WASHINGTON, March 11, 2011 — The Defense Department has partnered with the nation’s governors, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Homeland Security Department to strengthen support to governors when they request military assistance for disaster response.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, along with Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Jane Holl Lute and the bipartisan, 10-member Council of Governors met in the Pentagon on March 1 to adopt a “Joint Action Plan for Unity of Effort.”
At the session, Gates said a long-standing obstacle to comprehensive national efforts in emergencies is “the need for greater coordination between the state National Guard and federal military forces when they deploy at the same time in response to a governor’s request for assistance.”
The Joint Action Plan “goes a very long way toward solving this problem,” he added.
The plan provides for the appointment of “dual-status commanders” for earthquakes and other disasters. Appointed by both the president and the governor of the affected state, the commander will have simultaneous authority over both state and federal military forces participating in a disaster response operation. This arrangement will facilitate coordination of those forces and provide for unprecedented unity of effort in disaster response, officials said.
Paul N. Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs, recognized the decisive role the governors played in developing this initiative, which he said “will save lives when the next catastrophe strikes.”
He noted that for years, dual-status commanders had been used effectively for planned events, such as the 2008 national political conventions. The Joint Action Plan applies the same approach to domestic emergencies, whether natural or manmade.
To create a pool of fully qualified officers to serve as dual-status commanders when needed, U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau are conducting a standardized training and certification program for candidates. To date, National Guard officers from 31 states have been trained and certified.
Stockton told American Forces Press Service that building a common operating picture is a key component of the plan. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, he noted, federal, state and local leaders lacked a shared understanding of what was happening on the ground.
“We need a better common operating picture of where the units are located, their level of readiness, and their response capabilities,” Stockton said. “The first 72 hours in a disaster are precious for saving lives. With a common operating picture, we will be far better positioned to get life-saving capabilities where they are needed.”
The agreement with the governors also provides for improvements in the quality and sharing of disaster plans.
“We need to do a better job of sharing plans [among] local, state and federal partners, and provide for their synchronization,” Stockton said. “All of these improvements, taken together, will ensure that when a disaster strikes, and the president and a governor jointly decide to establish a dual-status commander, that commander will have the plans, common operating picture and other critical components for lifesaving and support to the governor.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)