The Support StructureThere is one DCE for each of the ten Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) regions in the United States. In addition, the Indo-Pacific Command has a DCE for Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) for its territories in that region. The DCE partners primarily with FEMA, as the lead federal agency, to satisfy state requests for assistance in disaster response. However, the DCE can coordinate defense support with other lead federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services (e.g., during a pandemic response), the U.S. Secret Service (e.g., in support of the State of the Union Address), or other agencies depending on the requirement.
Certification exercises ensure the active-duty military’s ability to support lead federal agencies, validate mission assignments, and communicate with leaders.DCE Region 6 primarily supports FEMA Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas) when local, state, and federal disaster response agencies are at capacity. The DCE is led by a defense coordinating officer (DCO) – an Army colonel who has previously commanded a brigade-sized or equivalent formation of 1,500 to 5,000 soldiers and has served the nation for approximately 25 years. This senior officer validates mission assignments that FEMA assigns to DoD before they go to U.S. Northern Command or Indo-Pacific Command for unit sourcing and missioning the task. Composed of a nine- or ten-person team, the DCE supports the DCO. Regions 2 and 10 have ten people, allowing an extra person stationed in Puerto Rico and at the National Inter Agency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The DCE is typically composed of the following:
- The DCO,
- A deputy DCO who is an Active Guard Reserve lieutenant colonel,
- A major operations officer,
- Two Department of Army civilian emergency management specialists (who provide long-term relationships with the states and continuity as Army soldiers rotate out every two to three years),
- A sergeant first class operations non-commissioned officer,
- An administrative and logistics non-commissioned officer, and
- Two communications non-commissioned officers to ensure communications.
- Process requests for assistance/validate mission assignments;
- Provide situational awareness;
- Provide liaisons to federal, state, and local partners;
- Assist planning efforts with regional, state, and local entities and enable planning for DoD response operations; and
- Provide mission control of Title 10 (active-duty) forces when required.
- Cost (including the source of funding and the effect on the DoD budget);
- Appropriateness (whether providing the requested support is in the interest of the Department);
- Risk (safety of DoD Forces);
- Readiness (impact on the DoD’s ability to perform its other primary missions);
- Legality (compliance with laws); and1
- Lethality (potential use of lethal force by or against DoD Forces).
Army North Certification ExercisesCertification exercises ensure that DCE Region 6 can perform its mission when required. Army North has performed five certification exercises in the last six months due to new incoming DCOs. These exercises ensure the DCO and the DCE can support their lead federal agencies, validate mission assignments, and communicate appropriately with Army North and higher headquarters. The February 2023 Region 6 certification exercise is typical of how Army North executes all certification exercises, which are run by the Army North staff, augmented by two observer/controller/trainers from other DCEs. Their focus is on the DCE ability to accomplish the key mission essential tasks required to support the lead federal agency in disaster response. It began with a pre-exercise scenario brief from Army North and the contractor who develops the scenario and portrays FEMA and state players, depending on partner agency participation. In this case, Region 6 re-used a Category Five hurricane scenario in the Rio Grande Valley from an exercise last year. All pre-landfall mission assignments were loaded into the DoD mission assignment tracking system DOD DSCA Automated Support System (DDASS) (including general population and aeromedical evacuation missions) before the exercise started. The exercise began on February 7, 2023, with new requirements submitted and ended on the afternoon of February 9, totaling over 30 requests processed. The exercise also included all the standard FEMA “Planning P” meetings (such as the unified coordination group (UCG), command and staff, tactics, and planning meetings), public affairs interviews, and several crisis action planning meetings. In addition, the exercise included the FEMA Region 6 Incident Management Assistance Team and federal coordinating officer partners, which helped to maintain close relationships. Army North has developed a strong process to prepare the DCO/DCE to support the lead federal agency and is prepared to support FEMA Region 6 when called upon. This exercise helped cement relationships between the DCO/DCE and our FEMA Region 6 Federal Coordinating Officer, the Incident Management Assistant Team, and the Texas Military Department. It also provided the opportunity for all regional and state EPLOs to participate in a rare “all-in” collective training event. This gave the Region 6 DCE team a valuable opportunity to test systems and processes and better prepare for its role in supporting a lead federal agency and helping communities in need.
Retired Army Colonel Patrick (Pat) B. McNiece is an emergency management specialist. He joined the Defense Coordinating Element Region VI in Denton, Texas, in 2014, where he focuses on enabling Defense Support of Civil Authorities and Homeland Defense. He partners primarily with FEMA, other federal agencies, as well as Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico National Guard and Emergency Managers. Previously, he served 34 years in Military Intelligence with senior intelligence positions in Afghanistan (twice), Iraq, Bosnia, Germany (twice), South Korea, and numerous bases in the U.S. He served in and supported NATO, airborne, air assault, infantry, and armored units. His graduate degree is from the Army War College, and his Bachelor of Science degree is from the U.S. Military Academy.