In Case of Emergency

By Major Richard J. Hossfeld, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve

The DSC concept aims to correct the parallel C2’s shortcomings, specifically in the area of establishing a unity of effort and command. A National Guard officer previously trained, certified, and authorized by the President of the United States and USNORTHCOM takes command of state forces as well as Title 10 and leads a unified effort with state and federal objectives. The advantages of DSC are many, including the state governor maintaining authority and sovereignty, a clear chain of command, unity of effort, and states’ previously mentioned C2 advantages. There are a few disadvantages, however, with the main one being the requirement to provide two uniquely trained staffs subordinate to the DSC who must be knowledgeable about the legal constraints and restraints as they apply to the Posse Comitatus and Stafford Acts. 2

The DSC system has performed exceptionally when employed in recent disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. However, it is imperative that federal and state governments, as well as the Department of Defense, do not become overly dependent on this recently developed C2 option to the point that it becomes the default structure for every scale and scope of disaster event during DSCA. DSC C2 should only be considered during a “middleweight” normal-scale catastrophe, such as Hurricane Sandy, unless it is complemented by additional federal measures that aim to ensure optimization inside a complex-catastrophe response. These measures basically “federalize” a portion of the total DSCA response in order to mitigate whole-of-government processes from paralysis. When multiple states must employ simultaneous DSCs across a region, the unity of effort erodes due to the emergence of unique objectives within a state, requisite additive coordination, and the introduction of resource competition across a wide region.

Our national and corollary levels of government have many methods, resources, and programs poised to assist in disaster response. When corresponding C2 structure is employed, it should optimize the response to the state(s) and should be tailored to the unique size of the catastrophe at hand. Different scales of catastrophes warrant different levels of responses through the local, county, state, regional, and federal levels from both civil and military stakeholders in an affected area. Consider the three categories of catastrophes, based on the order of their destructiveness: major disasters, normal catastrophes, and complex catastrophes. 3 For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the latter two.

Normal-Scale Catastrophes

The response to Hurricane Sandy was the first time in domestic history that the DSC C2 construct was employed during a no-notice disaster. This crisis was the perfect size and scale for the DSC C2 structure to be used and tested in a non-exercise situation, and the DOD and USNORTHCOM consider the response to be a success. 5 Brigadier General Mike Swezey of the New York DSC and Brigadier General James Grant of the New Jersey DSC co-commanded DSCA efforts. Governors and these authorized DSCs were able to leverage existing military and civil relationships between the two affected states. When reflecting on the Hurricane Sandy combined response, General Charles H. Jacoby, Commander USNORTHCOM, stated, “We are building the team ahead of time so the relationships are there. We are not exchanging business cards with our partners at the time of the fire, but well before the fire.” 6

While there were a few areas for improvement, the overall assessment concluded that interagency relationships functioned properly and smoothly with federal assistance flowing through the Title 10 deputies assigned to the respective DSCs. The affected states initially responded to the destruction caused by the hurricane, but emerging mission requirements resulted in the subsequent tasking to federal forces. The unity of command and effort was manageable within the DSC C2 given that there were only two states affected by the aftermath. Multiple infrastructures including power grids, water, and mass transportation degraded significantly, but there were not—nor did indicators exist that there was a potential for—cascading failures of infrastructure or networks.

This manageable and contained aftermath allowed for the two DSCs to operate in their respective boundaries quite well. However, had a few worst-case variables materialized, Hurricane Sandy could have easily spiraled into the realm of a complex catastrophe. One of the most challenging aspects within a DSCA crisis is to know at what point to escalate support using the National Response Framework “tiered-response” concept. “Knowing when a State and Guard are running out of resources and when to ask for Title 10 support is the question of the hour, and this is tested during National Level Exercise–Vigilant Guard,” said Major General Kevin R. McBride, Adjutant General, Rhode Island National Guard, in a 2013 interview. 7

New York and New Jersey augmented capability-set shortfalls through pre-existing emergency-management assistance compacts (EMACs), powerful agreements between neighboring states that allow for responsive surge support to a state that has a governor-declared emergency. Emergency management agencies were able to pool requirements from adjacent states and deliver them to the DSC, which needed additional commodities. All costs for providing this surge support were legally obligated for reimbursement to the state or states of origin. 8 “The huge scale of Hurricane Sandy highlighted a shortcoming in how FEMA calls on USNORTHCOM to support disasters—particularly, large complex ones that affect multiple states,” reflected FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. 9 Since Hurricane Sandy tested FEMA and its ability to exercise EMACs for different states across a wide region, it allowed DHS and FEMA to realize its strengths as well as areas for development relating to internal policy and processes.

Complex Catastrophes

The DOD has defined a complex catastrophe as:

Any natural or man-made incident, including cyberspace attack, power grid failure, and terrorism, which results in cascading failures of multiple, interdependent, critical, life-sustaining, infrastructure sectors and causes extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, environment, economy, public health, national morale, response efforts, and/or Government functions. 4

Many hypothetical complex catastrophe DSCA responses would be complicated by the DSC C2 option, unless a portion of the total disaster-response effort was led by a Title 10 “lead disaster DSC.” Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the need to clarify the requirement for this oversight when the situation appeared to escalate. Understanding that every DSCA response is distinctive and the President ultimately preserves the final decision, only one to three states concurrently experiencing a normal-scale catastrophe would be advised to employ DSC C2 structures within their respective states (without a lead disaster DSC). Any more breadth across a region (four or more states), the existence of a defined complex catastrophe (or the potential for one to develop), kinetic or terrorist activity, or any mixture of these variables would actually begin to burden and negate the unity of effort maintained at each respective state DSC. This would also create many additional layers of required expertise, coordination, and bureaucracy on the state(s) that would likely not be fully supportable.

Additionally, pre-existing EMACs could not be fully relied on and supported because governors would be hesitant to relinquish assets to another governor if their state was also in need. EMACs are not established as requirements during DSCA events; they are only an option if a governor and adjutant general agree to loan out their commodities for temporary usage. 10 Complex catastrophes not only increase the burden on a state to coordinate requirements and synchronize operations with the federal government, but also break down and degrade the state-to-state support network within FEMA and the National Guard Bureau due to exponentially increased competition for critical resources and commodities.

In the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan, four levels of layered events occurred: an earthquake, the tsunami itself, the instability of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and the humanitarian crisis of having hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens. If a similar event occurred in a heavily populated multi-state region of the United States, there would be a combination of cascading failures to infrastructure and heavy requirements affecting multiple states. DSC C2 would then be overwhelmed by possible requirements to coordinate actions with national-level interests through federal organizations. These could include USNORTHCOM, FEMA, DHS, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Reserve, and even more, depending on the disaster’s severity and scope. Furthermore, Canadian and Mexican governments and corresponding nested bureaus and departments could easily find themselves deeply involved during a complex cascading catastrophe in the United States. Without a unified effort, a multi-state coordination involving many external parties would only invite friction and confusion and hinder national-response efforts.

During complex catastrophes, nongovernmental organizations and private-sector-coordinated DSCA-response efforts should also peak at the federal level via FEMA and a supporting lead disaster DSC, instead of multiple independent civil authority and military interfaces with multiple states. In the event of a complex catastrophe, such as an earthquake at the New Madrid fault line, there would be enormous casualties and cascading infrastructure damage across 11 states and 4 FEMA regions. A total of 15 reactors would be at risk of destruction causing widespread environmental contamination. Our nation could be faced with enormous deaths and casualties if this occurred, and a large-scale mortuary-affairs effort would likely be outsourced or at least assisted by the private sector.

Again, this is out of scope for DSCs to initiate, especially if numerous states were represented as autonomous end customers. A FEMA director and a supporting Title 10 lead disaster DSC would be best positioned to manage these requirements. “From a USNORTHCOM perspective, the thing that keeps me up at night [is] mortuary affairs. . . . [The National Guard does] not have a lot of capacity for an event like that,” said Brigadier General Matthew J. Dzialo, Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Rhode Island National Guard. 11

FEMA and a supporting Title 10 lead disaster DSC should aim to provide the appropriate amount of assistance without infringing on state sovereignty to the highest degree possible. Even within a two-state response such as Hurricane Sandy, there are still massive layers of politics and individual agendas that can detract from what is best for the entire country and all of its civilians. Following Hurricane Sandy, there was constant oversight for a “top-down” approach from the President, the Secretary of Defense, USNORTHCOM, and FEMA to inject efforts from the federal level.

On a few occasions, prior to governor consent, Title 10 forces entered into the New York State territory and were kindly asked to depart until the requirement for their assistance eventually emerged. Some state National Guard leaders elected not to call in federal assistance and to self-manage with available resources. “You don’t want to call in Title 10 . . . think of strategic implications for the Guard. . . . The headline the next day would read that the Guard failed and needed the Active Component to bail it out, ” said Brigadier General Mike Swezey. 12 Perspectives and opinions like these are usually deeply rooted in state politics, and come from a place of overwhelming desire for the state to prove its capability and mettle to the nation at large.

When DSC C2 Makes Sense

Throughout a DSC response, sovereign state governments would begin to rightfully compromise a sensible amount of independence during possible situations such as the New Madrid fault line, influenza pandemic, weapons of mass destruction, and large-scale cascading complex disasters. A DSC C2 construct is an excellent structure to introduce Title 10 forces into DSCA response. Sovereignty would typically not have to be compromised until four or more states became involved in a struggle for resources. In this situation, a top-down response coupled with state and local effort would be appropriate.

On the contrary, one could argue that DSC (without a degree of “federalization” via a Title 10 Lead Disaster DSC) would make a reasonable C2 structure choice during a complex catastrophe, and that the United States could respond with a coordinated Title 10/32 unity of effort while maintaining complete state sovereignty within that C2 construct. If the New Madrid fault line complex catastrophe were considered, the option of standing up DSCs between 8 to 11 or more states, all reporting through their governors, is surely a C2 option. 13

Should the fault line awaken, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Tennessee would be forecasted to experience significant damage. Eight to 11 or more states would next receive Title 10 deputies on their staffs to independently coordinate the inflow of federal assistance from an ever-growing array of support via a dozen of the previously mentioned federal departments and bureaus. There would be no lead disaster DSC or federally appointed authority to make the tough call when multiple states required similar FEMA or Title 10 support; prioritization of allocated federal efforts would be managed as a new variable. If local first responders, state emergency agencies, and National Guards were in place and ready within these 11 state governments, there would be no reason why the authorized DSCs and these governors should not be able to continue providing the same level of response that was displayed during Hurricane Sandy with two DSCs and moderate Title 10 external support.

Local and state first responders, fire, paramedics, police, and public-works professionals across the affected states would provide in-zone immediate support—assuming their efforts or the infrastructure were not degraded—and seamlessly integrate with state Guard and Title 10 inserted forces. Prearranged and ready-to-be-used EMACs would still be in place and could be acted on, assuming there were not shortfalls and competition for similarly scarce or low-density resources. Each state could erect its own mortuary affairs, medical triage system, and displaced civilian evacuation process and have geographically independent refuge locations while relying on transportation assets and previously present resources organic to the state—provided that infrastructure can support this.


Homeland security practitioners learned many invaluable lessons regarding DSC following Hurricane Sandy. History will look back and affirm the importance of the introduction of an option such as DSC for the optimum C2 for both the President of the United States and governors during DSCA response to domestic crisis. 14 The strain placed on the New York and New Jersey DSCs (without an appointed lead disaster DSC) illuminate a fraction of what DSC C2 would experience during an earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. Without additional recommended federal processes, DSC should be reserved for application during normal catastrophes, or our nation will take on additional burdens when attempting to make DSC work where it is less than ideal. National-level exercises must continue to test and seek to uncover seams and areas of weaknesses within this newly implemented C2 mechanism.

The President and the Secretary of Defense are well within their authority to employ the full and necessary response mechanisms of the federal government and military during complex catastrophe DSCA. The fringe seams of DSCA tiered-response escalation, mobilization, and level of requisite support as it relates to the level of catastrophe are the areas for the highest scrutiny and should be thoroughly analyzed and consciously war-gamed before the selection of C2.

A list of recommendations for additive DSC C2 measures during complex disasters is as follows:

• Appoint a Title 10 “Lead Disaster” DSC.

• Appoint a FEMA director to prioritize resources and coordinate with the Joint Task Force (JTF) and state emergency-management agencies.

• Establish a nuclear or pandemic influenza response task force for coordination with the DSC JTF as required.

• Nullify and suspend pre-existing state EMACs and federalize movement and reassignment of state-to-state commodities as required.

• As a last resort, consider the partial or full federalization of any state National Guard that suffers from the massive degradation of its response capacity.

The sobering reality is that during a large domestic complex catastrophe, the benefits that a DSC C2 can provide to a governor during normal catastrophes are rapidly overwhelmed. DSC advantages are soon forfeited unless a gradation of “federalization” occurs. State politics and the interrelationships of National Guard and the state capitol are vital to many DSCA circumstances within a normal catastrophe, but they can be overruled by the President if it should aid in preventing loss of life or destruction to infrastructure.

We live in a post-Katrina environment and expect a higher level of response, regardless of political harmony or the sourcing origin of authority attached to a responding military capability. Disaster responders do not have a patch or uniform insignia that distinguishes between state, active-duty, Title 32, or Title 10 forces. American citizens are not concerned with who helps their families when crisis hits—just that someone capable will be there to lend a hand, and quickly.

1. President George W. Bush White House Archives, .

2. LT COL Jeffrey W. Burkett, USAF, “Command and Control of Military Forces in the Homeland,” Joint Forces Quarterly , 4th Quarter 2008, 130–136, .

3. Bert B. Tussing, “Threats at Our Threshold,” First Annual Homeland Defense and Homeland Security Conference , U.S. Army War College, October 2006.

4. Department of Defense, Strategy For Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities, 2013.

5. Donna Miles, “Sandy Response Reaffirms Value of Dual-Status Commander,” Department of Defense, 11 January 2013.

6. Donna Miles, “Northcom, FEMA Build on Hurricane Sandy Response Lessons,” , 24 January 2013.

7. MAJ GEN General Kevin R. McBride, The Adjutant General, Rhode Island, interview with author, 29 March 2013.

8. Emergency Management Assistance Compact, “Frequently Asked Questions about the National Guard & EMAC,” , 29 March 2013.

9. Miles, “Northcom, FEMA Build on Hurricane Sandy Response Lessons.”

10. Tussing, “Threats at Our Threshold.”

11. BRIG GEN Matthew J. Dzialo, Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Rhode Island National Guard, interview with author, 26 March 2013.

12. BRIG GEN Mike Swezey, “New York Army National Guard; Dual Status Commander for Hurricane Sandy,” Personal After Action Notes, 25 November 2012.

13. Darrin McDufford, “Armed Services Discuss Disaster Relationship, Support During Symposium,” , 11 February 2013.

14. Swezey, “New York Army National Guard; Dual Status Commander for Hurricane Sandy.”

Major Hossfeld is an active-duty joint operations planner and logistics officer currently assigned to U.S. Marine Forces Reserve, Operations and Plans Directorate, New Orleans. He is a 2013 graduate of the College of Naval Command and Staff, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.


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