Minneapolis – Response to tragedies such as the I-35 bridge collapse Aug. 1 often requires coordination among many agencies, whether local, state or federal. As more people and agencies - including active-duty military organizations and troops - join a disaster response, the amount of coordination involved may be the true test of success in the end.
The responsibility to coordinate the Department of Defense’s support and recovery efforts lies with Defense Coordinating Officers and their teams, Defense Coordinating Element s .
DCOs are the single point s of contact for all DoD assets at response scenes. Their primary duty is facilitating requests for assistance from civil authorities following a declared disaster.
There are 10 DCOs, all assigned to U.S. Army North, located at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. Army North provides Defense Support of Civil Authorities as the Army component of U.S. Northern Command, the unified command headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., that is responsible for homeland defense and civil support. Each DCO, and DCE, is collocated with a FEMA regional headquarters to assist in planning for federal disaster response missions.
Although serving as DCO used to be an additional duty that was activated only upon declaration of a national disaster , DCO s and their staffs now hold full-time positions.
Being full-time allows DCO s and their staff s to develop relationships with local, state and regional partners within their responsible states , said Army Maj. Steve King, Region V operations officer.
“What you get as a benefit are fully-trained, dedicated-to-the-disaster operations personnel,” King said . “Now, everything we do is toward preparing for any natural or manmade disaster. That’s how we train, that’s how we exercise, and that’s how we execute.”
The team supporting recovery efforts at the bridge site in Minneapolis come s from Region V, located in Chicago, and is supported by augmentees from U.S. Army North and emergency preparedness liaison officers from Minnesota. Region V is responsible for six states: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
“The DCE facilitates the operation’s mission to ensure that the recovery mission responsible to the D o D is executed according to the plan and approval of the incident commander,” said Minnesota State Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer, Army Col. Myron Anderson. “In order to bring DoD resources to bear on the situation at the request of the civil authorities, you would need some sort of command structure to ensure that the mission’s properly coordinated.”
When active-duty military assets are called upon to assist in emergencies , the DCOs are the senior titled military officer s on the premises and all active-duty military assets report to them.
Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers are another link in the military response chain.
“I’m a Navy emergency preparedness liaison officer,” said Navy Capt. Greg Eaton, FEMA Region V. “There are liaison officers all over the country - each state and region have one assigned from each service.
“Within this DCE, there are two Navy EPLOs, one Army and one Air Force,” Eaton added. “We all work together with different specialties to support the DCO to make sure that everything that needs to happen to make this organization run happens.”
The state and regional EPLOs work with the DCO to ensure DoD resources are available prior to any emergency. They assist in planning before an event and respond when a disaster is declared.
For more information on DoD support of recovery efforts in Minneapolis, please contact Mr. Randy Mitchell, Army North Public Affairs at 210-846-9230.