The Civil Side: What Happens Before the Active Military is Requested - by Kerry Kimble

I got this article from Kerry Kimble, here at the Division, and wanted to pass it along.  While the article was written in a personal, rather than a DEM representation capacity, I think it is a very insightful read and Kerry gave me the OK to share it here.

In short, the article is intended as a primer for National Guard and/or military personnel who might play a role in a disaster response/recovery operation as to how the civilian emergency management system operates.  It addresses the civilian side Incident Command System, the State/Presidential Disaster Declaration processes, Preliminary Damage Assessment efforts and evaluates how Emergency Management Assistance Compacts (EMAC) requests all combine to facilitate emergency response and recovery actions.

I have reprinted the article, in full and without edits, below.  Kerry's footnotes can also be found listed below the article.  For any questions, contact Kerry Kimble on this article at



What happens before the active military is requested

by Kerry L. Kimble[i]

With society becoming more complex, and more people living and working in hazard prone areas, disasters are posing an ever greater threat to our safety and well being.  At the same point, technological developments are creating radiological and chemical hazards resulting in new challenges for local governments.  States are faced with a variety of natural and man – made hazards, such as wildfires, floods, landslides, tornados, winter storms, dam failures, drought, earthquakes, and acts of terrorism[ii].  The federal government worries about the strategic threat to the homeland. 

As the nation approaches the five year anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the Department of Defense is undergoing its traditional review of Defense Support to Civil Authority[iii].  In an effort to meets its vision of “not a minute too soon, or a second too late[iv],” U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) can bring to bear a tremendous amount of material, equipment, and personnel.  The thesis of this article is to recognize that the active duty military can play a role of the cavalry coming to help during a catastrophic event, but they must be acquainted with the response community that is already in place and which they will plug into when they arrive on-scene. 

As we know, USNORTHCOM has many missions[v].  Two that directly impact local and State jurisdictions are:

·         Provide domestic disaster relief operations that occur during fires, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes; and

·         When an emergency exceeds the capabilities of local, state and federal agencies the Command can provide limited, localized and specific support.   

Both of these take the form of providing assistance to an impacted jurisdiction when tasked by the Department of Defense.   With that in mind, we must remember that all disasters / emergencies[vi] are local.  Whether they are a devastating tornado that shreds half of a town or an earthquake that displaces 100,000 people.  It is those fire service, emergency medical, hazardous material, emergency management, law enforcement, and public safety communication professionals who respond at the moment of impact.

To organize the response effort for any and all incidents, there is an organization or structure which facilitates operations.  Utilizing guidelines from the National Incident Management System[vii], the Incident Command System is activated.  This system provides a command and control structure for dealing with all aspects of the situation. 

The advantage of this structure is that this provides a great deal of flexibility and scalability depending upon the size of the incident.  The key is that every agency involved knows where to plug into the system and what their role and responsibilities are. 

The first response agency on the scene (usually the fire service or law enforcement) takes charge.  As more and more first responders arrive, the Incident Command System structure becomes formalized.  The General Staff element consists of an Incident Commander, Operations, Plans, Logistics, and Administration / Finance Section Chiefs.

As previously mentioned, the actual structure of the response organization is flexible and scalable.  As the incident continues to evolve, other response disciplines begin to show up:  mental health, non-governmental organizations, public health, environmental health, search and rescue, etc.  Also depending upon the situation, private – sector based response teams can be brought in as well such as gas, water, electrical, and telephone utilities.  As additional response disciplines[viii] are needed, the Incident Command System structure is expanded to include Divisions / Groups / Branches. 

The Incident Command System may appear as a loose configuration of the willing.  However, there are some similarities to the military.  One important document from this system is the first responder version of an operations order, which is the Incident Action / Support Plan.  This Plan describes the organizational structure, mission objectives, communications plan, and safety for the operational period, which is usually twelve hours in duration[ix].  Attachments could include: air operations, medical, base operations, demobilization, etc. 

Because of the continuous relationship all of these agencies have and their respect for the Incident Command System, except for the initial responders, none of these additional teams self – deploy to the incident.  By this we mean they do not show up on their own.  This helps in the management of assets.  As other local, State, and federal resources are requested and arrive on scene they check in with their appropriate team leads to obtain an update on the situation and to find out what the mission objectives for the next operational period. 

Another element of the Incident Command System is the addition of the Command staff (Public Information Officer, Liaison Officer, and Safety Officer).   These personnel report directly to the Incident Commander. 

A prime example of where the Incident Command System worked was in Pearlington, Mississippi, where the full force (sustained winds of 120 mph) of Hurricane Katrina was felt on August 29, 2005 at 10:00am CDT[x].  Agencies had established and exercise plans for a number of different scenarios.  They may not have received the same amount of media coverage as other jurisdictions, but their need for assistance was just as great.  Their major advantage was reliance on the system and its continued practice. 

Conversely, as we all know, the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana were overwhelmed in dealing with the devastation.  First responders became victims, critical infrastructure was damaged and / or destroyed, mutual aid was not available because of the swath of the hurricane, and the number of people adversely affected by this natural hazard.  Support was available only from non - Gulf Coast states and the Federal government.  Even though there were command and control issues, when the military arrived on the scene, what they brought to the response were dedicated professionals who were proficient in their skills, disciplined in maintaining their focus on the task at hand, and an organizational structure that was capable of moving tons of material and deploying forces to where they were needed.

These types of situations will always occur.  Some entities, to one degree or another, will always be prepared to deal with the results of a natural, technological, or terrorism – related hazard event.  Others may not be as prepared.  This can be due to being short of the appropriate funding, an insufficient number of trained individuals, out of date equipment, or the lack of leadership.  These failures are not limited to a particular response discipline or a geographical segment of the country (or even the world).  In recognition of this reality, that is why all levels of government have built mechanisms to receive formal requests for assistance and to response to those requests. 

While the initial response is being conducted, local political authorities are taking the appropriate steps to support the responders on the ground.  This is primarily conducted through the issuance of a proclamation stating that a disaster and / or emergency exists.  The affect of a declaration of local disaster / emergency is to activate the response and recovery aspects of any and all applicable local and intra - jurisdictional disaster emergency plans and to authorize the furnishing of aid and assistance under such plans.  In some cases, this entails the release of local disaster funds to cover the response costs. 

Throughout the country, there are systems and procedures in place to bring in additional assets when the initial wave of responders becomes overwhelmed or start to become fatigued.  This is accomplished through mutual aid with surrounding local jurisdictions or internal state regional partners.  From there, if additional assistance is needed, then State – level government comes in to assist in coordinating the acquisition of resources from other parts of the State and even from other States through a variety of assistance compacts.  This could, eventually, lead to requests for federal assistance. 

One of these avenues that is available to the States they can tap into for personnel and equipment is through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).  EMAC is a congressionally ratified organization that provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid. 
Through EMAC, a disaster impacted State can request and receive assistance from other member States quickly and efficiently. 

On behalf of the Governor, the State emergency management agency responds to requests from local entities and coordinates supporting activities of State agencies as well as the federal government in order to assist in minimizing the impacts, concerns, frustrations, and mostly the normal confusion that are part of any disaster or emergency.  This agency operates through a coordinated management process through each of the four emergency management phases: prevention; preparedness; response; and recovery. 

One of the key steps during the incident is the arrival of a federal liaison at the State Emergency Operations Center.  In most cases, this individual comes from Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) regional offices.  A Presidential Disaster Declaration is not a pre – requisite for this to occur.  The role of this individual is to conduct a strategic assessment of the incident and report back to their headquarters.  Another role of this individual is to provide advice and assistance on what federal response / recovery assets can be brought in to fill gaps in the operation.

The process the States need to go through to request federal assistance is very simple.  It involves a formal request by the Governor outlining the severity of the incident, a description of what State and local jurisdictions have done to respond to the incident, and what type of assistance is requested.  This request is routed through the FEMA Regional Administrator who validates the information, makes a recommendation, and then forwards it to FEMA Headquarters.  The desired end – state is to obtain a Presidential Disaster Declaration, which will allow resources (personnel, equipment, supplies, and funding) to flow to the incident[xi].

In reality, federal support occurs before the Governor’s request is compiled.  This involves:  an initial federal damage assessment team who surveys the area; delivery of water, ice, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), and basic need supplies; public health advisories, etc.

The Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) team is a joint assessment used to determine the magnitude and impact of an event's damage.  A FEMA / State / U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) team will usually visit local applicants and view their damage first-hand to assess the scope of damage and estimate repair costs.  The State uses the results of the PDA to determine if the situation is beyond the combined capabilities of the State and local resources and to verify the need for supplemental Federal assistance.  The PDA also identifies any unmet needs that may require immediate attention.  The PDA is not a guarantee of federal assistance. PDA results are provided to the State, which uses the information as a planning tool to decide if they will request federal assistance.

As with everything, funding is the critical element.  If other States do provide resources, then the supported state assumes responsibility for salaries, equipment costs, etc for the duration of their deployment.  Therefore, the activation of the EMAC process usually takes place after issuance of a President Disaster Declaration, unless the State is willing to pay these expenses from their general or disaster funds. 

Once a Presidential disaster declaration is signed, then the various aspects of the National Response Framework can be implemented.  Assets from the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, the
Federal Emergency Management Agency, etc can be mobilized and brought in.  But, as stated earlier, these assets come in to support the local incident commander, not to take command[xii].  The only exception to this is when the President issues an Executive Order declaring an incident a National Security Special Event[xiii] (NSSE). 

Usually these NSSEs are for known pre – planned events such as the Olympics, national political conventions, major sporting events, etc.  Federal authorities have the incident lead for a specifically designated geographical area.  The fallacy of these is the cascading effects of this incident are not limited to this confined space.  Local jurisdictions are responsible for the surrounding area(s).  Hazards will not end at an arbitrary grid line. 

The glamour part of responding to incidents is what is seen in the media.  A firefighter putting water on flames, a search and rescue team pulling a live victim out of a collapsed building, the National Guard handing out water and ice, law enforcement arresting a looter, etc.  But what is not seen, and not really thought about outside of the response community, is the logistical train to support the responders.  This involves, but not limited to: feeding, sheltering, taking care (medical and mental health) of them, scheduling of shifts and replacements, fueling, etc.

As mentioned in the beginning, there are four phases of emergency management.  During the response phase, all agencies involved [local, State, federal (USNORTHCOM, other agencies)] are focused on life safety and getting an assemblance of order reestablished.  However, the hardest work comes during the recovery phased when putting people’s lives back together becomes the primary objective.  Except for FEMA and the SBA loans, the task falls back to the State and more importantly the local entity.  This is a long – term project.  For example, a tornado that is on the ground for thirty seconds may require 9 – 12 months for a town to get back to normal.  We are over four years from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and there are some estimates it will take 10 – 20 years before the Gulf Coast returns to its pre – August 2005 standard. 

This recovery phase is highlighted in a further restatement of the USNORTHCOM mission “in providing civil support, USNORTHCOM generally operates through established Joint Task Forces subordinate to the command.  An emergency must exceed the capabilities of local, state, and federal agencies before USNORTHCOM becomes involved.  In most cases, support will be limited, localized and specific.  When the scope of the disaster is reduced to the point that the affected jurisdiction can again assume full control and management without military assistance, USNORTHCOM will exit, leaving the on – scene experts to finish the job.”[xiv]

In conclusion, all incidents start at the local level.  The emergency medical technician, firefighter, law enforcement officer, and hazardous material professionals are the first on the scene.  They are responsible for the incident assessment and response operations to save lives and protect property.  If the situation exceeds their capabilities, then mutual aid with the surrounding jurisdictions is requested.  As the severity and complexity of the incident becomes clearer, this mutual aid may become insufficient.  To fill the gap, the State needs to become actively involved because they have access to other response assets (whether they are State – level response teams, other local jurisdictions who reside at the other end of the State, or from outside of the State).  When the State expends its resources, it will look to the federal community for further assistance.  This assistance can take the form of funding, equipment, supplies, personnel – whether that takes the form of the military, technical advisors, or specialized responders.  Regardless, the bottom line is to help the residents recover and get their lives back to normal.

[i] The opinions expressed in this paper are solely those of the author and do not officially or unofficially represent any position by the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, Department of Local Affairs, State of Colorado, or any other local, State, federal, non-governmental, or private sector entity associated with these governmental organizations. 
[ii] Colorado Disaster Emergency Procedures Handbook for Local Governments, Department of Local Affairs, Division of Emergency Management (2007) p. 3. 
[iii] Renamed from Military Support to Civil Authority in 2004.
[vi] Most states have a similar definition.  Disaster means the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from any natural cause or cause of human origin, including but not limited to fire, flood, earthquake, wind, storm, wave action, hazardous substance incident, oil spill or other water contamination, requiring emergency action to avert danger or damage, volcanic activity, epidemic, air pollution, blight, drought, infestation, explosion, civil disturbance, hostile military or paramilitary action, or a condition of riot, insurrection, or invasion existing in the state or in any county, city, town, or district in the state.  (Colorado Revised Statute, 24-32-2103). 
[vii] Homeland Security Presidential Directive - 5 Management of Domestic Incidents requires all Federal departments and agencies to adapt NIMS and use it in their individual domestic incident management and emergency protection, preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation programs (2003).  . 
[viii] Besides those previous mentioned, these include:  agriculture, air operations, building inspectors, communications, criminal investigation, cultural experts, information technology, mass care, sheltering, transportation, veterinarian, etc. 
[ix] A separate plan is written for each operational period. 
[x] Due to its path, Hurricane Katrina also directly hit Buras-Triumph, St. Bernard parish, St. Tammany parish, and Slidell in Louisiana.
[xi] Colorado Disaster Emergency Procedures Handbook for Local Governments, Department of Local Affairs, Division of Emergency Management (2007), p.9
[xii] Even national incident such at the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster are local, with a large federal presence. 
[xiii] In May of 1998, President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 62 (PDD-62).  This directive formalized and delineated the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies in the development of security plans for major events. The clarifying of responsibilities serves to focus more clearly the role of each agency and eliminate the duplication of efforts and resources.  In 2000, the Presidential Protection Act of 2000 became public law. Included in the bill, signed on December 19, was an amendment to Title 18, USC § 3056 which codified PDD-62.