Irene: National Guard center coordinates joint support to civilian authorities
Story by Tech. Sgt. Johnathon Orrell
ARLINGTON, Va. – With Hurricane Irene making landfall, the National Guard has about 101,000 Guard members ready to respond; organizing that response is a three-pronged effort that takes communication and patience, the National Guard Bureau’s current operations division chief said late Aug. 26.
Working around the clock in classified areas where there are no windows and neither sunshine nor approaching storm clouds, Guard officials ensure the affected states, Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Northern Command get everything they need to support civilian authorities.
The Federal Connection
At the National Guard Coordination Center here, the focus is integrating with FEMA and NORTHCOM to make sure National Guard forces are in place and mission ready, said Air Force Col. Matthew Wessel.
“We’re the focal point for all National Guard activities,” he said.
“The NGCC keeps NORTHCOM and FEMA appraised of what the National Guard is doing, where Guard members are and integrates with the larger response force at all levels.”
In a domestic operations event, the coordination goes from the Army and Air National Guard through the NGCC, which in turn relays the information to FEMA and NORTHCOM.
“They stand up their [Air Guard Crisis Action Team] and Army Watch to direct forces at the unit level, while the NGCC is at the strategic level of providing NORTHCOM with the equities and where the troops are,” Wessel said.
Immediate communication at the federal level saves valuable response time.
“As an event like this starts to take shape, we start immediately reaching out for FEMA and NORTHCOM to get an idea of what they are planning,” he said.
“We start working the problem, start looking at what could be affected and where are our forces.”
Like the Army and the Air National Guard operations centers, the NGCC focuses on the chief of the National Guard Bureau’s 10 essential tasks for a domestic crisis response.
The Essential 10 missions the National Guard focuses on in each state during a response to a domestic emergency are: A Joint Force Headquarters for command and control; a Civil Support Team for chemical, biological, and radiological detection; engineering assets; communications; ground transportation; aviation; medical capability; security forces; logistics and maintenance capability.
To guide the Army National Guard response, the Army Watch – the Army Guard operations center – works with the NGCC and build response force packages.
Those packages allow the Army Guard to position assets and fill any shortfalls states may have, said Army Col. Jeffery Pounding, chief of the Army National Guard operations division.
Working with the states, the Army Watch finds what capability gaps could affect the states during a response like the current one with Hurricane Irene.
Just like the NGCC, the Army Watch follows the 10 essentials and develops force packages to fill potential capability gaps, depending on the category of the storm.
As a hypothetical, Pounding talked about potential shortfalls Maryland could have during the hurricane.
“If we believe there is going to be a category two hurricane that is projected to hit Maryland, we look at the chief’s 10 essential functions each state has to have, and then we look at those essential functions the state Joint Force Headquarters says they need help with,” he said.
“We then take Army National Guard equities, we go out, we identify what is available and then turn around and make recommendations for this. … That then becomes part of a force package for that state.”
In response to Irene, the Army Watch has established four force packages for aerial support and three for ground support.
“We’ve stood a crisis action team that is monitoring the situation, is synched in and collaborating with our National Guard Joint Staff and Air National Guard CAT,” Pounding said.
The force packages are spread throughout the East Coast for maximum coverage, away from the the predicted impact area of the hurricane but close enough to quickly render support after the storm passes.
“We’ve located them in potential affected areas of the south, the mid-Atlantic and the northern part of the Eastern Coast,” he said.
In Eastover, S.C., the Army Guard has stood up an aerial force package of 17 aircraft consisting of UH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, UH-72 Lakotas, OH-58 Kiowas and C-27 Spartans with about 100 Guard members. They are from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
“That force package will be ready to lift off as needed,” he said.
“We have approximately 40 to 50 people working this as two organizations under the [Army Guard Domestic Operations division]. The crisis action team that does current operations – they maintain visibility of the situation – and the future operations cell, which develops the force response packages – they look at the capabilities and gaps and build force packages for the gaps.
“They are mobilizing, they are moving, they will go to a reception site and stage, then they will wait.”
Once staged, the package will then fill the gaps in equipment and capabilities that effected states identify.
This provides the Army Guard with a readied force to launch immediately, he said.
Air Guard CATs
The third leg of the National Guard’s domestic operations response is the Air Guard’s Crisis Action Team.
“The overall purpose is to be here and support any domestic operation mission that requires any Air National Guard assets,” said Air Force Maj. Derrick Reese, Air National Guard Crisis Action Team executive officer.
The Air Guard CAT has already reacted to Irene by relocating Air Guard equipment that could be potentially damaged, and preparing units for the quickest response possible, he said.
“We are posturing airlift units by placing them in a quick response alert status so they can be ready to go at a moment’s notice in the event that airlift is required to move personnel, equipment such as cargo or whatever the mission requires.”
The Air National Guard has also placed aeromedical evacuation units and search and rescue assets on a readied alert.
During domestic operation responses, the Air Guard CAT works with the NGCC and vets support requests. Those requests come in from impacted states and federal agencies through the NGCC.
“Any state that’s in the path of the hurricane that ends up being affected by it and they have exhausted all of their resources – city, county, state – can put a request through the NGCC, which in turn will filter down to the Army or Air National Guard, depending on which one will be able to satisfy the requirement,” Reese said.