Interagency cooperation emphasized, exercised during VS 07

By MC1(SW/AW) Joaquin Juatai | December 12, 2006

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command are in the midst of Exercise Vigilant Shield ’07, an exercise designed to test and stretch not only the commands’ responses, but the effectiveness of interagency cooperation between the commands and civil authorities.

Developing stronger interagency ties and capabilities is part of the reason NORAD and USNORTHCOM undergo scenarios such as those presented during VS 07.

“We have worked out, in multiple exercises such as this, methods of quickly requesting and providing assistance to authorities,” said Maj. Gen. William Webster, director of operations for USNORTHCOM. “The strongest asset we have, in my opinion, is our working relationship with the other agencies.”

NORAD and USNORTHCOM’s interagency capabilities have been tested during VS 07; NORAD, with the detection and warning of both aerospace and maritime threats and USNORTHCOM with response to simulated disasters.

“We have the ability to have the right mix of agencies looking each other eye-to-eye,” said Bear McConnell, NORAD and USNORTHCOM’s director of Interagency Coordination.

According to McConnell, having representatives of more than 60 different federal and civil support agencies available to NORAD and USNORTHCOM, actually working in the building, “gives us the ability to tailor our response to the incident at hand. Having those (representatives) available to us is important.”

“Getting the right capability to the right spot at the right time is what is important,” said Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM. Keating described a simple yet significant shift in the focus of Defense Support of Civil Authority missions: instead of the military arriving at a scene and exercising command and control, essentially taking over operations, NORAD and USNORTHCOM have learned that “communication and collaboration” is the more appropriate method of approaching DSCA operations.

“In the course of exercises, this one in particular, we’re finding that that approach is embraceable and it is being embraced by everyone in the interagency,” Keating said.

“Unity of results as provided by unity of efforts,” is what the commands and their interagency partners are working for, Keating said.

“We know that,” said Webster. “Now, better than ever. Unity of effort is most important. This ‘collaboration and communication’ that we’re talking about is something that we’re practicing now on a regular basis.”

VS 07 began Dec 4 and runs through Thursday. In all, including interagency partners, more than 6,000 people will have participated in the exercise by the time it concludes.