CIVIL SUPPORT Actions Are Needed to Improve DOD’s Planning for a Complex Catastrophe

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US Government Accountability Office: Report to Congressional Requesters
Sep 2013, GAO-13-763

The GAO report examines the extent to which DOD has
(1) planned for and identified capabilities to respond to complex catastrophes, and
(2) established a command and control construct for complex catastrophes and other multistate incidents.

What GAO Found
U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) are updating their existing civil
support plans to include a complex catastrophe scenario, as directed by the Secretary of Defense
and the Joint Staff. However, the commands are delaying the identification of capabilities that
could be provided to execute the plans until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the
lead federal response agency, completes its regional planning efforts in 2018. NORTHCOM officials
told us that the command’s civil support plan would describe some general force requirements, such
as types of military units, but that it will not identify specific capabilities that could be
provided to civil authorities during a complex catastrophe. Similarly, according to PACOM
officials, PACOM’s plan also will not identify such capabilities. Still, defense coordinating
officers—senior military officers who work closely with federal, state, and local officials in
FEMA’s regional offices—have taken some initial steps to coordinate with FEMA during its regional
planning process to identify capabilities that the Department of Defense (DOD) may be required to
provide in some regions. For example, a defense coordinating officer has helped one of the FEMA
regions that has completed its regional plan to develop bundled mission assignments that
pre-identify a group of capabilities that region will require during a complex catastrophe. DOD
doctrine states that the department should interact with non-DOD agencies to gain a mutual
understanding of their response capabilities and limitations. By working through the defense
coordinating officers to identify an interim set of specific capabilities for a complex
catastrophe— instead of waiting for FEMA to complete its five-year regional planning process—
NORTHCOM and PACOM can enhance their preparedness and mitigate the risk of an unexpected capability
gap during the five-year period until FEMA completes its regional plans in 2018.
DOD has established a command and control framework for a federal military civil support response;
however, the command and control structure for federal military forces during complex catastrophes
is unclear because DOD has not developed a construct prescribing the roles, responsibilities, and
relationships among command elements that may be involved in responding to such incidents across
multiple states. This gap in the civil support framework was illustrated by recent events such as
National Level Exercise 2011—which examined DOD’s response to a complex catastrophe—and the federal
military response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. For example, officials from NORTHCOM’s Army component
told us that the exercise revealed that the absence of an operational- level command element
created challenges for NORTHCOM in managing the operations of federal military forces during a
large-scale, multistate incident.
Similarly, DOD after action reports on Hurricane Sandy found that the command and control structure
for federal military forces was not clearly defined, resulting in the degradation of situational
awareness and unity of effort, and the execution of missions without proper approval. DOD doctrine
states that operational plans should identify the command structure expected to exist during their
implementation. By identifying roles, responsibilities, and command relationships during multistate
incidents such as complex catastrophes, DOD will be better positioned to manage and allocate
resources across a multistate area and ensure effective and organized response operations.