78th Homeland Response Force: On Call, We’re Ready
Following the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, ten Homeland Response Forces (HRF) were directed for creation within the National Guard Bureau for a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) response. Georgia was one of ten states selected to stand up these new unit types.
The Georgia National Guard selected the 78th Troop Command—consisting of US Army and Air Force personnel—as the headquarters, attaching chemical decontamination, medical, military police, sustainment, transportation and command units. Re-designated the 78th Homeland Response Force, this unit was responsible for responding to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) incident anywhere within FEMA Region IV, which includes not only Georgia, but Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina as well.
The 78th HRF began its unit integration and task assignment process which required understanding and training within the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS). Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) equipment such as trucks, trailers, communications equipment, and chemical and radiological detection devices, allowed for seamless integration with local First Responders. We also integrated our assigned military equipment into the DSCA operation to provide a robust self-sustaining operation for up to five days. With this combination of COTS and military equipment the unit can self-deploy anywhere within FEMA Region IV, and arrive within 10 to 20 hours of notification.
The Governor of Georgia is the release authority for the 78th HRF; supported entities can request either a portion or the entire 78th HRF capability via an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The EMAC provides the legal boundaries in which the HRF can support the incident.
Once the 78th HRF receives notification for deployment, it begins the Notification Hour (N-Hour) sequence. This sequence has been evaluated during eight different exercises since September 2011, including during Vigilant Guard last year, in North Carolina.
As each Incident is different in scope, size and general organization, 78th HRF has had the opportunity to expand their military abilities by supporting two civilian entities; a notional, Jacksonville, FL incident and Georgia Ports Authority, a military-civilian entity through Joint Task Force (JTF) Panther, NC and a notional Political Event Incident.
Following Vigilant Guard 2011, 78th HRF quickly transitioned to a National Special Security Event (NSSE) in less than twenty-four hours. The immediate task at hand was to synchronize all efforts toward the NSSE. JTF Panther, 78th HRF and JTF Civil Support worked together to develop a Department of Defense Urban Area Security Initiative plan focused on Consequence Management (CM) around Charlotte, NC in support of the NSSE. This rapid transition clearly displayed 78th HRF’s adaptability and flexibility.
This joint planning was a grass roots planning session with a clearly defined problem statement: “how do we provide a complete and synchronized CBRN focused CM plan”. The final product was a simple plan based on the assumption that civil authorities would direct all ingress routes upon arrival at Charlotte’s outer interstate belt, I-485. By the end of this planning session, all three entities clearly understood their unit planning requirements culminated at the Line of Departure (LD).
The need to save human lives and alleviate suffering means that the National Guard is the responding military entity for the first ninety-six (96) hours from the time an incident occurs. 78th HRF has the capability to continue the response with the assistance of the supported entity. Regardless of the incident type, response time must be quick, which means we must make simple, flexible plans. We can perfect the plan while en-route to the incident area through phone conferences, mobile internet connections and the use of seat assignments by staff section. This allows for a full Common Operational Picture (COP) development.
With the use of commercial collaboration tools such as Adobe Connect and Google products, we can provide our civilian counterpart a clear understanding of capabilities and current operations without the usual military security issues. Currently, the HRF lacks a single standard communications medium, so we have adjusted to a wide variety of communications programs. This allows us to integrate with our counterpart’s medium of choice (except for CPOF, due to the required data encryption and equipment set).
In addition to integration with the supported entity, multi-service component integration is critical as well. The 78th HRF has integrated with the United States Marine Corps, JTF Civil Support, Civil Support Teams, CBRN Enhanced Response Packaged Force, JTF Panther and JFHQ-North Carolina during Vigilant Guard 2012 and JTF Panther support for the Democratic National Convention. The continued integration comes in several forms; capability briefs, planning sessions and exercises. The common slogan in the DSCA community and CBRN operation is, “If the first time we trade business cards is at the Incident Commander (IC) linkup, its too late”.
78th HRF will continue to integrate with all entities through site visits, phone conferences and training events. Critical to our success is approaching every event without preconceived notions, bringing all tools and equipment to bear and understanding our supporting role. DSCA means, we, the military, are supporting civil authorities during times of distress. More specifically, our mission is to man, train, and equip a Homeland Response Force (HRF) to provide a response capability to assist civil authorities in saving lives and mitigating suffering in response to a CBRN incident while continuing to provide trained and ready troops to support overseas contingency operations.