Small Wars Journal

humanitarian assistance

Urban Disasters: Readiness, Response, and Recovery

Thu, 01/12/2023 - 10:11pm

Urban Disasters: Readiness, Response, and Recovery

Introducing a series of blog posts by Russ Glenn

Urban disasters are one of a range of urban scenarios that  both civil and military responders may face. In this blog, we introduce a series of Urban Disaster blogs by long-time Small Wars Journal contributor Dr. Russell W. Glenn.

Russ is a seasoned urban operations analyst. He served in a range of military roles, as an officer and after his retirement as a civilian. A graduate of the United States Military Academy, he served in the US Army Corps of Engineers, with combat tours in Iraq during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well as tours at the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). His most recent position with the US Army was Director, Plans and Policy, G-2, at the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). He is a well-respected subject matter expert on urban operations and urban warfare and previously contributed to the Small Wars Anthology: Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities.  

The Urban Disasters Series

The “Urban Disasters” series is based on research for Dr, Glenn’s forthcoming book Come Hell or High Fever: Readying the World's Megacities for Disaster published by the Australian National University Press.

Glenn Book

The series will consist of fourteen posts, which were initially posted on Dr. Glenn’s LinkedIn page. These series places special emphasis on preparing the world’s megacities for disaster. Both military and civil responders (emergency services and humanitarian responders) will benefit from Glenn’s assessment of the complexity of urban operations and his salient insights into managing that complexity. The  fourteen posts are presented in three groups:

  • Readying: The first group of posts consists of four posts on readiness for disasters.
  • Response: The second group of posts includes four posts on responding to disasters.
  • Recovering: The third and final group of posts is comprised of six posts on disaster recovery.

Each theme will be presented over the next few weeks. Each thematic group summarizes key points that are discussed in greater depth in Come Hell or High Fever.

For Additional Reading

Russell W. Glenn, Come Hell or High Fever: Readying the World's Megacities for Disaster. Canberra: The Australian National University/ANU Press. DOI:

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Defense Coordinating Elements: A Vital Link Between DOD and Civil Authorities

The Chemical, Biological Radiological Nuclear Response Enterprise exercises foster interagency cooperation and support for response and recovery of man-made and natural disasters.  Embedded within each of the ten Federal Emergency Management Agency Regions are Defense Coordinating Elements lead by an O-6 Defense Coordinating Officer.  The nine-person DCE is the single point of entry for all local, tribal, state, and federal requests for DoD assistance.   The DCE is augmented by senior reserve officers serving as Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps assigned to each state.  The EPLOs work closely with state emergency managers and the state National Guard Joint Force Headquarters to maintain awareness of capabilities, gaps, and emergency response plans within their state.  During a disaster they serve a vital role by faciliting information sharing between the DCE and State Emergency Operations Centers or Joint Force Headquarters.  This is especially critical in developing situational awareness and building trust between local or state and federal entities.

The general saying in the Defense Support of Civil Authorities world is “a disaster is not the place to be handing out business cards,” meaning a disaster is not the place you should meet your intra-agency counter-part for the first time.  During VIBRANT RESPONSE 13 the DCE had the unique opportunity to rehearse interagency operations while working with FEMA National and Regional Incident Management Assistance Teams who were also participating in the National Exercise scenario for the first time.  FEMA IMATs rapidly deploy to effected venues and assist local and state leadership to identify federal assistance requirements, and to coordinate and integrate inter-jurisdictional response in support of an affected state or territory.  As the name implies, they help manage Federal resources to fill needs that the local and state emergency managers cannot meet.  During VR 13 the DCE actively participated in the FEMA 24-hour planning cycle known as the Incident Action Process, identified and validated DoD mission assignments, and provided the requirements and guidance to U. S. Army North’s Joint Task Force-Civil Support headquarters for action. 

The VR 13 exercise was followed by the real-world deployment of multiple FEMA IMATs and six DCEs to five states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to support the response and recovery needs resulting from the landfall of Hurricane Isaac.  Many of the DCEs had not previously operated in hurricane states.  Using their understanding of FEMA operations and well trained state EPLOs they were able to establish a Federal Staging Area for Urban Search and Rescue Teams, coordinate Incident Support Bases, facilitate aerial imagery, and control DoD helicopters deployed in support of the Federal response.

The CRE exercise VR 13 served as an excellent opportunity for DoD to interact with Federal, State, and local agencies to prepare for the “next big disaster.”  The way ahead is clearly to continue fostering the DoD relationship with our partner Federal Agencies to plan and prepare for civil support for all-hazards events.

Peter J. Munson Fri, 10/05/2012 - 8:08am