DCO spearheads DoD support to California firefighting

By Pfc. Adam C. Blazak | October 29, 2007

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. – When the defense coordinating officer from U.S. Army North is tasked by U. S. Army North to assist civil authorities in a disaster area, one thing is for sure: assets will be available.

As the fires continue in southern California, Col. Mark Armstrong, the Region IX DCO, has the responsibility to coordinate assets to the state as deemed by the lead federal agency and approved by the Secretary of Defense.

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has utilized the DCO on many different levels.

“We’ve provided transportation and robust [communications] equipment for emergency relief efforts,” Armstrong said.

Advanced technology allows for communications during a time of distress.

Armstrong can operate both secure and non-secure lines, which enables him to contact personnel on the ground and personnel in Washington without the worry of interference.

Blue Force Tracking, an elite global positioning system, tracks Soldiers on the scene who are battling the blaze.

When video conferencing is needed, the Voice over Internet Protocol proves a reliable form of communication based off a broadband connection.

Both telecommunications and cellular communications can provide real-time news on what is going on throughout the disaster.

Full motion video capabilities provide live video, taped video and still images to show firefighters where the "hotspots" are. With that information, they can get the right crews to the right places so the fires can be attacked quickly, Armstrong said.

Interoperable communications connects all of these technologies, which make connecting to other means a breeze.

When the DCO needs to go out on his own, he’s well prepared.

The Satellite Communications Fly-Away Kit allows him to connect to work via satellite wherever his job takes him.

“I’m basically self-deployable,” he said. “I’m not reliant on anyone else to bring me connectivity to get the job done.”

Emergency response vehicles, in the form of large sports utility vehicles, carry most of this equipment, he said.

At March Air Reserve Base, a Federal Operational Staging Area has been set up. Armstrong has space allotted for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to surge commodities from the region, which can then be dispersed as needed.

A Mobile Aero Medical Staging Facility, which can medically process displaced civilians in the event of a large-scale evacuation, was deployed.

“Fortunately, in this situation, we haven’t had to employ the capability to evacuate on a large scale, because the state is capable of handling the current situation,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong also coordinates the use of helicopter and fixed wing aircraft for fire suppressant support, along with bulldozers, cots, combat camera and public affairs personnel.

“We can certainly help the state and local communities handle the scope of this disaster,” he said.