USNORTHCOM hosts hurricane preparation conference

By Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braymen


Representatives from military and civilian agencies that would provide federal hurricane relief efforts attended the second annual Hurricane Preparation Conference hosted by U.S. Northern Command at its headquarters yesterday.

Participants discussed improving communication and collaboration should the need for federal assistance arise during the 2007 hurricane season.

"It's all about 'what did we learn the last time and how can we do it better this time?'" said Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul J. Sullivan, chief of staff of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM. "That's really why we meet on an annual basis in February. If we uncovered something difficult right now, we still have time to react before the heart of the hurricane season."

Conference attendees included officials from National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., and the adjutants general or their representatives from nine hurricane-prone states on the Gulf and southeastern coasts of the United States. Also attending were leaders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Army North, 1st Air Force, USNORTHCOM and other officials who could be involved in disaster response.

Successful hurricane relief efforts are built on a partnership amongst the organizations, "and we need all of these partners," said Glenn Cannon, director of FEMA's response division.

"We've all learned that we can't respond to these things (by everyone doing) their own thing," he said. "There has to be a unified response. What these workshops do is give us the chance to not only integrate plans but ... to integrate people."

Every day at FEMA, Cannon said, operations center personnel talk with their counterparts in the operations centers at DHS, the Coast Guard and USNORTHCOM.

"That's critical that we share information and we know what's going on, so that we're all on the same page," he said. "The American people are benefited by having a coordinated, unified response to their situation. We have so much that we can use to help people, to save lives and reduce suffering. But if we don't do it in a coordinated way, we won't (accomplish) that mission in the best way possible."

USNORTHCOM assets are normally not the first to be called upon for hurricane relief operations. By law, the command must wait to respond until directed by the president or secretary of defense. Typically, the first uniformed people on the ground at the scene are National Guard Soldiers and Airmen.

The hurricane preparation conference allows National Guard leaders to get to know USNORTHCOM officials and build closer relationships with them, said Army Maj. Gen. C. Mark Bowen, adjutant general of Alabama.

"With the relationship we've built here, I will feel more comfortable going to Northern Command and saying, 'Look, we need a little help in Alabama,'" Bowen said. "We've worked out a mutual aid-type agreement where we work together, and that's going to work very well for us."

The governor of Louisiana has instructed the state's National Guard leaders to do as much coordination as possible with their federal partners who can help the state's citizens during times of need, said Army Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, adjutant general of Louisiana.

"The opportunity to have coordination discussion and collaboration is absolutely essential to our preparations for whatever we need to respond to within the state, whether it's tornadoes, or a man-made disaster, or hurricanes or whatever," he said.

Last year's quiet hurricane season was "an anomaly," said Air Force Lt. Col. David Lawyer, USNORTHCOM's senior meteorology and oceanographic officer.

"Don't let your guard down because of what happened in 2006," he warned conference participants. "That was abnormal that we didn't have any hurricanes hit the United States at all."

For the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season beginning June 1 and ending Nov. 30, experts predict 14 named storms, seven of which are expected to be hurricanes.