DOD, Governors Bridge Gaps in Disaster Response

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)

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