Interagency Coordination and Unified Command During a Domestic Emergency

May 27, 2016
Interagency Coordination and Unified Command During a Domestic Emergency
Certificate Presentation to General Frank Grass, Chief, US National Guard Bureau, and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the HKS General and Flag Officer Homeland Security Executive Seminar.

By: Maisie O'Brien, Communications Coordinator

From its role in responding to natural disasters, to protecting lives and property in the face of civil unrest, to preparing for cyber-attacks, the National Guard stands at the forefront of domestic crisis management.  In these chaotic situations, how do National Guard forces – along with political leaders, law enforcement, and other public safety and emergency management entities– establish a clear chain of command and coordinate their response?  What can be done prior to an event to minimize the risk of harm to civilians and the destruction of property?  What are the best ways to diffuse a situation before it escalates into a severe and highly disruptive crisis?

These questions, along with other public safety challenges, are being explored and debated through two Harvard Kennedy School executive education courses offered to members of the National Guard and their partners across the homeland security domain: the General and Flag Officer Homeland Security Executive Seminar (GFOS), which brings together US National Guard generals with Coast Guard admirals and equivalent-level civilian officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the military’s Northern Command, and Leadership in Homeland Security (LHS), which provides training for field grade officers in the National Guard and Coast Guard and related homeland security agencies.  Chaired by Arnold Howitt and Dutch Leonard, faculty co-directors of the Ash Center’s Program on Crisis Leadership (PCL), the seminars are designed to equip service leaders with the resources and skills to produce an effective response during complex, multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency events.

Over the past several years, the GFOS and LHS programs have often included high-profile panel discussions addressing topics related to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, as well as strategies to promote interagency coordination and unified command. Two of these events are highlighted below. 

GFOS 2015: “Interagency Coordination and Unified Command During a Domestic Emergency”

As part of GFOS 2015, PCL and Executive Education hosted a panel discussion on multi-organizational crisis response management and leadership entitled “Interagency Coordination and Unified Command During a Domestic Emergency.”  Exploring preparedness and response to a range of hazards, the panel was moderated by Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer and Former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem, and included Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Frank Grass; Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Paul F. Zukunft; and Deputy Commander of the United States Northern Command Lt. General Michael D. Dubie. 

“How do you deal in a world in which you know chain of command, but the dynamics of things that happen in the homeland are not [necessarily] managed through chain of command?” asked Kayyem, acknowledging the unique challenges facing National Guardsmen who occupy a dual role as a state-level entity in peacetime and a force that has undergone federalization and numerous deployments during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Kayyem noted that the National Guard and its partners in disaster response operate under a microscope during domestic emergencies, with the public as well as those in the media, state and local government officials, and the White House paying close attention to their every movement.  The panelists discussed strategies to balance the operational aspects of mounting an effective response while acknowledging the perspectives and demands of each such group. 

“Partnerships and building those early are so critical,” said General Grass.  “I have tremendous partnerships with all the generals and they carry a heavy load out there during a crisis.”  He also underscored the importance of engaging in advance with political leaders, adding: “A lot of my time is spent helping elected officials to better understand the Guard.  If you don’t do that you’ll lose resources [because] they won’t understand what you need to do… You’ve got to get to the Hill and make that a priority.” 

 Admiral Zukunft reiterated the importance of collaboration and building relationships with elected officials, saying: “As long as I’m not dealing with a catastrophe right now, in the calm before the storm, I develop those relationships because when you’re called in for a hearing at least you’ve had coffee together… and that takes some of the tension out of what could otherwise be a very acrimonious relationship.” 

The panelists also discussed strategies on interfacing with the press and public during a domestic emergency.  Admiral Zukunft outlined how he and his team are using social media and new digital tools to communicate directly with citizens. “We can never be transparent enough,” he said. 

LHS 2015 Panel Explores National Guard’s Response to Baltimore Unrest

One of the attendees in the 2015 GFOS course, Adjutant General of the Maryland National Guard Linda Singh, returned to the Kennedy School this past September to present as part of the 2015 Leadership in Homeland Security (LHS) executive education program.  Singh helped lead the National Guard response in Baltimore when protests turned violent following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year old African American man who died as a result of a spinal cord injury he suffered while in police custody.  The Governor of Maryland declared a state of emergency and the National Guard was brought in to support the state police.  

Singh was joined by the Secretary of State Police in Maryland William Pallozzi and Program in Crisis Leadership Co-Director Dutch Leonard, who moderated the discussion on the state’s response to the Baltimore protests.  The panel explored strategies to promote collaboration and establish unified command across agencies during periods of civil unrest.  General Singh and Secretary Pallozzi emphasized the importance of protecting residents’ safety and working to “rebuild trust one interaction at a time.”

GFOS and LHS are offered through HKS Executive Education and are organized in partnership with the National Guard’s Homeland Security Institute. Both courses are led by Professors Howitt and Leonard, faculty co-directors of the Program on Crisis Leadership, an initiative jointly sponsored by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and the Taubman Center for State and Local Government. The most recent iteration of GFOS took place in April 2016, and the next LHS course is scheduled for this September.