Military leaders prepare for 2006 hurricane season

By Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher | NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | February 13, 2006

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Do the right thing for the American people.

This was the clear message Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Northern Command, had for the group of senior military leaders who gathered for the 2006 Hurricane Preparation Conference Feb. 13 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

The admiral in charge of coordinating the Department of Defense disaster relief efforts discussed the need for the nine adjutants general, the heads of the National Guard for their respective states, and his senior leadership to “roll up your sleeves and ask the questions” that will better prepare the military for the upcoming hurricane season, which experts expect to rival the 2005 season.

“This collaborative session was held in advance of the 2006 hurricane season, not because our collective response in 2005 was anything less than historic,” Maj. Gen. Paul Sullivan, USNORTHCOM Chief of Staff, “but because we learned there is a need to share information and lessons learned in advance of this hurricane season if we are to do the right thing for the people that will be most affected by such catastrophic events.

“This is a critical step in shaping our nation’s ability to respond to a catastrophic event like we saw last year with Hurricane Katrina,” Sullivan said. “It also goes a long way in advancing our collective ability to respond with the full spectrum of our military capabilities in a timely manner in accordance with national laws and within the existing framework of the National Response Plan.”

At the height of the military’s response to Hurricane Katrina, more than 50,000 National Guard forces and 20,000 active duty members supported disaster relief efforts in the U.S. Gulf Coast. The military participated in search and rescue, evaluation, humanitarian assistance and presence operations, insect abatement spraying, mortuary affairs support, and waterborne search and rescue with the United States Coast Guard and local authorities. The Department of Defense helped deliver more than 58 million liters of water, 17 million pounds of ice, 32 tons of basic first aid supplies, and more than 23 million Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

“Cooperation and coordination is key to any response effort,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Doug Burnett, The Adjutant General of Florida. “We should not be exchanging business cards in the foxhole.”

The conference is also ensuring that everybody has a common operating picture and a mutual understanding of how each state and USNORTHCOM conducts business, said Army Brig. Gen. John Basilica, who is leading the continued National Guard hurricane recovery effort in Louisiana as the Joint Task Force Pelican commander.

Basilica noted there are many things that take place in the National Guard at the state level under the authority of the governor that USNORTHCOM needs to understand, specifically how the system works, both in procedure and process. “There are many that have worked extremely well in the past that we want to retain and this conference is about finding areas for improvement.”

And information sharing is one way to ensure that happens.

“Good communication makes large organizations function better,” Burnett said. “It gives Admiral Keating confidence that the states are looking at the same situation he’s looking at and that their response effort is focused [appropriately] and it gives him an opportunity to shape that response.”

Uniting senior leaders at USNORTHCOM with the adjutants general is vital, according to Army Maj. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, The Adjutant General of Texas. Rodriguez emphasized the value of building relationships with state and local authorities during various training exercises.

“You've got to have connectivity and knowledge of how [local authorities] work [because] no two locals work the same,” Rodriquez said.

As a result, the TAGs and their forces “become a critical lynchpin” when and where national resources are involved. “It’s not just knowing who they are … it’s knowing how they operate,” Rodriguez said.

And the TAGs bring a “tremendous” amount of experience, Basilica added.

“Every time we go into a combat zone we spend a tremendous amount of resources just trying to learn about the terrain and learn about the enemy,” he said. “There’s nobody that knows more about the terrain and about the issues that would affect that state than an adjutant general.”