Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 2, 2006

NORTHCOM prepares for the avian flu

Filed under: Biosecurity,Homeland Defense — by Christian Beckner on February 2, 2006

According to an article published by the official American Forces Press Service, NORTHCOM is working on developing its role in an avian flu outbreak:

U.S. Northern Command recently hosted representatives from more than 40 international, federal and state agencies for an exercise designed to provoke discussion and determine what governmental actions, including military support, would be necessary in the event of an influenza pandemic in the United States.

“We’re building the knowledge base, trying to get ahead of the curve now as much as we can,” said Gene Pino, director of NORTHCOM’s training and exercise directorate. “We’re here to explore (and) identify issues, identify challenges and identify concerns from each of our particular perspectives.”…

Exercise attendees analyzed topics such as public health care, maintaining civil order and providing continuity of government and private operations in case of widespread infection and worker absenteeism.

“NORTHCOM will not be running the show in the event of a pandemic,” said Dave Wilkins, the NORTHCOM exercise facilitator. “We will be taking guidance and requests from other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, via the secretary of defense.”

It’s good to see NORTHCOM recognizing the importance of this potential threat, and working with key stakeholders across the government to develop its role. One of the issues that I haven’t really seen discussed in terms of the avian flu threat is continuity of military operations and civil defense: how would we handle a situation where 25-30% of active duty forces and other key contributors to homeland defense (National Guard, border officers, law enforcement officers) were sick at any given time? Would this create a temporary vulnerability in our homeland security that terrorists would try to exploit? Hopefully NORTHCOM will be working with DHS and other key stakeholders to wargame these scenarios and develop national contingency plans.

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