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Edition: Fri, January 11, 2008
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Defense support of civil authorities - defense coordinating officer/defense coordinating element

What is it? Defense coordinating officers (DCOs)/defense coordinating elements (DCEs) serve as DOD first responders to a natural or manmade disaster. The DCO (DCE) program was established on Aug. 23, 1992, by order of the commander, Second U.S. Army, pursuant to Public Law 92-288, as amended. DCOs/DCEs are permanently assigned to all 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions. U.S. Army North (USARNORTH) provides command and control of DCO/DCEs. The DCO maintains a permanent staff of seven military and civilian personnel (DCE), with planning, communications and operations expertise. This team of experts are regionally organized and focused. Upon deployment, the DCO/DCE receives staff augmentation from USARNORTH, if needed. The DCO is an active-duty Army colonel who serves as the DOD point of contact to the lead federal agency(s) (LFA) responding to an event. DCOs coordinate directly with the principal federal official, federal coordinating officer, and emergency support function elements responsible for requesting military assistance in support of disaster relief operations.

The DCO assumes operational control or tactical control of all assigned Title 10 forces in the mission area, as well as assuming control of all DoD resources in the disaster area. If the response requirements exceed DCO command and control capabilities, a joint task force could be established to provide the needed command and control. The DCO would then continue to serve as the DoD coordinating officer of requests for military assistance from state or federal agencies.

What has the Army done? The Army established a standing order which allows deployment of DCOs/DCEs after verbal coordination between U.S. Northern Command, the Joint Staff Domestic Support office, and the Homeland Defense/Civil Support Branch to facilitate immediate deployment for disaster support up to 20 days without Secretary of Defense approval. In 2007, a DCO/DCE deployed in support of the Department of Transportation supporting recovery efforts at the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis. DCO/DCE teams also deployed to southern California and to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise to support wildfire fighting operations in southern California. They also deployed as part of the federal response teams to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas and Louisiana during hurricane season. For Hurricane Katrina response, DCOs/DCEs deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

What continued efforts does the Army have planned for the future? The Army maintains a permanently assigned defense coordinating officer and element (DCO/DCE) in each FEMA region in order to plan, coordinate and integrate DSCA with local, state, and federal agencies.

Why is this important to the Army? Defense coordinating officers help to speed DOD's response in case of emergencies. These personnel work within each of the FEMA regional offices and are attuned to the unique requirements of FEMA and other agencies when it comes to emergency response. They are best suited to translate those needs into requirements for the DOD.

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