Unity of Effort," strengthening support to governors when they request military assistance for disaster response.

“Monitoring our response to Irene, I have been deeply proud of the sacrifices of our citizen-soldiers and -airmen, more than 7,000 of whom once again set aside their civilian lives and took on their military roles at a moment's notice to help their neighbors and communities, with tens of thousands more at the ready if needed," McKinley said.


Contact Author

Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley

Related Sites:
National Guard Bureau
Dual-status Commanders to Support Irene Relief Efforts


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