Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 22, 2007

Fun and Games on the Homeland

Filed under: Homeland Defense,Preparedness and Response — by Jonah Czerwinski on May 22, 2007

DHS concluded Ardent Sentry – Northern Edge, a full scale exercise testing DOD, state/local, and interagency responses to a range of scenarios to stress test capacity and knowledge of NIMS, the NRP, etc.  Even the Canadians are involved. 

AS/NE introduced an interesting new role that reflects progress from the post-Katrina position to consider turning to the Pentagon as lead federal agency too quickly.  The “Defense Coordinating Officer” (DCO) debuted to coordinate information and requests between FEMA and the Department of Defense.  Apparently it worked so well that DCOs will be assigned to each of FEMA’s 10 regions.  It probably helps that even before Katrina the Homeland Defense team at DOD was steadily writing up “prescripted requests for assistance” to anticipate the kinds of state and local needs that might arise in any of the 15 national planning scenarios. 

But I digress.  The Ardent Sentry-Northern Edge war game kicked off a five-year schedule of national level exercises.  It began with FEMA Regions I and II dealing with hurricanes from New York to Maine.  Region X’s (Alaska) scenario even involved terrorist threats to energy infrastructure.  FEMA Region V got the real deal with managing response mechanisms and practices following the fictitious detonation of a 10-kiloton nuclear device in Indianapolis.

I’m traveling until Memorial Day.

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Comment by John Bowen

May 23, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

The full-time assignment of a DCO to each FEMA region predates Ardent Sentry.

Each DCO also leads a Defense Coordinating Element (DCE), a full-time staff that’s also permanently assigned to the FEMA region, as well as a dedicated team of Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers (EPLOs) from each Service.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 25, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

It would be of interest to know the actual delegations of authority within DOD for large-scale civil emergencies and DOD operations. In my 34 years of experience DOD has ad hoc arranged and deviated from published procedures and guidance in all large scale actual events. DOD regulations concerning civil emergency matters and disaster operations as published in the Code of Federal Regulations are virtually entirely obsolete and of no help to the civil agencies or those controlled by DOD authority. Internal Directives are also seldom followed in actual emergencies. For an example of an obsolete plan look at “Garden Plot.”

Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

May 30, 2007 @ 7:53 am

Thanks for the added detail on the DCEs and EPLOs reader John Bowen. CQ reported on May 7 that “The defense coordinating officer position was created in legislation (PL 109-295) passed late last year in response to the poor coordination between the Homeland Security and Defense departments during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.” Title V Sec. 507 lists the DCO among the changes. Perhaps the recent development was that the DCO role was placed into statute, whereas prior to this it was active but not necessarily authorized in law.

Your blog continues to cover great content on the state and local level. I’m wondering if you know what exactly is the DCE lash-up to DOD. And how the DCO traditionally interfaces with National Guard.

Comment by John Bowen

May 30, 2007 @ 4:49 pm


The DCO/DCE roles are at least as old as the 1992 Federal Response Plan. These roles have carried over to the current National Response Plan.

The DCO, along with his/her DCE staff, are active duty Army personnel. After Katrina, DoD decided to permanently assign 10 DCOs, each with a DCE staff of 6, to each FEMA region. Previously, DCOs and DCEs had been provided by training support brigades. You’re probably right about the DCO role being placed into statute recently.

RE: the National Guard linkup:

For planning purposes, DCOs coordinate with National Guard forces in the states in their region. In response to an incident, NG forces would be used first, under the governor’s command. Then, if FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer needs assistance from active duty or reserve forces, he/she requests them from the DCO, who has operational control over active duty and reserve forces while they are in the affected area.

The only way that a DCO (or, much more likely, a Joint Task Force commander such as Lt Gen Honore during Katrina) can command NG forces is if the NG forces are federalized. And even then, the command structure can be either parallel (i.e., state NG + DOD) or joint (i.e., NG and DOD forces under a single, “dual-hatted” commander).

Thanks for your kind words. I’ve been reading HLS Watch a long time.

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