Northcom Chief Stresses Disaster Preparedness

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 — The Unit­ed States must do more to pre­pare for nat­ur­al dis­as­ters on the scale of the recent earth­quake and tsuna­mi in Japan, and more coop­er­a­tion is nec­es­sary to com­bat transna­tion­al crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions, the com­man­der of U.S. North­ern Com­mand said here yes­ter­day.
In tes­ti­mo­ny before the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, Navy Adm. James A. Win­nefeld stressed his command’s role in prepar­ing for man­made or nat­ur­al dis­as­ters.

The mag­ni­tude 9.0 earth­quake off the coast of north­ern Japan caused a tsuna­mi that inun­dat­ed many areas of the coun­try. The quake also trig­gered fail­ures in the Dai-Ichi nuclear pow­er plant. 

“The trag­ic events in Japan over the last sev­er­al weeks high­light the impor­tance of being pre­pared to respond to dis­as­ters, includ­ing those pro­vid­ing lit­tle or no notice, such as earth­quakes, and those involv­ing acci­den­tal or inten­tion­al release of harm­ful sub­stances, as in Japan’s case, the release of radionu­clides,” Win­nefeld said. 

North­com, which has respon­si­bil­i­ty for the Unit­ed States, Cana­da and Mex­i­co, is a key play­er in America’s response to nat­ur­al or man­made dis­as­ters. Gen­er­al­ly, the com­mand works in sup­port of the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency and stands ready to pro­vide capa­bil­i­ties need­ed in the event of an emergency. 

“Time is our ene­my in these dis­as­ters and we search every day for ways to become more agile to meet the needs of our part­ners,” the admi­ral said. 

The com­mand, based in Col­orado Springs, Colo., works with inter­a­gency part­ners to ensure all have the same play­book, Win­nefeld said. In the last year, he added, he has been work­ing to achieve uni­ty of com­mand and con­trol over state and fed­er­al mil­i­tary forces that might respond togeth­er in the wake of a disaster. 

“I can also report that [North­ern Command’s] rela­tion­ship with the Nation­al Guard, who is such a capa­ble part­ner and on whom I rely so much for my mis­sion accom­plish­ment in sev­er­al key areas, is superb,” he said. 

The com­mand is respon­si­ble for defend­ing the Unit­ed States against ter­ror­ism and transna­tion­al crim­i­nal orga­ni­za­tions. Win­nefeld also serves as the com­man­der of the joint U.S.-Canadian North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Command. 

North­com works close­ly with U.S. South­ern Com­mand to counter groups that deal in drugs, peo­ple, weapons and mon­ey, the admi­ral said. In Mex­i­co alone, he told the House pan­el, these crim­i­nal groups have killed more than 35,000 peo­ple since Decem­ber 2006. 

“We work with law enforce­ment agen­cies with­in the Unit­ed States and in con­junc­tion with U.S. South­ern Com­mand in sup­port of the efforts of our part­ner nations in the hemi­sphere,” he said. 

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon have called the rela­tion­ship a true part­ner­ship. The Unit­ed States has a respon­si­bil­i­ty to reduce drug con­sump­tion and the illic­it flow of arms and mon­ey to Mex­i­co, and Mex­i­can author­i­ties have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to inter­dict drugs going north and to strength­en the rule of law so that crim­i­nals are put and kept in jail, Win­nefeld said. 

“The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has dis­played exem­plary moral, phys­i­cal and polit­i­cal courage in under­tak­ing this impor­tant strug­gle, … because they know this is about the future of Mex­i­co, and I take my hat off to them for this,” the admi­ral said. “The Mex­i­can mil­i­tary has been asked by its civil­ian lead­er­ship to join with Mex­i­can law enforce­ment agen­cies to sup­port this strug­gle in the right way, respect­ful of Mexico’s demo­c­ra­t­ic ideals and the nation’s com­mit­ment to the rule of law.” 

The Mex­i­can mil­i­tary is work­ing to counter a sophis­ti­cat­ed, uncon­ven­tion­al threat by inte­grat­ing intel­li­gence and oper­a­tions, Win­nefeld said. The Mex­i­can army and navy are work­ing togeth­er and with inter­a­gency partners. 

“We know this is hard, because we’ve been down the same road, and in some ways, we’re still on the same road,” he said. “So I tell my capa­ble Mex­i­can part­ners that we don’t know it all, we’ve made our own mis­takes along the way, and we seek the kind of engage­ment that helps them ben­e­fit from our experience.” 

Regard­less of the desire to help, the admi­ral stressed, any aid the U.S. mil­i­tary may offer is only pro­vid­ed at the request of Mex­i­can officials. 

“We have much to offer, but Mex­i­co is always, always in the lead in Mex­i­co,” he said. “The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has a strat­e­gy. They’ve defined with us a sub­stan­tive frame­work to guide our coop­er­a­tion and they’ve invit­ed us to work with them to sup­port their efforts. But again, they’re always in the lead in their country.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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