(Appeared in print as "There When You Need Them")
When disaster strikes, agencies quickly can become overwhelmed. Once emergency managers have exceeded their local capabilities, they’ll turn to the state emergency management agency for help. When the state becomes overwhelmed, it turns to the federal government for help.
But what many operations chiefs don’t realize is that the closest federal assistance is within reach of their community in the form of National Guard resources provided through the Department of Defense.
The full-time National Guard Civil Support Team is a self-contained, 22-member unit capable of providing secure communications, CBRNE assessment, decontamination and a mobile analytical laboratory. The CST can be requested anytime to help with a known or unknown hazard, released intentionally or accidentally, that is chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear in nature. The CST also is available to provide a communications suite and a command-and-control working area during a disaster. It is much more than a WMD response team, and it is ready for deployment within hours.
As the incident grows in scope, a large, virtually unknown, military system exists to support the efforts of local jurisdictions in their response. The Defense Support to Civilian Authority, or DSCA, uses resources within the DOD to provide assistance to local communities once a request for federal assistance has been made.
Once deployed, these resources are assigned to the civilian authority and work under their direction. The Federal Register clearly states that the DOD will be guided by civilian law and the principle that the federal government assists state agencies. When supporting state and local authorities, the DOD will only do so as part of the federal response according to established agreements and plans and will not compete with the civilian or commercial sector.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff defined two mission areas for homeland security: homeland defense and civil support. Homeland defense is a primary mission for the DOD and is defined as “The protection of U.S. territory, sovereignty, domestic population and critical infrastructure against external threats and aggression.” Civil support, on the other hand, is defined as, “DOD support to civil authorities for domestic emergencies and for designated law enforcement and other activities.” Generally, the functions performed by the military while assisting civil authorities falls under the definition of civil support. DSCA is provided at the direction of the president or secretary of defense and is part of a comprehensive national response plan to prevent and protect against, as well as respond to and recover from, terrorist attacks or other disasters and emergencies.
When a disaster occurs, and after local and state resources are exhausted in the response, the DOD only can become involved in relief operations following a presidential declaration based on a request from the governor.will then activate the National Response Plan, and the DOD will prepare to provide support. Depending on the scope of the disaster, a Joint Task Force Command, through Northern Command will be established to provide control over the DOD assets and streamline the working relationship with the civil authority.
The president and the secretary of defense will establish priorities and determine what DOD resources will be made available for domestic support. Military commanders have a responsibility to ensure that DOD resources are used for the following:
- Ensure civil resources are applied first in meeting requirements of civil authorities.
- Ensure DOD resources are provided only when response or recovery requirements are beyond the capabilities of civil authorities (as determined by FEMA or another agency with responsibility for emergency response).
- Ensure DOD specialized capabilities, e.g., airlift and reconnaissance are used efficiently. Military forces shall remain under military command and control under the authority of the DOD executive agent (Northern Command) at all times.
DOD components shall not perform any function of civil government unless absolutely necessary and then only on a temporary basis under conditions of immediate response.