U.S. Army North helps put hurricane plans to the test
April 8, 2009
A step-by-step hurricane response drill this month will allow a host of state and federal agencies to test their disaster contingency plans before the June 1 start of hurricane season.
More than 150 planners and consequence managers will assemble at Fort Belvoir, Va., April 14-15, for what has become an annual exercise before the start of hurricane season.
U.S. Army North, the Army component of U.S. Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., organized the event as part of its mission to support civil authorities during disaster.
The exercise is designed to fully coordinate the support that active military forces could be asked to provide states and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the event of a major hurricane, said Maj. Gen. John Basilica, who commands U.S. Army North's Operational Command Post 1.
"This rehearsal has become an excellent opportunity for Army North, the hurricane-prone states, the military services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to literally walk through their response plans, phase by phase, from pre- to post-landfall and beyond," Basilica said.
This is the third time that the command has organized the drill, and each has been better than the last, said Lt. Col. Dan Clark, an operations officer who helped plan the exercise.
"Attendance has grown every year," Clark said. "Participants gain an understanding of what all of the other agencies are doing and how all the plans fit together. It's an opportunity to identify any capability gaps and correct them before the storms hit."
The event scenario opens 120 hours before landfall of a major hurricane and continues until at least 48 hours after landfall, Clark said.
This year's notional storm will hit southern Florida before gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico and striking Alabama and Mississippi.
The multi-state scenario was designed to allow a great number of agencies and states to walk through their concept plans. In addition, the Navy plans to rehearse a maritime response for the Florida Keys, Clark said.
The drill is just one of many hurricane response planning events for Army North, headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
In recent months, the command's defense coordinating officers have participated within their assigned regions in various state and federal conferences and exercises. These events better prepare the officers and their seven-person element to coordinate federal military disaster support on the ground.
In April, Army North also established and certified an 11th defense coordinating officer and element to serve as a back-up to the 10 regional DCOs, and the command's two deployable task force headquarters are exercising their mission of controlling federal forces deployed for hurricane response.
In addition, the command has been working with hurricane-prone states and the Department of the Army to ensure that commonly requested military equipment such as ground vehicles and helicopters will be available if state capabilities are overwhelmed during hurricane season, Clark said.
"We spend a lot of time during the off-season and year round to understand what we might be asked to provide when a major storm hits," he explained. "We work hard to anticipate the needs of our federal, state and local partners so we can be responsive when needed."