JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Military personnel and civilians recently came together to attend a four-day Defense Support of Civil Authorities Phase II seminar, at Fort Sam Houston August 23-26, 2022. This course was one of more than a dozen DSCA courses which are led by U.S. Northern Command through U.S. Army North each year.
During this in-person course, service members from various commands, having already met the online DSCA Phase I course prerequisite, learned about the Department of Defense’s role in supporting civilian agencies in the event active-duty forces are requested during natural or man-made disaster response.
“The mission of the DSCA Course is to empower military forces, DOD civilians, contractor personnel, federal agencies, and their components, to successfully plan, coordinate, execute and support DSCA operations according to established principles,” said Morris Walton, senior instructor of the DOD DSCA course. “These principles are based on specific national, state, local, and DOD statutes and directives, and form the foundation for the DOD response to domestic emergencies and designated law enforcement actions.”
DSCA is the response of the DoD to national-level disasters once state, local, tribal and territorial governments have reached capacity during a crisis. Through this process, United States federal agencies, military assets and personnel work together in support of civil authorities.
"We like to look at disasters as every disaster is local,” said Albie Lewis, Federal Emergency Management Agency representative. “Every locale, where the disaster has an impact, has mayors, fire chiefs and police chiefs that have instant command over a particular incident or the effects of that hurricane or disaster. When they run out of things they need to support the civilian population, they have to look elsewhere for that.”
After reaching out to the county and state, civilian authorities have the option of going to other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and pulling in assets that are needed at the local level to support them, said Lewis. It can also turn to the federal coordinating officer and FEMA and ask for it to come from the federal agencies, he added.
Students taking the course learned an array of things that spanned multiple subjects such as lessons on the legalities of DSCA, crisis communications, and responses to specific disaster responses such as hurricanes and earthquakes. What stood out most, to one particular student, did not necessarily pertain to curriculum but leaned more so towards the people-aspect of support.
“Every situation is so intricate, but the human part really matters to the relationships,” said Col. Christie Opstrup, Maryland emergency preparedness liaison officer. “Building relationships, getting the message right and being supportive are just a few key things that I am going to take away from this.”
The way people come into a situation, offer support and be at the right place at the right time in order to build a proper relationship so they know where to go to get information are also important aspects of the course, said Opstrup.
For over a decade, this course has provided hundreds of military personnel with the training they need to use in crisis response and management.
According to Mr. Joseph Miller, an instructor for the DSCA course, nearly 800 service members and civilians are trained annually. Throughout the 16-year existence of the course, this translates into approximately 14,600 students who have received DSCA training and are better prepared to help communities in their time of need.