New capabilities enhance Guard response to Hurricane Irene

By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard BureauSeptember 29, 2011

Guard after Hurricane Irene
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ARLINGTON, Va. (Aug. 28, 2011) -- About 7,675 National Guard troops from 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico responded over the weekend to civil authorities tackling Hurricane Irene and its aftermath.

Three capabilities enhanced the National Guard's contribution: the new National Guard Coordination Center, dual-status commanders and the deployment of strategically placed force packages ahead of the storm.

The National Guard Bureau's new 24-hour, 365-day coordination center in Arlington, Va., boosted coordination and communication between the Army and Air National Guard and local, state and federal partners, Guard officials said.

The appointment of dual-status commanders to lead state National Guard and federal forces sped up response, and the deployment of strategically-placed force packages increased readiness, officials said.

The NGCC, dual-status commanders and pre-placed force packages are relatively new capabilities born from lessons learned from past natural and man-made disasters. What individual Guard members were doing on the ground and in the air contributing to the whole-of-government response came from the almost 375-year-old tradition born when New England farmers set down their plows and picked up their muskets before independence.

According to NGCC reports:

Guard members cleared debris and performed high-water search and rescue missions in Connecticut. They helped transportation officials control traffic in the District of Columbia. They handed out cots and supplies in Delaware. They flew helicopters from Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico and Ohio to standby in the affected region for search and rescue, damage assessment, transportation or other missions.

Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen provided command and control support in Maine; filled sandbags and assessed damage in Massachusetts; performed search and rescue and provided security and transportation in North Carolina; and provided shelter in New Jersey.

The National Guard provided maritime transportation to the islands of Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico; they supported communications in Rhode Island; they provided engineers to local authorities in Virginia.

Throughout the Eastern Seaboard, Guard members helped neighbors hit by Irene -- such as the 129 New York Guard members sent in speed boats to help rescue 21 people stranded by floodwaters in an upstate New York hotel Sunday afternoon.

About 101,000 Guard members were available in the affected region, the Department of Defense reported, and the NGCC worked with the states and other federal agencies to ensure the right numbers reached the right places at the right time.

"As Irene approached the United States, our NGCC was coordinating with the states, territories and the District of Columbia; the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Northern Command to ensure the most effective National Guard support to civil authorities and enable us to bring the full benefit of our size, skills, training, experience, command and communications infrastructure and legal flexibility to the whole-of-government response to the storm," said Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

"Hurricane Irene demonstrated the vital importance of our new National Guard Coordination Center, which enables us to work seamlessly with our state and federal partners at the first warning of potential disaster."

Among assets coordinated and monitored by the NGCC were force packages that allow Guard officials to strategically position assets to respond to any additional needs states may have.

One example: In Eastover, S.C., the Guard stood up an aerial force package of 17 aircraft -- including CH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, UH-72 Lakotas, OH-58 Kiowas and C-27 Spartans -- with about 100 Guard members.

"Assembling and pre-staging ground and air force packages -- drawn from Army and Air National Guard assets contributed by multiple states -- in strategic locations out of harm's way but near potentially affected areas meant the National Guard stood ready to respond faster than ever to civil authorities' critical needs that might arise in the storm's aftermath," McKinley said.

Finally, the appointment of four dual-status commanders in support of relief efforts, reported by the Defense Department marked the first time the dual-commander concept had been so widely implemented in support of a natural disaster.

According to the Defense Department:

-- When agreed upon by the secretary of Defense and the governor of an affected state, dual-status commanders can direct both federal active-duty forces and state National Guard forces in response to domestic incidents. The concept is intended to foster greater cooperation among federal and state assets during a disaster.

-- The nation's governors led the creation of this new opportunity for collaboration.

-- Dual-status commanders ensure that state and federal military forces will work effectively together when states request federal forces through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This storm also demonstrated how dual-status combatant commanders who can direct both state National Guard and federal forces in response to domestic incidents increases collaboration, communication and coordination between federal and state assets, improves leadership, avoids duplication of effort and enhances the team response," McKinley said.

In March 2011, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the bipartisan 10-member Council of Governors adopted the "Joint Action Plan for Unity of Effort," strengthening support to governors when they request military assistance for disaster response.

"Monitoring our response to Irene, I have been deeply proud of the sacrifices of our citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, more than 7,000 of whom once again set aside their civilian lives and took on their military roles at a moment's notice to help their neighbors and communities, with tens of thousands more at the ready if needed," McKinley said.

Related Links:

Ready Army: Hurricane Fact sheet (PDF download)

Hurricane season arrives, requires preparation

Standing guard in the face of Hurricane Irene

Army North's JTF-51 plans support for Hurricane Irene relief efforts National Guard News

STAND-TO!: Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve within the Army National Guard

National Guard Bureau

American Red Cross