FORT BENNING, Ga. -- If Fort Benning ever faces an emergency where it might need extra help from local governments and emergency responders, it'll be able to ask that help from numerous area communities -- and in turn give it if called upon -- under a mutual aid agreement signed here May 14.

Fort Benning and local communities have provided one another mutual aid in the past, but the memorandum spells out a specific set of procedures and other details that together will make mutual aid faster, smoother, and more efficient, participants said.

"Formalizing this in writing sets expectations on both sides," said Col. Clinton W. Cox, who, as Commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning, oversees daily operations of the post.

"It sets expectations for us at Benning and it sets expectations for our community partners outside," Cox said. "So that there's a clear lane to accelerate decision cycles. It gives you a menu for what resources we have, what resources they have, so that in times of crisis, where we're overwhelmed with our own emergency services, we know exactly who to go to and ask."

The pact, known officially as an All Hazard-All Emergency Mutual Aid Assistance Memorandum of Agreement, was signed at the post's Benning Club, after which the signers were served lunch there.

Under the pact, the various communities and agencies agree to come to one another's aid when warranted, provided they have the people, equipment and other needed resources available.

It applies to emergencies or disasters where the need may arise to save lives, prevent human suffering, mitigate excessive property damage, or a combination of those needs. It also provides for giving help in preparing beforehand for situations that are seen as potential emergencies.

"So let's say we had a big structure fire or something like that," Cox said. "We have enough resources to handle that. But if we had another structure fire that occurred at the same time, we get kind of lean on our ability to do that.

"So, in that case," Cox said, "what the mutual aid agreement gives us is the ability to take care of is, if we reach that juncture and we went through our assessment and said, 'Look, we really need some help,' this gives us the opportunity to reach out to any one of the partners and ask them for additional support.

"If they're available and they've got nothing going on, they don't think it puts their community at risk, they're going to come quickly to help us," he said.

Columbus, Georgia Mayor B.H. "Skip" Henderson welcomed the agreement, saying it would benefit communities around the region. "Columbus really embraces regionalism," he said. "We gotta be able to leverage one another's strengths. It's just critical that we all depend on one another when we need each other. You never know when you're going to need help.

All stand to benefit under the agreement, Henderson said.

"I think the benefits are actually on both ends of the equation," he said. "It allows us to be available to some counties that may need more resources than what they have available."

Having Fort Benning as a partner was fortunate, local officials said, because of the post's highly-skilled personnel and its broad array of other assets.

Fort Benning's Soldiers are "world class," said Henderson, and its independent contractors are also highly skilled, as are its firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel. "They're trained impeccably and it's just a comforting feeling to know that we can rely on them," Henderson said.

Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley also welcomed the pact, and said Fort Benning's assets could be a major help.

"Naturally, the federal government -- the Army, has a lot more resources than my county has," said Jolley. An example of how Fort Benning could help his department, he said, would be a situation in which Fort Benning might be able to provide a helicopter and night vision equipment to help in a nighttime search.

"Helicopters with night vision -- that's an asset," Jolley said. "If we have an elderly lost in the woods or a child out on Pine Mountain walk path that's lost overnight, that could possibly freeze if we can't find him right away, and we don't have the full assets to find that person, then we can put in that call, and they have the stepping stones in place to do it and respond back and come right out and help on a life-threatening situation."

Those covered by the agreement are: U.S. Army Installation Management Command, Fort Benning, U.S. Army Medical Command, Fort Benning; the city governments of Columbus, Georgia, and Auburn, Opelika, and Phenix City, Alabama; and county governments, including, in Georgia, Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Talbot, Taylor, and Troup, and, in Alabama, Lee, Marion and Russell counties; county sheriff offices, including, in Georgia, Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Muscogee, Talbot, Taylor, and Troup counties, and, in Alabama, Lee, and Russell counties; and the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Alabama, the Columbus, the Columbus, Georgia Department of Public Health, and the Columbus Airport.