WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. –
Rain continued to fall outside the Armed Forces Reserve Center here on July 16, 2023. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) trucks parked outside of the quintessentially Vermont U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Center were a testament to the amount of rain the state had seen over the previous week. The FEMA Incident Support Team (IST) – now occupying the assembly hall – was activated on July 10 after historic rainfall in Vermont. Within 36 hours the first elements were in White River Junction setting up their command post at the reserve center to assist state and local search and rescue operations.
According to David Sanborn, the 99th Readiness Division Emergency Management Specialist for FEMA Region I, “The U.S. Army Reserve prepares for and responds to incidents by conducting Defense in Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) operations to save lives, prevent human suffering, and mitigate real property damage in any part of the United States or its Territories. The Army Reserve has a large DSCA support capability in the form of Army Reserve Facilities and capabilities such as medical, engineering, logistical and many other disciplines that can be used for immediate response or longer-term support.”
For the IST this means being able to utilize Army Reserve facilities to conduct their mission. “FEMA needs robust facilities like this one” said Jim Colston, the IST safety officer. The 51,000 square foot facility has a kitchen, showers, offices, and a large assembly hall where the IST set up their operations center. From this large room medical, logistical, operational, and budgeting specialists worked with local town, county, and state officials to coordinate assistance with swift water recover, search and rescue, and providing National Guard units activated for disaster relief with assistance in helping Vermonters most affected by the flooding.
“Establishing relationships with the Army Reserve early in the process, before anything even happens, is critical to the success of missions like these” said IST Information officer Karl Lee. The reserve center is owned by the 99th Readiness Division, the 99th manages over 500 Army Reserve installations, local training areas, buildings and facilities throughout the division's 13-state region stretching from Maine to Virginia. This footprint includes FEMA Regions 1, 2, and 3. The 99th also has a dedicated DSCA response cell that provides the needed coordination between the Army Reserve and FEMA during this kind of emergency response. When FEMA teams need to move into an emergency area, the Army Reserve and its facilities play a key role in providing space and resources for FEMA to operate from.
Beyond the amenities and space the facility offers, its geographic location is also key to facilitating FEMA operations. “This location is great, it is a critical location to be able to reach affected areas” said Steve Dohman, the logistics section chief for the IST. White River Junction is located at the crossroads of two major interstate highways in Vermont and has access to some of the hardest hit towns in the central and southern portions of the state within an hour by car.
Sanborn echoed this sentiment, “The facility was ideal for providing assistance as an incident support base due to its location in the disaster area, the accessibility of the major interstate roadway systems and the workspace in the facility that provided a conducive and effective command post for the team. Additionally, the facility had ample parking space for the needed support vehicles and swift water rescue boats that were needed on site. Due to the facility location, all major interstates and many major state roads are quickly accessible to the team as they work to coordinate operations to fill gaps in state and local resources.”
Mike Johnson, the operations section chief praised the reserve center for its space and functionality. “This is a great facility; we have room to grow the team if needed.” The IST Is a Type 3 team, meaning there are 45 or less people filling positions, but if the flooding worsened, or 24-hour operations required an increase in manpower, the reserve center has the space and resources to accommodate additional team members.
The Army Reserve has a dedicated DSCA support role in place in every state. There are 10 FEMA Regions across the country and in each region every state has an Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer and NCO (EPLO) team. These Army Reserve EPLO Teams work in their assigned State as the USAR liaison for emergency support for the FEMA Region Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO).
For the 99th, this mission shows the division’s ability to quickly answer the call for DSCA support. The division has a Homeland Operations Cell (HLO) that has 2 dedicated, full time Emergency Management Specialist assigned to FEMA Regions 1 and 3 as well as a DSCA Planner assigned to FEMA Region II. The roles of these individuals are to train Army Reserve leaders to respond to requests for emergency support from municipalities, called Immediate Response Authority (IRA), work with the State EPLOs, and coordinate with FEMA Region Staff to support new and ongoing emergency operations involving Army Reserve assets and capabilities.