USA — Plan Bridges Gaps in Homeland Responses

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates has agreed to a plan that will allow for one com­man­der to be in charge of both Nation­al Guard and reserve forces when they are called up to respond to domes­tic emer­gen­cies.
Gates, along with Home­land Secu­ri­ty Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano and the Coun­cil of Gov­er­nors — a group Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma formed in Jan­u­ary 2010 to rep­re­sent all of the states’ gov­er­nors — signed off on the agree­ment, known as the Joint Action Plan, dur­ing a March 1 Pen­ta­gon meet­ing, Defense Depart­ment offi­cials said.

Paul N. Stock­ton, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for home­land secu­ri­ty, today called the agree­ment “a break­through” in the military’s abil­i­ty to effec­tive­ly respond to domes­tic emer­gen­cies, whether nat­ur­al or man­made.

“This will be much more effi­cient, much more effec­tive, and it will be a part­ner­ship that nev­er exist­ed before,” Stock­ton told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

The plan cre­ates a dual-sta­tus com­man­der for each state, approved by the pres­i­dent and gov­er­nor, to have simul­ta­ne­ous author­i­ty over both Nation­al Guard and reserve forces called up to respond to a state emer­gency, Stock­ton said.

Under the Con­sti­tu­tion, Guard forces must be under state con­trol for domes­tic events, and reservists and any active-duty forces must remain in fed­er­al con­trol. The dual-sta­tus com­man­ders can oper­ate in both the state and fed­er­al chains of com­mand with­out legal changes, Stock­ton said. In fact, he added, dual-sta­tus com­man­ders have been used before for domes­tic events that are planned months in advance, such as polit­i­cal par­ty con­ven­tions.

State and fed­er­al offi­cials real­ized through the response to Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, which killed thou­sands of peo­ple and destroyed much of the Louisiana and Mis­sis­sip­pi coasts in August 2005, as well as in oth­er nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, that bet­ter coor­di­na­tion is need­ed in emer­gen­cies, he said.

“Dur­ing Kat­ri­na, lead­er­ship did­n’t have an under­stand­ing of what was hap­pen­ing on the ground,” Stock­ton said. “We need a bet­ter com­mon oper­at­ing pic­ture of where the units are, their lev­el of readi­ness, their response capa­bil­i­ties.”

Com­man­ders also need to know the local area, he said, such as road­way and build­ing capac­i­ties.

“This is a whole new way to bring life-sav­ing capa­bil­i­ties to bear,” Stock­ton said. “Those first 72 hours are pre­cious for sav­ing lives.”

The Joint Action Plan will pro­vide uni­for­mi­ty to plans that vary great­ly from state to state, he said, and all dual-sta­tus com­man­ders are expect­ed to be appoint­ed and trained by ear­ly fall. More than 30 dual-sta­tus com­man­ders already have been cho­sen in key loca­tions, he said.

“That com­man­der is the nexus, the coor­di­nat­ing per­son to ensure that forces work in col­lab­o­ra­tion,” he said.

A sec­ond aspect of the agree­ment calls for a leg­isla­tive change to give the pres­i­dent the author­i­ty to call up reservists for domes­tic emer­gen­cies – a change Stock­ton said is need­ed to stream­line the process. Cur­rent­ly, if fed­er­al forces are need­ed to aug­ment the Guard, a gov­er­nor must make the request to the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, part of the Home­land Secu­ri­ty Depart­ment, then FEMA must seek the assis­tance through U.S. North­ern Com­mand, which over­sees North Amer­i­ca and will over­see dual-sta­tus com­man­der train­ing, Stock­ton said.

Most dual-sta­tus com­man­ders like­ly will be Nation­al Guard offi­cers with a dis­tin­guished record of com­mand expe­ri­ence, he said.

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

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