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Army North News Feed
NEWS | March 4, 2024

Homeland Defense and Defense Security Cooperation Agency hosts national exercise at Naval Air Station North Island

By NEPLO Public Affairs

It is said the best times to plan for natural disasters are when the skies are blue. That is exactly what the emergency preparedness liaison officer, or EPLO, community did.


The Navy hosted 459 emergency management professionals working in support of a whole of community approach last week. EPLOs from all services, federal government, state government, corporate and community partners participated in the Joint EPLO Homeland Defense/Defense Support of Civil Authorities National Exercise. The exercise convened on Feb. 26 aboard Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego.


“It is important that we are able to gather in one room, sit around tables and think through different scenarios which can impact our nation,” said Erik Hooks, the Deputy Administrator for FEMA. Continuing in his address at the exercise, Hooks said, “I’m a great proponent and supporter of exercises such as these. I believe they are some of the most important tools that we have to test our capabilities before disaster strikes.”


Rebecca Zimmerman, who is performing the duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs, echoed the importance of the joint EPLO HD/DSCA national exercise.


 “In the wake of a domestic emergency, when a shocked community is confronting potentially catastrophic outcomes and they look to you for help, events like this (exercise) are critical to make sure that all of our EPLOs can work side-by-side in support of a response.”


Disaster has been striking at increasing rates in the past decade. According to Hooks, “There were 108 major disasters 10 years ago. Now that number is more than 300; 80 to 85% of our mission assignments go through DoD.”


Zimmerman elaborated on the disaster response that DoD provides.


“Over the years, requests for DoD support have ranged from responding to natural disasters to assisting in public health emergencies, and our (EPLOs) are crucial to supporting those efforts,” said Zimmerman.


The national exercise brought industry and infrastructure experts to the table. This enabled a whole of community approach to discuss emergency management with government officials, and participate in exercise scenarios.


“Your connection to state emergency management counterparts are critical to disaster response operations,” said Hooks as he addressed EPLOs. “You’re often among the first members of the federal family on site after an incident. You work to build a unified and coordinated path which allows us to leverage your knowledge and relationships to ensure we are able to meet the needs of survivors efficiently without fail, driving us toward the goal of enhancing a more resilient nation.”


The Navy EPLO program commander, Navy Capt. Annette Washburn, has been a NEPLO for three tours.


“Being able to talk to the people in your region, while still having access to the brain trust that exists nationally when it comes to emergency management, is invaluable,” began Washburn. “As NEPLOs and EPLOs, we are problem solvers by nature. Having an opportunity to work through different problem sets and build relationships in a national exercise makes all of us better, which will eventually be used in our service to communities in need.”


Speaking on a private sector panel, HP Le, a Verizon Frontline Solutions Specialist, introduced the crowd of emergency management professionals to one of Verizon's Unmanned Ground Vehicles, a Ghost Robotics Vision60 Robotic Dog named RED. RED isshort for Robotic Emergency Dog, and is part of the Verizon Frontline Innovation Program as one example of how first responders can connect to, and take advantage of, Verizon's 5G network for high bandwidth and low latency communications. 


“The future of these UGVs will be that people such as yourselves,” stated Le, “the first responder community, law enforcement, and the military can leverage assets like this to go out there and perform inspections, do reconnaissance, and provide situational awareness to support mission success. You can put this asset in harm’s way – like detect hazardous materials and radiological substances, or in high-temperature environments – to be able to determine if that area is safe for humans.“


Discussions during the national exercise included Title 10, Title 32, Requests for Assistance from civil authorities to initiate DSCA support and Mission Assignments. The exercise participants worked through scenarios related to a natural disaster followed by an attack on the homeland.


In order to work toward that DSCA mandate to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate great property damage, EPLOs have to work at what Air Force Lt. Gen. Steven Nordhaus calls the “speed of trust.”


“Too much help is no help at all,” began Nordhaus, the Commander, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region and Commander, 1st Air Force (U.S. Air Forces Northern and U.S. Air Forces Space). “Being EPLOs (you help) to close those gaps and seams, and understanding where we have to go and be there with the right amount at the right time at the right place.”


Building on this, Hooks talked about the resiliency of the EPLO community.


“We’ve seen (EPLOs) lean forward, resolve capability gaps, serve as a reliable bridge between military and civilian response agencies,” said Hooks. “You demonstrate over and over again that you understand effective emergency management requires collaboration on various disciplines, agencies, organizations and the private sector.”