ARNORTH commander meets with Region II disaster response leaders in New York

By Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Torres-Cortes U.S. Army North PAO

NEW YORK –As the 2010 hurricane season began, the Army's top disaster-response official, Lt. Gen. Guy Swan III, commanding general, U.S. Army North, met with disaster-response counterparts from Region II, a region composed of New York, New Jersey, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, to discuss how cooperation and relationships are critical in supporting the region during natural disasters.

Swan met with the Adjutants General from New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and the Army North Defense Coordinating Officer for the region, at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building here June 1.

“During these critical times we don’t get a second chance to do it right,” said Swan. “We have a direct role in training the force to handle these types of missions and we must be able to react when protecting and supporting our homeland.”

U.S. Army North, the Joint Force Land Component Command under U.S. Northern Command, provides defense support to civil authorities during natural disasters. Typical support may include transportation, search and rescue, medical evacuation, distributing food and water, and other emergency support functions.

“It's important that we have the opportunity to talk with one another in the region to discuss our objectives and our goals in supporting our islands,” said Maj. Gen. Renaldo Rivera, adjutant general, Joint Force Headquarters, U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard. “Hurricane Omar showed us how exercises and preparations are crucial in having the correct funding and federal assets in place, such as rotary and fixed winged aircraft.”

When Hurricane Omar hit the coast of the Virgin Islands in 2008, causing a devastating $6 million in damage, Region II crisis response teams provided support for those affected by the disaster.

An island or territory has to be self-sustaining relatively quickly after a hurricane because air travel will be restricted as the hurricane passes and moves on, Rivera said. The Virgin Islands, consisting of St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island, is manned by about 500 National Guard troops.

Cooperation and planning between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense and other local, state and federal agencies will be important in the upcoming hurricane season.

“We count on the defense coordinating officers to keep us up to date on any assistance that will be required after a storm hits,” said Lynn Canton, FEMA regional administrator, Region II. “Our plans are clear, and we continue to train together to ensure we have prepositioned assets even before an event occurs.”

FEMA has already pre-positioned generators on the Islands to help support the upcoming hurricane season. New Jersey, home of 16 million residents with 566 municipalities and 21 counties, contains one of the largest police and firefighting forces on the East Coast. Coordinating between all the agencies can be challenging in itself.

“This meeting is about building the working relationship with our counterparts from New York, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn Reith, adjutant general, New Jersey Army National Guard. “Coordinating how we will support the other states in the region is difficult when your own force is down to only 55 percent due to combat deployments to Iraq.”

The deployment of New Jersey's 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Iraq in 2008 made it more challenging to maintain support for contingencies in the state such as natural disasters and homeland security. However, with close relationships with the Air National Guard and other agencies, New Jersey was able to fill in the gap left by the brigade’s deployment by training other agencies to perform homeland missions, Reith said.

“The unity of effort between us and the Air National Guard was instrumental during that year,” said Reith. “We were able to train them on our vehicles in order to be prepared for any possible support.”

With a vast amount of underground transportation, New Jersey’s contingency plans for flooding due to hurricane-induced wind and rain is a top priority, as well as cooperative contingency plans with New York, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

During 9/11, New Jersey provided assets and support to New York. That type of support is what the Defense Coordinating Elements and the Defense Coordinating Officers are there for.

“Support for response is more of an art than science," said Swan. "It requires a lot of trust and confidence among our partners, and more importantly, an effective response relationship will maintain the public’s trust and confidence in their local, state and federal agencies.”