What is it? Defense Coordinating Officers (DCO)/Defense Coordinating Elements (DCE)s serve as Department of Defense first responders to a natural or manmade disaster. The DCO/ (DCE) program was established on 23 August 1992 by order of the Commander, Second U.S. Army, pursuant to Public Law 92-288, as amended. DCO/Es are permanently assigned to all ten Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions. US Army North (USARNORTH) provides command and control of DCO/DCEs. The DCO maintains a permanent staff of six personnel (DCE), with planning and operations expertise. This team of experts are regionally organized and focused. Upon deployment, the DCO/E receives staff augmentation from USARNORTH, if needed.
The DCO serves as the DoD point of contact to the Primary Federal Agency(s) (PFA) responding to an event. DCO’s 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 US Northern Command, the Joint Staff Domestic Support office, and the Homeland Defense / Civil Support Branch to facilitate immediate deployment for disaster support up to twenty days without Secretary of Defense approval.
In 2006, a DCO/DCE deployed in support of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) supporting wildland fire fighting operations in the western and northwestern parts of the United States. Deployed over 90 days in support of the NIFC, the DCO and his staff took direct command and control of all deployed Modular Airborne Firefight Systems flown by the Air Force and ground Wildland Fire Fighting battalions. These DoD resources augmented local, tribal, state, and federal wildland fire fighting capabilities. During Hurricane Katrina, DCO/DCEs deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In 2006, DCOs provided support to Hurricane Ernesto operations.
What continued efforts does the Army have planned for the future? The Army maintains a permanently assigned Defense Coordinating Officer and Element (DCO/E) 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.