Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We Don't Need a National Emergency Response Corps!

National Emergency Response and Disaster Assistance Corps

The title is from an article appearing in the September 2007 Homeland Defense Journal by Robert McCreight. Dr. McCreight asserts the need for the corps based on National Guard personnel and equipment deployed overseas and unavailable to respond to state emergencies.

Dr. McCreight feels National Guard overseas deployments adversely impact disaster response missions in their home states. This argument was first heard when Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius said that half of the trucks of the Kansas National Guard were in Iraq creating shortfalls in responding to the tornados that struck the state last May. No one challenged the governor as to where her other state agencies where during this emergency response.

The National Guard has a dual-mission charter. The first mission is the federal mission where the Army and Air National Guard function as Reserve components to the United States Army and the United States Air Force respectively. The National Guard receives federal funding for the training necessary to meet these mission requirements. Since9/11, this has been the mission getting the most attention as units are mobilized to support the Global War on Terrorism.

The second mission is the state mission. Each state (including Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia) has an Army and Air National Guard. The National Guard of each state falls under the jurisdiction of the governor. (Washington D.C. is the one exception to this rule). The National Guard is the organized militia of the state articulated in the U.S. Constitution. The National Guard is the governor’s resource to deal with emergencies or insurrections once other state resources have been exhausted.

The National Guard is the last in and the first out during a state emergency. Other state agencies are called up first and if there is a shortfall the National Guard responds. Part of the reason for utilizing other agencies first is that the National Guard receives reimbursement by their state for all personnel and equipment used during the emergency. Other agencies do not receive state reimbursement as a rule.

Dr. McCreight advocates ‘a special cadre of emergency and disaster response specialists deployable from each state, and specially trained and equipped, to surge and assist localities in handling the toughest and most demanding tasks during the first days and weeks following a disaster’. The National Guard already has skill sets and equipment to fulfill this requirement. The National Guard is able to maintain their skills as part of their war-time skills training using federal dollars. The proposal from Dr. McCreight could strain already austere state budgets beyond the breaking point.

The system he advocates pre-supposes a large number of professionals that are available to join this cadre. Most are already employed either in the private or public sector and it is unlikely that they employers will allow them to augment another group (effectively reducing their own agency’s ability to respond). Many are also already members of the National Guard.

The other problem is standardization of training. If the intent is to create a deployable team, then the team members need to be able to seamlessly adapt to their new location. The National Guard is already established and funded to perform exactly as Dr. McCreight’s cadre. Furthermore, it does this as part of a federal mission so there are national standards to which National Guard members are trained and certified.

The author based his model on Russia’s EMERCOM (Ministry of Civil Defense) which provides many of the same disaster response capabilities as the National Guard and state emergency management agencies do here in the United States. Russia and many other nations have basically two types of military forces, active and reserves. The active duty troops perform military missions and the reserves act as a manpower pool to backfill any shortfalls the active duty forces may encounter. The United States is one of the only countries with a National Guard with the dual missions of federal military reserve and state emergency response. It is a model that other countries (such as Hungary and Serbia) are trying to model.

The National Guard is being utilized more heavily than ever in its federal mission but rather than invent another version of them, states need to take a more active role in monitoring how may Guard members are activated and which equipment is being tasked. All states have a Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) with and Joint Operations Center (JOC). The JOC can track all of the information and then the JFHQ can asses the impact of the deployments on state active duty missions. The assessments can then be briefed by the Adjutant General (commander of the state National Guard) to the governor. All of this infrastructure is already in place and states need not re-invent a whole new program (at tremendous cost and time).

The drain of the National Guard to support overseas deployments does need to be addressed, however creating a new corps isn't the right answer.

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