Army Preps for ‘Complex Catastrophes’ Stateside
Army News Service|by Sgt. Maj. Eric Lobsinger
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Were an earthquake to occur along the 150-mile-long New Madrid Fault System— which has in the past produced quakes in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana — Army North is ready to assist.
Department of Defense resources stand ready to provide defense support to civil authority in the case of any man-made or natural disaster, said Dr. Paul Stockton, the assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs.
“The Department of Defense will always be in support of the lead federal agencies that are responsible for such domestic events,” said Stockton. “We’re in terrific shape in the Department of Defense to support FEMA and DHS for what I call normal disasters — the kind of disasters that happen every year or every couple of years.”
Stockton said the DOD is also honing its skills for the possibility of facing complex catastrophes, such as what was practiced in the recent National Level Exercise 11, in which Northern Command and Army North both were key participants.
The exercise scenario featured a 7.7 earthquake along the New Madrid fault, which falls along the Mississippi River. The 7.7 earthquake typifies what Stockton terms as the challenges of complex catastrophes.
“First, the magnitude,” he said, because “it’s so much bigger than anything we’ve faced — way beyond Hurricane Katrina — over 100,000 casualties in the scenario.”
Stockton said such an earthquake would be a complex catastrophe due to the effects of cascading failures of critical infrastructure.
Army North is situated to provide assistance through its 10 direct coordinating elements, which are co-located within the 10 FEMA regions, said the commanding general of U.S. Army North, while speaking before a packed house, July 29, during the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo.
“We are embedded with FEMA across the country,” said Lt. Gen. Guy C. Swan III. “So this time of the year, especially with hurricanes, we’re joined at the hip with our team of partners.
Swan said units such as Army North, and its military partner units throughout Northern Command and the Department of Defense, bring a wealth of knowledge to the fight.
“The conflicts that we’ve been involved in over the past 10 years have built up a knowledge base within our armed forces on planning, training and equipping for a variety of threats,” Swan said. “We often find ourselves in a capacity-building role with our federal partners. We play an advise and assist role, just as we do overseas, with our own federal partners.”
During the security conference, Swan served as a member of a three-person panel discussion titled: “The war abroad and the threat at home.” Among the highlights was a discussion on the Department of Defense’s, Army North’s and U.S. Northern Command’s role in homeland security.
The general was joined on the panel by Stockton and retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who serves as a special assistant to the president for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
During the discussion, Swan also touched on another concern he has for the United States.
“Mexico is something that we ought not to take our eye off of,” Swan said.”The strength of the transnational criminal groups, the cartels, is very disturbing — and even more so because it’s on our southern border. Part of our military-to-military mission within the command is to work with our military counterparts and other security forces in Mexico to compliment what we do with the border patrol, the (Center for Domestic Preparedness) and others.”
Among Army North’s responsibilities are providing the land component support to Northern Command for homeland defense and homeland security responsibilities, and providing military support to other federal agencies, such as FEMA, in a disaster. The command also provides military support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Border Patrol for border security, and it provides training and assistance support to the security forces of Mexico in the fight against transnational criminal organizations and drug cartels.
Other aspects of the command’s responsibilities include maintaining trained and ready response forces for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive weapons-of-mass-destruction attacks or disasters, in addition to defending the homeland against missile attacks, providing maritime and air defense of North America, and various other missions.