For the U.S. military, Homeland Security during the Global War on Terrorism consists of two major missions: Homeland Defense, and Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA). The first mission consists of traditional military duties and responsibilities such as land defense, missile defense, and the protection of critical infrastructure. The second mission, DSCA, includes interagency support for consequence-management duties that, under the National Response Plan (NRP), usually would be coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In any discussion of the military's role in consequence-management missions, attention has most frequently focused on highly trained and fascinatingly equipped high-tech military units such as the 55 National Guard Civil Support Teams throughout the nation. Each team consists of 22 highly skilled full-time National Guard members who are federally resourced, trained, and exercised-and who have been fully instructed in the federally approved CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear) response doctrine. The mission of these National Guard teams is to use their unique expertise and capabilities to assist state governors, within each state's own emergency-response structure, in preparing for and responding to CBRN incidents.
A Division of Capabilities, Resources, and Responsibilities
As important as the technological capabilities of the Civil Support Teams-or of such other Department of Defense (DOD) resources as the Army's Technical Escort Units and the Marine Corps Chemical and Biological Incident Response Force--might be, the military has an even more important consequence-management role to play in the hours, days, and weeks immediately following a terrorist attack.
To understand that role one must first recognize that U.S. national policy is to assign the bulk of technological consequence-management capabilities, and responsibilities, to the civilian sector. In 1996, the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Act provided the federal funding needed to equip and train responders in the nation's 120 largest cities. Since passage of that act, the number of such federally funded programs has expanded significantly, both in the scope of the responsibilities assigned, and in the financial resources provided. DHS now funds an immense federal assistance program to ensure that state and local emergency-management personnel nationwide receive the equipment and training they need to carry out all of the duties they have been assigned.
Experience has proven the worth of this national policy. As tragic and devastating as the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers was, New York City's civilian responders did not require any significant assistance from DOD in carrying out their consequence-management operations. DOD retained all its resources for other missions, both in Homeland Defense and for its operations overseas.
A Catastrophe of Unprecedented Dimensions
However, the consequences of the 11 September 2001 attacks were not as catastrophic as future attacks may be. A close analysis of the response in New York City suggests, in fact, that a truly catastrophic attack, such as a contagious bioterrorism event, could overwhelm current civilian capabilities.
The biggest vulnerability in the U.S. civilian disaster-response system as it is now structured is that it does not have the depth needed to sustain long-term relief operations. Civilian capabilities were stretched to the limit, and beyond, less than a year ago in the attempts to sustain operations during four consecutive hurricanes--Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne--that struck the United States during the 2004 Hurricane Season. The operations most affected were not high-tech missions, but long-term, sustained, labor-intensive missions.
Today, the U.S. military, joined with the National Guard in operations coordinated through the Emergency Mutual Assistance Compact (EMAC), is uniquely capable of filling the requirement for sustained labor-intensive operations during, and following, major disasters of any type affecting almost any state or region of the country. EMAC serves in effect as a treaty--between the states, and ratified by Congress--that gives all participating states the ability to expeditiously request and/or provide emergency assistance to one another. At present all states except California and Hawaii are members of EMAC.
Although much of the role for the military in providing long-term labor-intensive consequence-management assistance may appear mundane, it is absolutely essential. The military is the nation's only current quick-access source of large numbers of disciplined and healthy young men and women who are both well trained and adequately equipped for sustained performance in stressful conditions under a unified command-and-control structure that is already in place. There is no equivalent resource in the civilian community. Among the typical roles requiring large numbers of personnel is the provision of traffic controls--e.g., the denial of unauthorized entry into a disaster area or, in the event of quarantine operations, the denial of exit from that same area.
Thirty Seconds Times Five Million People
If there were, in fact, a contagious biological attack in a large metropolitan area, current plans call for a “Push Package” of drugs and medical equipment--sufficient to treat up to 365,000 people-to be quickly delivered from the Strategic National Stockpile, with follow-on additional drugs and medical equipment arriving within the next 24 to 36 hours. Highly detailed plans and exercises, combined with the assistance provided by a Center for Disease Control Technical Advisory Response Unit, have significantly improved the nation's capabilities for initial distribution when the mass dispensing of antibiotics might be required.
However, a likely requirement in any catastrophic event of this type would be to distribute packets of drugs, to perhaps millions of people, within 24 hours, and to sustain that level of distribution for some time thereafter. If one assumes that distribution to five million people is required, the process just to hand over and track each bag--taking just 30 seconds to help each person--would take 3,472 people, all of them working 12-hour shifts.
Only the U.S. military could do this job, and do it efficiently. The reason is that the U.S. military already is structured and equipped to conduct sustained combat missions overseas. The military also, of course, has carried out many consequence-management missions during and after U.S. domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made. For domestic missions, the military relies upon the same structure, discipline, equipment, and leadership it uses for its combat missions. In short, the U.S. military's combat structure--which provides command-and-control capabilities for large numbers of disciplined forces operating, over a very large geographic area, in a stress-filled environment-already has proven its utility in countless humanitarian and disaster assistance missions, both at home and overseas.
The transformation of the U.S. military in recent years has made it an even more flexible and effective force. The lessons learned from such post-Cold War missions as establishing order, and starting and supporting the nation-building process, in disrupted states such as Kosovo and Iraq also are being leveraged to enhance the military's domestic-operations capabilities. Again, there is no civilian organization-federal, state, local, or private sector-capable of carrying out the same missions.