Small Wars Journal

defense support to civil authorities

Defense Coordinating Elements: A Vital Link Between DOD and Civil Authorities

The Chemical, Biological Radiological Nuclear Response Enterprise exercises foster interagency cooperation and support for response and recovery of man-made and natural disasters.  Embedded within each of the ten Federal Emergency Management Agency Regions are Defense Coordinating Elements lead by an O-6 Defense Coordinating Officer.  The nine-person DCE is the single point of entry for all local, tribal, state, and federal requests for DoD assistance.   The DCE is augmented by senior reserve officers serving as Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps assigned to each state.  The EPLOs work closely with state emergency managers and the state National Guard Joint Force Headquarters to maintain awareness of capabilities, gaps, and emergency response plans within their state.  During a disaster they serve a vital role by faciliting information sharing between the DCE and State Emergency Operations Centers or Joint Force Headquarters.  This is especially critical in developing situational awareness and building trust between local or state and federal entities.

The general saying in the Defense Support of Civil Authorities world is “a disaster is not the place to be handing out business cards,” meaning a disaster is not the place you should meet your intra-agency counter-part for the first time.  During VIBRANT RESPONSE 13 the DCE had the unique opportunity to rehearse interagency operations while working with FEMA National and Regional Incident Management Assistance Teams who were also participating in the National Exercise scenario for the first time.  FEMA IMATs rapidly deploy to effected venues and assist local and state leadership to identify federal assistance requirements, and to coordinate and integrate inter-jurisdictional response in support of an affected state or territory.  As the name implies, they help manage Federal resources to fill needs that the local and state emergency managers cannot meet.  During VR 13 the DCE actively participated in the FEMA 24-hour planning cycle known as the Incident Action Process, identified and validated DoD mission assignments, and provided the requirements and guidance to U. S. Army North’s Joint Task Force-Civil Support headquarters for action. 

The VR 13 exercise was followed by the real-world deployment of multiple FEMA IMATs and six DCEs to five states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to support the response and recovery needs resulting from the landfall of Hurricane Isaac.  Many of the DCEs had not previously operated in hurricane states.  Using their understanding of FEMA operations and well trained state EPLOs they were able to establish a Federal Staging Area for Urban Search and Rescue Teams, coordinate Incident Support Bases, facilitate aerial imagery, and control DoD helicopters deployed in support of the Federal response.

The CRE exercise VR 13 served as an excellent opportunity for DoD to interact with Federal, State, and local agencies to prepare for the “next big disaster.”  The way ahead is clearly to continue fostering the DoD relationship with our partner Federal Agencies to plan and prepare for civil support for all-hazards events.

78th Homeland Response Force: On Call, We’re Ready

Following the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, ten Homeland Response Forces (HRF) were directed for creation within the National Guard Bureau for a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) response.  Georgia was one of ten states selected to stand up these new unit types.   

The Georgia National Guard selected the 78th Troop Command—consisting of US Army and Air Force personnel—as the headquarters, attaching chemical decontamination, medical, military police, sustainment, transportation and command units.   Re-designated the 78th Homeland Response Force, this unit was responsible for responding to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) incident anywhere within FEMA Region IV, which includes not only Georgia, but  Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina as well. 

The 78th HRF began its unit integration and task assignment process which required understanding and training within the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS).  Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) equipment such as trucks, trailers, communications equipment, and chemical and radiological detection devices, allowed for seamless integration with local First Responders.  We also integrated our assigned military equipment into the DSCA operation to provide a robust self-sustaining operation for up to five days.  With this combination of COTS and military equipment the unit can self-deploy anywhere within FEMA Region IV, and arrive within 10 to 20 hours of notification.

The Governor of Georgia is the release authority for the 78th HRF; supported entities can request either a portion or the entire 78th HRF capability via an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).  The EMAC provides the legal boundaries in which the HRF can support the incident.    

Once the 78th HRF receives notification for deployment, it begins the Notification Hour (N-Hour) sequence.  This sequence has been evaluated during eight different exercises since September 2011, including during Vigilant Guard last year, in North Carolina. 

As each Incident is different in scope, size and general organization, 78th HRF has had the opportunity to expand their military abilities by supporting two civilian entities; a notional, Jacksonville, FL incident and Georgia Ports Authority, a military-civilian entity through Joint Task Force (JTF) Panther, NC and a notional Political Event Incident. 

Following Vigilant Guard 2011, 78th HRF quickly transitioned to a National Special Security Event (NSSE) in less than twenty-four hours.  The immediate task at hand was to synchronize all efforts toward the NSSE.   JTF Panther, 78th HRF and JTF Civil Support worked together to develop a Department of Defense Urban Area Security Initiative plan focused on Consequence Management (CM) around Charlotte, NC in support of the NSSE.   This rapid transition clearly displayed 78th HRF’s adaptability and flexibility. 

This joint planning was a grass roots planning session with a clearly defined problem statement: “how do we provide a complete and synchronized CBRN focused CM plan”.  The final product was a simple plan based on the assumption that civil authorities would direct all ingress routes upon arrival at Charlotte’s outer interstate belt, I-485.  By the end of this planning session, all three entities clearly understood their unit planning requirements culminated at the Line of Departure (LD).      

The need to save human lives and alleviate suffering means that the National Guard is the responding military entity for the first ninety-six (96) hours from the time an incident occurs.  78th HRF has the capability to continue the response with the assistance of the supported entity.  Regardless of the incident type, response time must be quick, which means we must make simple, flexible plans.   We can perfect the plan while en-route to the incident area through phone conferences, mobile internet connections and the use of seat assignments by staff section.  This allows for a full Common Operational Picture (COP) development. 

With the use of commercial collaboration tools such as Adobe Connect and Google products, we can provide our civilian counterpart a clear understanding of capabilities and current operations without the usual military security issues.  Currently, the HRF lacks a single standard communications medium, so we have adjusted to a wide variety of communications programs.  This allows us to integrate with our counterpart’s medium of choice (except for CPOF, due to the required data encryption and equipment set). 

In addition to integration with the supported entity, multi-service component integration is critical as well.  The 78th HRF has integrated with the United States Marine Corps, JTF Civil Support, Civil Support Teams, CBRN Enhanced Response Packaged Force, JTF Panther and JFHQ-North Carolina during Vigilant Guard 2012 and JTF Panther support for the Democratic National Convention.  The continued integration comes in several forms; capability briefs, planning sessions and exercises.  The common slogan in the DSCA community and CBRN operation is, “If the first time we trade business cards is at the Incident Commander (IC) linkup, its too late”. 

78th HRF will continue to integrate with all entities through site visits, phone conferences and training events.  Critical to our success is approaching every event without preconceived notions, bringing all tools and equipment to bear and understanding our supporting role.  DSCA means, we, the military, are supporting civil authorities during times of distress.  More specifically, our mission is to man, train, and equip a Homeland Response Force (HRF) to provide a response capability to assist civil authorities in saving lives and mitigating suffering in response to a CBRN incident while continuing to provide trained and ready troops to support overseas contingency operations.                 

Joint Task Force-Civil Support: Americans Helping Americans

Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS) is a permanent military headquarters responsible for integrating and controlling federal military forces in response to a catastrophic Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) incident. When such an event occurs, our organization manages the 5,000-member Defense CBRN Response Force (DCRF), highlighted in our previous blog entry

Soon after I took command of JTF-CS, we took part in the annual Vibrant Response 13 exerciseSpanning the state of Indiana and northern Kentucky, and involving over 9,000 service members, cadre, and role players, the exercise replicates the effects of a 10-KT nuclear detonation in a major US city.  Such an event could kill hundreds of thousands, with millions more injured, sick, and homeless.

The magnitude of such an exercise and its implications for real-world impact make me think of my children, family and friends. These are our people:  Our responsibility to help those in need is tremendous.

JTF-CS controls designated DOD forces as they provide life-saving and life-sustaining capabilities to our federal, state, tribal and local partners.  We also help communities recover from a major CBRN event or natural disaster. This is a very capable response force that is ready for for such missions as urban search and rescue, mass casualty decontamination, medical triage and stabilization, and evacuation in a CBRN-contaminated or affected environment.

If we are deployed during a major event, it is truly a bad day for the United States. But we will provide the best military support possible to the primary agency responding to that incident.

JTF-CS is augmented with units from each of the Armed Forces, based on deployment rotation cycles and functional capabilities. We train and coordinate with them to improve our ability to respond to a national emergency.

It is worth noting that a CBRN incident may not necessarily come in the form of a nuclear detonation, perpetrated by terrorists.  Last year, JTF-CS sent advisors to assist US Pacific Command in their efforts to help the people of Japan in the wake of the deadly nuclear disaster in Fukushima. We also play a key role in conventional disaster relief.  In August of last year, JTF-CS sent a command and control element to support FEMA as they prepared for the landfall of Hurricane Irene.

JTF-CS is a unique organization, capable of attending to the needs of not only our fellow Americans, but our partners as well.  We work diligently to ensure that we are ready to meet that call for duty. I’m confident that when we are called up, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen will be able to meet the point of impact and do whatever is needed to save and sustain lives.

We belong to the best military in the world due to the absolutely dedicated men and women that join the U.S. Armed Forces.  These men and women are focused and determined to do everything possible to protect and sustain our Nation’s freedom.  This mission is all about Americans helping Americans.