WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- As Hurricane Matthew churns toward the east coast, Soldiers and civil emergency response teams are bracing to carry out large-scale disaster relief if needed.
It's more complex, though, than rolling up in Humvees packed with sandbags and water bottles, according to officials. Any effective response to a disaster must involve intense planning and the combined effort of several agencies, backed by active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers.
"When the nation calls, the Army responds," Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North, said Oct. 5 during a discussion on homeland defense at the Association of the U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Buchanan said his command relies on an array of state and regional emergency preparedness liaison officers embedded across the country to assist organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"This is our point element for defense support of civil authorities," he said. "With the threat we're facing with Hurricane Matthew, FEMA is in operation, and we are in support of FEMA."
At the tip of disaster response are the Army's reserve forces. About 1,600 Guardsmen have already been activated in Florida and South Carolina for the hurricane, with evacuations underway in the latter state. Hundreds more Soldiers are on standby in other coastal states, according to a National Guard Bureau news release.
If an event is very destructive, like a major hurricane, a state can lend its Guardsmen to other states under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a state-to-state mutual aid agreement used in times of disasters and emergencies.
"Troops, units and equipment can go from one state to another state and fall under the authority of that governor," Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, the Army National Guard director, said at the discussion. "It's something very unique that allows us to shift capacity and capability around."
According to Kadavy, he and other leaders at the bureau level must anticipate emergencies, primarily those brought on by hurricanes. "We have the ability to put some capacity in the right places and pre-position them based on what adjutant generals think they will need in an emergency," he said.
The vast majority of emergencies are contained at the local level, with about 95 percent of state emergencies never rising to the national level. "They're all handled and managed by local and state authorities without it ever becoming a national emergency," Kadavy said.
Army Reserve troops can also respond to disasters in and outside the country. In potential relief efforts for Hurricane Matthew, the 377th Theater Sustainment Command has ensured that reservists are ready should a foreign nation affected by the hurricane request help, according to the Army Reserve chief.
"It's always a challenge making sure we have the systems in place to get the right people moving at the right time," Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey said at the panel discussion.
In the states, Reserve and Guard forces can unify efforts under a dual-status commander. The Army's cooperation with other agencies is critical when disaster strikes.
"That's the combat multiplier, the enabler, the secret sauce, the silver bullet -- partnerships and leveraging the authorities that other people have," Luckey said.
It also doesn't matter which type of Soldiers show up, as long as those in need get help.
"When it comes to a disaster, the people don't care whether it's active Army, Army Reserve or Guard. They just want somebody to save their house," he said.