Since 1988, the Defense Department's Interoperability Communications Exercise has been the only DoD exercise whose primary purpose is to certify systems for joint interoperability.
This year, the Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS) hosted the civil response portion of DICE at its base of operations at Fort Monroe, Va., March 24-28. Briefly stated, the JTF-CS goal is to reduce the civil responders' risk of operational failure.
But mobilizing and coordinating the vast resources of federal, local and state governments, as well as the DoD, private industry and nongovernmental agencies, in responding to domestic catastrophes, are far from simple. At the same time, enormous improvements have been made at all levels in disaster response, according to exercise participants.
"We have come a long way. The notion that some might have that we have not learned the lessons of 9/11 or Katrina, or even lessons of Hurricane Dean this past year, or the California wildfires, are just not well-founded in fact," said retired Coast Guard Vice Adm. Roger T. Rufe, who is now director of the Operations Directorate in the Department of Homeland Security.
"We are generations better than we were in Katrina. We are safer today … The nation needs to understand that."
Referring to the communications failures during Hurricane Katrina relief operations, FEMA's assistant administrator for Disaster Operations, Mr. Glenn Cannon agreed, "We have the ability now to communicate with people and places, which never existed prior to Katrina."
The JTF-CS is a standing joint task force composed of active, Reserve and Guard members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as civilian personnel, and is commanded by federalized Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Daniel E. "Chip" Long Jr.
Established in October 1999, JTF-CS is a subordinate unit of U.S. Northern Command, a unified combatant command formed in October 2002 to plan, organize and execute both homeland defense and civil support missions. When directed by the president or the Secretary of Defense, NORTHCOM provides defense support of civil authorities, including consequence management operations.
JTF-CS staff emphasized the critical role of civil support in domestic incidents in terms of speed and unity of effort between all the responders to provide a synchronized response.
Experts in their specialty areas, staff members anticipate, plan and integrate NORTHCOM chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) consequence management operations. The team trains according to the maxim, "Not if … but when," because their efforts are always part of a larger, inparallel response with other government and nongovernmental agencies.
In Hampton, the JTF-CS worked alongside operators and subject matter experts from DHS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, NORTHCOM, and various local, state and federal interagency partners, including the cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Hampton, the American Red Cross, Customs and Border Protection, 35th Signal Brigade, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, the National Guards of Virginia and West Virginia, and others.
The exercise tested communications capabilities such as radio to cell phone at the first responder level, information sharing at the operational level and longhaul satellite communications, and reachback testing at the strategic level.
To demonstrate these capabilities, NORTHCOM and JTF-CS sponsored a media tour of "DICEVILLE," a series of vehicles, trailers and tents which housed some of the communications tools tested.
Some of the senior representatives from the participating agencies also took the tour March 27.
In addition to Rufe and Cannon, other representatives included Commander North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and USNORTHCOM Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr.; then Director, Command and Control Systems NORAD-USNORTHCOM J6 Navy Rear Adm. Kendall L. Card, who is now commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3; Commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Weber; Maj. Gen. Long; and director for Communications Systems, JTF-CS, USNORTHCOM, Air Force Lt. Col. Theodore P. Henrich.
"All the people that are out there on the DICE field are working together, sharing ideas, they are networking, they are getting to know each other, they are passing out business cards. The next time we need to go out to react to a crisis, they are going to know each other, know what each other's capabilities are, and we will be better off," Henrich said.
Participants commended the DICE structure because it provides an environment for communicators to practice "inter-talk-ability."
The network tested at DICE 08 comprised communications systems currently in use (or about to be fielded) and was established and manned by the actual owners and operators of the equipment. System developers and industry partners were also on hand to resolve interoperability issues that could degrade performance.
Because DICE employed a robust joint architecture along with the actual operational personnel to install, operate and maintain the equipment, the exercise environment was characteristic of those used by the civil response community during real-world operations.
Communications in Civil Support
DICE used advanced communications technology, but participants focused on response procedures to display a common operational picture and share operational-level information in response to a scenario that included a nuclear detonation in New Jersey resulting in a CBRNE incident.
"I think one of the important things that you realize, for emergency response is [that] communications are the backbone. If communications fail, then the mission can fail and if this mission fails, people can die," Cannon said.
Some of the capabilities demonstrated included mobile command and control units from the FBI, Virginia Emergency Response Support, Army and National Guard, and FEMA. The FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Support trailer-sized detachment is used for tactical logistics and communications support. There are six located throughout the United States.
The 34th Civil Support Team and 35th Civil Support Team demonstrated a vehicle with a deployable satellite antenna, handheld radios, in fact, everything needed for communications on-the-fly. A vehicle of this type was sent to Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Dean and in support of the Department of Transportation for the bridge collapse tragedy in Minnesota.
"Almost every vehicle out here has a gateway that allows disparate radio systems to talk to each other. We are on the cutting edge of technology and shifting to where everything will be voice-over IP. People on a cell phone can talk from their office and speak to the incident commander at the scene of the incident, that's being tested here today. The good news is that it works," Cannon said.
Despite dramatic improvements in emergency response, agency participants agreed that exercises like DICE are still needed because of problems that may develop when trying to integrate new technologies, legacy systems and changing response partners.
"We just saw a company from Fort Bragg using the next generation technology integrating it into the old technology. You cannot abandon the existing technology. It would take $40 billion to replace that in our country in terms of public infrastructure," Cannon said. "You can't do that. You have to have a way to make what local fire, police and EMS (emergency medical services) guys have today to talk to all these other responders without replacing it. That is where these interoperable missions become so critical."
DICE also enables agencies to test new procedures resulting from the hard lessons learned in past relief efforts.
"We have come a long way since Katrina and, of course, it will continue to develop and improve with exercises and opportunities like you see here. I was at Katrina, I had three cell phones and a hard line into my office and at one point, I could not communicate with anyone," Long said.
The National Response Framework
Because the nation has faced an unprecedented series of disasters and emergencies, the national response structures have evolved and improved to meet these threats. The National Response Framework reflects those improvements and replaces the former National Response Plan.
The National Response Framework establishes a comprehensive all-hazards approach to enhance the ability of the federal government to manage domestic incidents. The framework, which became effective March 22, 2008, identifies the key response principles, as well as the roles and structures that organize national response. It describes how communities, states, the federal government and private-sector and nongovernmental partners apply these principles for a coordinated, effective national response.
"Part of what FEMA does every day, part of the National Response Framework, is to make sure that locals can speak to each other. All the grant funds that we send to local governments to support their communications have to be part of state-approved plans that are then reviewed by FEMA regions," Cannon said.
"You won't get dollars any longer just to buy hardware, you have to be partners. The National Response Framework, this exercise, and the national communications plan, are all pieces of the federal government's unified response to an emergency."
DoD Support to Civil Responders
USNORTHCOM's civil support mission includes domestic disaster relief operations that occur during fires, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Support also includes counter-drug operations and managing the consequences of a terrorist event employing a weapon of mass destruction. The command provides assistance to a lead agency when tasked by DoD. Per the Posse Comitatus Act, military forces can provide civil support, but cannot become directly involved in law enforcement.
Gen. Renuart explained the process for states to request Defense Department assistance. He said the first military responder is always the National Guard, but any response begins with local responders.
"First and foremost, all events will begin locally. It doesn't matter how big it grows. As you see the seriousness of the event develop, then municipal leadership and state leadership will make a determination that some form of military support is needed. Normally, the governor will pull National Guard teams in.
"There is a relationship among the states, the EMAC (Emergency Management Assistance Compact) that allows mutual aid, Guardsmen from other states, or to pull in civilian responders through FEMA, to give more muscle and capacity," Renuart said.
Detailed federal guidelines, both statutory and regulatory, govern the organization, funding and operation of the National Guard, as well as Department of Defense assistance, in the event of an emergency.
"There is a prescribed process, the state requests a declaration from the president for disaster response and that enables funding to flow to allow DoD to provide the support. That sounds like a lengthy process … but the reality is that we can see what the fire chief sees almost immediately because of exercises like this. So we can begin to ask ourselves in DoD, what might that state need and begin to marshal that at the same time," Renuart said.
"In many cases, and the [Minneapolis] bridge is a good example, it took a series of about four phone calls from the governor to the Secretary of Transportation to the Secretary of Defense."
The general discussed the specialized assistance that the DoD can provide that often doesn't exist at the local or state level.
"During the hurricane season this past year, Hurricane Dean was threatening the Texas coast. The state of Texas has a very well-developed hurricane response plan, but one of the areas where they had a requirement for support was in evacuation of unique medical patients, some critical care, some very aged. That capacity doesn't exist in large numbers in an individual state. DoD was asked to provide capability to move some of those critical care patients.
"In Minnesota, when the bridge collapsed, the state had a very good capacity to respond to the structure failure and in the first response to those injured. However, the state, and truly anywhere in the federal government, you did not have capacity to put divers in the water to operate in that environment to help recover the remains of those killed, so DoD was asked to provide Navy salvage divers to go in there," Renuart said.
Both Renaurt and Cannon talked about how pre-scripting consequence management has led to quicker and better coordinated response efforts.
"In 2006, we had 44 pre-scripted mission assignments with four other federal agencies — DoD being one of them — the main one. Today, we have over 240 with 31 federal agencies. That is a tremendous difference in a year and a half's time. We don't want to wait until we are in the middle of the event to call our friends at DoD and say, now we need some help," Cannon said.
The comprehensive domestic response structure relies on continuous information sharing and contact among support providers for crisis planning. Providers emphasized that procedures are planned collectively so that each agency can respond to an emergency without hesitation.
"We look within each of the 10 FEMA regions [for] the kinds of events that could occur within that region that you can somewhat predict, not the timing, but at least the type of event. Then we begin to try to identify those shortfalls in capacity that may exist among the states or among the various federal partners and look out into DoD to see how we might help fill that gap," Cannon said.
Although the formal request for assistance must go through all the appropriate levels for approval, providers are simultaneously planning their relief response.
"There is a process involved, but underneath that, we have the agencies talking to each other in real-time almost as the event occurs. You can look at floods in the Midwest in the last few days — FEMA, DoD and the states were all talking to each other about what might be needed if the flooding level began to expand beyond what was predicted," Cannon said.
While interoperability between agencies and response times improved tenfold, improvements required a cultural shift in how agencies were organized to provide emergency support.
"At this moment, interoperability technologically is not all that difficult; it's the culture of people communicating with each other. I was, at one time, in charge of a major metropolitan police department, and the FBI wanted to come up on my radio system. I did not want the FBI on my radio system, unless I asked them to be on my radio system," Cannon said. "Those kinds of issues you have to resolve and deal with.
"We realized that our internal communications needed to interoperate well. So today, I have FEMA staff stationed out at NORTHCOM. Every one of our FEMA regions has a defense coordinating officer in that region, it facilitates that communication, and it does it the moment there is a beginning of a sign that something is occurring," Cannon continued.
"We are breaking down those cultural barriers so that we can talk when we have to talk to each other."
JTF-CS – www.jtfcs.northcom.mil
USNORTHCOM – www.northcom.mil
FEMA – www.fema.gov
DHS – www.dhs.gov
EMAC – www.emacweb.org
|Joint Task Force – Civil Support|
JTF-CS is a standing joint task force comprised of active, Reserve and Guard members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as civilian personnel, and is commanded by a federalized National Guard officer.
The purpose of JTF-CS is to save lives, prevent injury and provide temporary critical life support.
While hoping the need never arises, JTF-CS stands ready to aid the designated lead federal agency, most likely FEMA, in charge of managing the consequences of a CBRNE, or chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, accident or incident.
JTF-CS is the only military organization dedicated solely to planning and integrating DoD forces for consequence management support to civil authorities in such a situation.
JTF-CS at a glance
• Deployment of JTF-CS is at the direction of USNORTHCOM, and on authority of the Secretary of Defense, only after a governor requests federal assistance from the president, and after the president issues a Presidential Disaster Declaration. This would only occur at the request of civil authorities when local, state and other federal resources are insufficient to meet the emergency.
• JTF-CS selects personnel based on their expertise and provides additional training to prepare them for executing consequence management operations.
• JTF-CS interacts with many federal, state and local agencies in accordance with the Stafford Act.
• DoD does not assume control of the response and always works in support of the lead federal agency in charge of the overall effort.