WASHINGTON - Developing regional response capabilities, stepping up preparations for a no-notice catastrophe and maturing partnerships are among priorities at U.S. Northern Command, the new deputy commander said here Tuesday.
"We're working very closely with the National Guard and [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and the Joint Staff, taking our contingency plans for the homeland - especially in the CBRNE world - and working very closely with the Guard to develop a regional response capability," said Army Lt. Gen. Frank Grass, Northcom's deputy commander.
CBRNE is chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive.
"The success of that regional response in support of (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) will help drive how we respond … at the federal level," said Grass, who also is vice commander of the U.S. element of Northcom's sister command, North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Grass was nominated to serve as Navy Adm. James Winnefeld's deputy in September and elevated to lieutenant general earlier this month.
Previously Northcom's operations director, Grass' National Guard career spans four decades, starting in St. Louis, Mo., - where he literally got his feet wet on state active duty during 1973 Mississippi River flooding - and including domestic and overseas federal assignments.
"I have a good understanding from the local level all the way through the national level," said Grass, who also served as the Army National Guard's operations director.
The National Guard's relationship with NORAD, the older of the twin commands, is longstanding.
"The National Guard has been a key player in the NORAD mission for air sovereignty alert with tankers and fighters and continues to be a large portion of that force," Grass said during a break at the 2010 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition here. "Today, the Guard is also very active in the missile defense world.
"They provide the bulk of our 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense) based out of Colorado and the 49th Missile Defense Battalion (GMD) … out of Fort Greely, Alaska."
The National Guard's 263rd Army Air & Missile Defense Artillery Brigade out of South Carolina also provides last-resort protection for the National Capitol Region centered here on Washington.
Northcom was stood up in 2002, in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11 a year earlier. Its key homeland defense and defense support of civil authorities missions match key National Guard missions.
"We had a good base of knowledge from NORAD to build on with the Guard," Grass said. "We have partnered extremely well. Keeping that close relationship is extremely important."
The National Guard is among each state's team of first responders to natural or manmade disasters.
"The Guard is the governor's first military response and as you have a disaster occur and more forces are needed, you see the governor calling in his Guard whenever a disaster exceeds the capability of the (local) first responders," Grass said.
"(Northcom is) there to help back up whenever a governor calls - through the National Response Framework, through FEMA, through the interagency - and we want to not be a minute too early or a minute too late.
"We want to be able to partner with the Guard … to have visibility of what's happening on the ground early so that if the governor needs assistance and requests it through the National Response Framework we can provide Title 10 assets," Grass said.
Northcom, the Guard and other agencies are drawing ever closer - particularly in the area of no-notice catastrophic events.
"We are working very closely with FEMA and the Guard to look at how we would respond in a no-notice catastrophic event," Grass said. "We feel that's the one area right now we need to expand upon."
Northcom and the Guard have co-hosted annual hurricane preparedness conferences attended by both the combatant commander and the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Grass said that teamwork now will expand to include more Department of Homeland Security and FEMA involvement.
"It's a team," he said. "We really focus a lot on unity of effort in support of (civil authorities),"
In 2011 and 2012, that boosting of preparedness for no-notice catastrophic events will include a focus on CBRNE response, Grass said.
"We're going through the process of changing the way we do business in the homeland," he said.
The states have established response forces in the form of the National Guard's Civil Support Teams and CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Packages.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, CBRNE capabilities include servicemembers who are Title 10 assets that governors can call upon in a catastrophic event, plus command and control units.
In 2011, a regional layer that is already being stood up will come on line. Two new regional Homeland Response Forces are in training.
HRFs are battalion-level National Guard units with lifesaving and decontamination capabilities and security and command and control elements.
Grass said the first two HRFs will have their training confirmation completed in 2011 and eight more will stand up in 2012.
"(HRFs) will be a regional capability, which works very closely with the FEMA regions, but they'll be owned by the governors," Grass explained. "We're now pushing down capability to the regional level."
Where the traditional CST and CERFP response is inside a state, the HRFs will be regional, with one stationed in each of the nation's 10 FEMA regions.
"The new Homeland Response Forces came out of the (Quadrennial Defense Review) and (a) resource management decision, and the intent was to push more lifesaving capability early in the response to a CBRNE disaster," Grass said.
Training also will be standardized for active, Guard and reserve elements of all the nation's CBRNE response capabilities, he said.
Northcom includes liaison officers from about 60 government agencies. Six of the command's general officers, including Grass, are drawn from the Reserve components.
"From a Reserve component perspective, Northcom is the one place where you can bring senior leadership together and give them an opportunity to work the interagency process, the whole-of-government and the whole-of-U.S.-military and grow as a team," Grass said.
"That coupled with our active counterparts from all services including the U.S. Coast Guard really creates a great mix and a place to grow leaders that understand how to do business for the homeland in the future - not only from (the Defense Department), but also the interagency.
"We'll grow leaders that understand Mission One, which is defending the homeland."