By Sgt. Lee Ezzell, USARNORTHApril 16, 2013
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- More than 250 representatives from approximately 20 different Department of Defense, federal, state and international organizations gathered together April 9-11 at Fort Sam Houston to rehearse for the 2013 hurricane season.
The group reflected on the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, as well as other past disasters, and sought new ways to improve on future response operations if called upon to provide much-needed support.
"This really should set up the Department of Defense to be able to respond to, and really support, those first responders out there who may need help," said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and senior commander of Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis.
Caldwell said he has high expectations of those gathered as the beginning of hurricane season nears.
"This is just the beginning of preparation," he said.
A majority of hurricane strikes occur on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts during the summer and early fall of each year. This has been the case in recent history.
With the mission of helping to ensure hurricane preparedness for the Department of Defense, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), as the U.S. Northern Command's standing Joint Force Land Component Command, provided an environment to bring together the DoD agencies, federal and states authorities, and their partner agencies, to rehearse their collective actions through a hurricane response scenario, according to a recent article posted on Army.mil.
This rehearsal is one of the key components in helping to ensure the partners are ready to respond effectively during a hurricane event. As with any rehearsal, it provides an opportunity to identify potential problems now instead of trying to resolve those issues in the middle of a disaster -- when lives are at stake.
One of the advantages of exercises such as this is the opportunity to learn about the capabilities and special skills the other organizations possess, said Lt. Col. Juan Garcia, branch chief of logistics operations for the National Guard Bureau.
"There are perceptions out there among some federal agencies that individual states can't handle a major domestic operation, said Garcia. "Some states feel like any federal response means the federal government wants to come in, take charge and take over. Going through this rehearsal, we can eliminate these perceptions or misconceptions."
The bottom line, said the gather leaders, is that the mission comes first. Although each of the different partners have their own specific operating procedures, it is only through working together that they can succeed.
"There are definitely some friction points, but we are working through them," said Col. Robert Spano, director, joint staff, California National Guard.
What also makes exercises such as this even more challenging is that in addition to the differences in the ways the federal agencies operate versus the state agencies, there are also dramatic differences in how each state operates.
"Each state has its own history, its own culture, its own experiences and its operating procedures … ," said Col. Scott Macleod, director, operations, Texas Military Forces. "We all know though, that at the end of the day, we are all Americans trying to help our fellow Americans in the best way we know how."
As the conference drew to a close, Joe Girot, federal coordinating officer cadre member, Region IV, Federal Emergency Response Agency, said he believed that the overarching issues had been dealt with.
"We have covered numerous areas, but this has been a huge success," he said. "I think we have (addressed) the strategic issues that we, as leaders, should."
Caldwell said he was pleased with the success of bringing the partners together.
"I really am just proud to have each of these groups working together to build the critical relationships and understanding of capabilities that will pay off when the next disaster strikes our nation."