ARLINGTON, Va. – Large television screens illuminate an otherwise darkened, underground facility, as National Guard members and civilians assess and monitor homeland response developments and provide up-to-date information for decision-makers.
It's another day at the National Guard Coordination Center, or NGCC, in a year marked by a pandemic, civil disturbances, natural disasters and cyber events. A year where Guard members in 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia logged a historic 8.4 million days serving their communities. All of it monitored by the NGCC.
"It is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year operations center that supports the states and territories and (Washington, D.C.) for any type of contingencies or support they need," said Air Force Col. George Haynes, the National Guard Bureau's chief of cyber operations.
That support, he added, lies in coordinating response activities with federal agency partners to ensure Guard units have what they need to support local and state authorities during national emergencies and events.
"We work with federal partners like the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Northern Command, and U.S Cyber Command to provide, anticipate, plan and prepare Guard capabilities in support of the states," Haynes said.
When coordinating recent cyber election support, he likened the center to a unit that fuses information to ensure successful and positive outcomes.
"For the election cycle, the coordination center has worked mainly as a whole-of-nation approach working with federal and state partners," said Haynes, adding that everybody operates "together to share information by providing bidirectional communication – so everyone is synchronized on the threats that may happen and what type of support is needed in the states."
For that kind of synchronization to be successful, he said, the NGCC requires a gamut of skills.
The collaboration involves working with partners to enable better vulnerability assessments, and to respond "to malware and ransomware events, and monitor critical systems during the elections," Haynes said.
For other domestic support, the NGCC facilitates rapid and integrated Guard responses.
For the COVID-19 response, the NGCC tracked testing and screening efforts; warehouse operations; facility deep-cleaning; packing and distributing food; and fitting, testing and distributing personal protective equipment.
During this year's wildfires, the coordination center helped plan for firefighting system usage, unmanned aerial support, and the number of Guard personnel trained for ground crew operations.
During the weeks of civil disturbances, the NGCC helped coordinate the use of Guard personnel across the nation in support of law enforcement agencies.
In addition, 2020 was a record-breaking year for the number of named storms and hurricanes. The NGCC tracked the number of civilians rescued and the miles of roads cleared of debris by Guard members and helped coordinate the distribution of food and water.
Haynes said the NGCC is a channel of communications between federal agencies and states – all determined to save lives, protect property and expedite recovery efforts.
"The NGCC brings together all of the Guard's capabilities and an (increased) understanding of how we work together to enable better operations and better synergy," he said.