FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commanding general, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), and senior commander for Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, led a discussion panel on Enhancing North American Security/Missions at Home Oct. 23 during the Association of the United States Army 2013 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.
The panel included representatives from U.S. Northern Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Army National Guard, Army Reserve, U.S. Border Patrol and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, who discussed their respective agency's missions and roles in enhancing North American Security and in providing support to civil authorities here at home.
"In 99 percent of the cases, the DoD will be supporting another principal fellow agency in the response," Wiggins said, "and that's important to understand in the difference of operating in the homeland. In the homeland, the strength of our nation resides in our ability to respond at all levels -- local, state and federal. It's that synergy that creates the solution to the things in the homeland that challenge us in addressing our threats."
Following his introduction, Wiggins turned the forum over to retired Coast Guard Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson Jr., former deputy administrator and chief operating officer of FEMA, who served as the moderator for the forum.
"The objective (for this forum) is to enhance (everyone's) understanding of how this interagency panel works together using the National Response Framework as a guide," Johnson said.
Johnson described a complex catastrophe scenario involving a 10-kiloton nuclear device detonating in a major metropolitan area. If such a devastating event were to occur, and in the event that state and local assets capability and capacity were overwhelmed, federal support would be called upon to assist.
He also spoke of the significance of Hurricane Katrina and how it turned out to be a landmark event in that it spurred the creation of a guide for each of the agencies to use in the future for handling significant events that threaten the lives and safety of the American people. This guide became the National Response Framework.
"This framework tells us how we respond as a nation to major disasters," Johnson said. "It will guide the real-world response to any kind of a catastrophe that might strike our nation in the near future."
It was using this as the backdrop to discussing the scenario that the panel continued forward throughout the forum. Perhaps the most important points revolved around cooperation and preparedness.
"American people have an expectation we will take care of the Homeland. That's our number-one mission -- protecting and preserving our way of life here," Wiggins said. "We rehearse with partners … for the way ahead, and it's critical we exercise this zero-failure mission. We work hand-in-hand with many partners."
Although many feel that Soldiers may be used to being "large and in charge" during combat operations in Afghanistan, Wiggins said that is not the case in the homeland, where the military stresses working together and building trust with its partners as being the key to success in providing support for any large-scale response.
"We've come a long way in civil support; the American people can be proud," he said. "We pray this doesn't happen, but we have to be prepared.
"We must always remember -- the American people have high expectations here in the homeland. It's up to us to deliver and we only get one chance to get it right."