Improving DoD Support to FEMA's All-Hazards Plans

This is a sobering report.

by Eric Holdeman / December 11, 2015

I have to say I was a bit astounded to read portions of this document, Improving DoD Support to FEMA's All-Hazards Plans. At a minimum, you need to read the executive summary at the front of the report.

Besides casual interest in the topic of disasters, I have always tried to stay somewhat informed on the status of military support to civil authorities. This report focuses on active duty (Title 10) support. Way back in 1984-88 I was in G-3 Operations for the then 4th Army. My two positions there were Operations Officer in charge of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and then two years as the Chief of Contingency Plans. Much has changed since then with some very positive measures being taken.

Two items in particular should be very helpful for being able to improve the civil-military interface during disasters. One was the establishment of Northern Command to focus on this civil support mission and second was the detailing of Defense Coordinating Elements (DCE) to each Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region. Neither of these existed back in the mid- to late 1980s. Back then we had reserve officers serving a military branch liaisons to state National Guards and then a cadre of what we called REMICs (sp?) who were reserve officers from the different military branches. These transitioned into the current REPLO (Regional Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer) positions. For some background information on the DCE you can watch this Disaster Zone TV show I did on Military Support to Civil Authorities a couple of years ago.

What I found very surprising was the lack of detailed planning that exists. I'm most familiar with FEMA Region X. See the color-coded chart in the report that reflects the shortfalls.  

Then there was this quote, " For the scenarios that are exceptions, interviewees stated that DoD should wait for FEMA to complete its own ongoing planning before providing planning assistance. They posited that a massive catastrophe, such as inundation from a tsunami caused by an earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, would be disastrous, but because it has a very low probability in the next three to five years, “we can afford to have strategic patience.” Yikes! Who said we have time? Not a good planning assumption in my estimation.

Then there is this dialog about the priority that defense support to civil authorities has in today's force structure. It is clear in the report that the priority is not clear, even within the military. Another Yikes!

I have been saying that the upcoming Cascadia Rising Earthquake 2016 Exercise will have a major military and state component to it.  Evidently we need this exercise to sort out some pretty basic planning elements.  

For you military planners out there, if I was the FEMA Region X Administrator these are the priority instructions I'd give you for planning. For a Cascadia Subduction Fault, we expect the Navy and Marines to provide the vast bulk of the emergency response to coastal areas in Washington state. Conduct search and rescue operations, assess the possibility of the restoration of civil government in the communities devastated by the tsunami and then, most likely, evacuate survivors over the shore to waiting ships since the sustainment of those coastal communities will not be possible until bridges leading to the coast are rebuilt.  

And, for coastal communities, a planning assumption would be, don't expect significant military assistance and aid until seven days after the earthquake. The majority of resources will be streaming north from San Diego.  

In summary, there is plenty to be done and it appears we've only scratched the surface.

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