Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pentagon Updates Homeland Security Strategy

On Friday there was a brief article posted at about the newest version of the DOD’s Strategy for Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities. This is a relative short document that outlines in a broad sweep the rolls and capabilities of the Department of Defense to support federal, state and local governments in homeland security and disaster response missions.

While I know that there are many people that have serious concerns about the physical capability of the military to project power in the domestic arena to support unpopular government actions or to cancel constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, this document does not provide support for those extreme views. Rather it outlines how the military would be able to utilize its transportation, equipment and planning expertise to aid civilian agencies in responding to “the range of current and emerging threats to the homeland and natural and manmade hazards inside the United States” (pg 2, Adobe).

Domestic CBRN Incidents

I have long maintained in this blog that in the event of a large-scale release of toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemicals, either as the result of a terrorist attack or an industrial accident, that the only agency that would be able to organize a sizeable response force capable of working in a chemically contaminated environment; conducting search, rescue and evacuation; doing preliminary decontamination work; and providing bed space and medical care for a large number of chemical casualties would be the US military.

This strategy document addresses this in Objective 2a: Maintain defense preparedness for domestic CBRN [Chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear] incidents. It notes that DOD has made ‘significant capability investments’ to “respond to multiple, simultaneous attacks or incidents involving CBRN materials in the homeland” (pg 18, Adobe).

The document outlines the units that DOD had assigned to the CBRN response mission:

• 54 Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support teams (WMD-CST) – National Guard;
• 17 CBRN Enhanced Response Force Packages (CERFP) – National Guard;
• 10 Homeland Response Forces (HRF) – National Guard;
• Defense CBRN Response Force (DCRF) – Reserve-Active;

The Strategy does not distinguish between the different types of CBRN materials that might be encountered in the homeland defense role. It does not make any specific mention of industrial chemical accidents or attacks against industrial chemical facilities in its discussion of CBRN incidents. Industrial chemical incidents are discussed later in the document where it mentions the “challenges associated with industrial accidents, environmental mishaps [emphasis added] violent extremists, transnational organized crime and malicious cyber actors” (pg 27, Adobe).

Disaster Response Planning

DOD participates in the FEMA disaster response planning process through the Defense Coordinating Elements assigned to each FEMA region. This allows DOD to bridge “the gap between State-level planning conducted at a National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ)-State and DoD  and DHS national-level planning” (pg 26, Adobe).

Additionally, the 10 National Guard HRF units, one in each FEMA region, are already providing critical regional planning activities across State lines. Their communications capabilities would provide essential coordination in the event of any follow-on Federal forces were needed for the response to a CBRN incident.

Need for Specific Industrial Response Planning

Unfortunately, there is nothing in this document that clearly identifies the realization by DOD that large chemical facilities pose a specific potential CBRN danger to large population centers and that the potential response requirements for incidents at these facilities would require specific planning requirements.

For instance, a large scale release of a TIH chemical like chlorine near a large population center could result in a very large number of casualties requiring specific breathing support equipment to survive. Early identification of where that equipment, and trained personnel to operate it, would come from and appropriate transportation planning for its movement would be critical to reducing the number of fatalities from such an incident.

Strategy vs Operations

This is an important look at the strategy involved in DOD reaction to homeland security missions. There is, however, a long way to go from strategy to actual operations. The military has a great deal of experience in making that transition, if they are provided the funding and prioritization necessary. Both of these are things that should be addressed by Congress in the next DOD authorization bill.

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