Emergencies resulting from disasters are varied in nature and culminate in a number of destructive natural events disrupting the lives of American citizens.

Recently, a symposium held at Fort McCoy addressed the issues and means of the Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) process. More than 100 representatives from the National Guard, Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve attended.

In 2011, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that provided for federal forces to be used to support state emergencies. Throughout the 34 years of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's existence it has struggled to define its abilities and every president has worked to use the organization for the nation's best interest.

Before passage of the NDAA, federal laws prevented the full implementation of Reserve forces to assist with state or regional emergencies.

Col. Julie M. Gerety, the director for domestic operations with the Wisconsin National Guard said, "While both the U.S. armed forces and the National Guard have a long history of conducting domestic operations, the scale, scope, and complexity of these operations have expanded significantly since September 11, 2001. Prior to then, military involvement in domestic operations was almost exclusively in the area of civil-support operations: generally limited to providing support to civil authorities in response to natural disasters or accidents. Post-9/11, the National Guard's role has expanded to include additional Homeland Defense and Homeland Security missions."

Redefining the role of the Army Reserve in a domestic posture necessitates a look at the current laws and requires state governors to clearly state and define the need for the use of assets from the secretary of defense.

Maj. Gen. Glenn J. Lesniak, the deputy commanding general for support of the U.S. Army Reserve, said, "The Army Reserve has the capability to act in situations of immediate response authority to save lives, prevent human suffering, or mitigate great property damage. Under NDAA the Army Reserve may be mobilized, on the order of the secretary of defense, in response to a request by local authorities to support disaster relief activities."

The Army Reserve is posturing itself to support requests for disasters in a number of ways. The use of units requires them to be ready within their training cycle. This involves the structured training cycle of units and deals with their progression in a cycle of operational deployments. Units will be used based on where they are in their training cycle and the skill set they attain.
Lesniak said that the program was activated in response to Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

"The plan for future use depends upon the ability of the local agencies to manage a crisis situation. The Army Reserve is working with local National Guard commands and local authorities to develop contingency plans that can be used to support," said Lesniak.

There are some inherent difficulties in enabling the DSCA to use the capabilities and personnel of America's defense forces.

"The National Guard has gained experience over the past few years synchronizing not only the efforts of the Army and Air National Guard units within the United States, but also those of our interagency partners to include local law enforcement, the first responder network, FEMA, and state, local, and tribal government. Incorporating additional service components with robust and unique capabilities is the next logical progression in the DSCA evolution," said Gerety.

"Naturally the complexity of any response increases as the number of responding agencies increase. However, the command-and-control network has been established, through the use of a dual status-commander within each state, to ensure unity of effort during any response," she added.

Lesniak added, "The role of a dual-status commander mitigates the risk of involving multiple services. Military units normally function in task force organizations so the concept and function of a dual-status commander is not abnormal (unusual?). Also, engaging with National Guard and local authorities for planning of and participating in emergency-management exercises reduces the risk of confusion and complexity in the event of an actual disaster."

Annually, the military embarks on training that involves natural disasters, chemical, nuclear, biological, radioactive and other types of training. The use of this training often involves multiple services. The employment of federal forces in reference to the DSCA was a way to tie this training together.

The Department of Defense defines civil support as "Department of Defense support to civil authorities for domestic emergencies, and for designated law enforcement and other activities."

Civilian authorities retain primary responsibility during civil-support operations with DoD supporting mission requirements. When federally activated, National Guard troops conduct civil-support missions as members of the Army or Air National Guard of the United States.

Finally, Army Reserve Soldiers and units may respond to local governments under the Immediate Response Authority to save lives and prevent human suffering. Several requirements must be met, and the authority is limited to 72 hours.

Enabling the DSCA promises the use of personnel and equipment to thwart suffering from the population -- the goal is to minimize agony from natural disasters.