NATIONAL GUIDANCE FOR USE OF THE US ARMY DURING DOMESTIC EMERGENCIES
MLC Class 09-18
National Guidance for use of the US Army during domestic emergencies
In 2005, one of the most tragic and comprehensive natural disasters to ever occur in the US impacted Louisiana and Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina cost many lives and thrust a broad debate into action, revealing the need for refined national guidance regarding emergency relief. The states impacted by the hurricane did not have immediate assistance from the federal government, largely due to constraints written into policy that precluded immediate assistance. National guidance for emergency response to domestic emergencies proved to be insufficient for states impacted by Hurricane Katrina and could be refined to offer better assistance in the future.
Current national guidance for use of the US Army during domestic emergencies
When Hurricane Katrina reached the gulf coast of Louisiana in 2005, the guidance in place to impact any relief and assistance efforts was the Posse Comitatus Act. Posse Comitatus is a Latin phrase meaning, “possible force” (Wombwell, 2009), where a sheriff could call upon able-bodied persons to apprehend a criminal. This phrase is the origin of the common use of the word “posse”, to indicate forming a group. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 states, “Whoever except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be tried under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both” (Wombwell, 2009). This act most notably deals with domestic insurgencies on national soil, and was most recently amended in 1981 following an armed conflict between an American Indian movement and local, state, and federal agencies (Tkacz, 2006).
The National Guard is the States’ entity to assist in emergency relief and effort, with a multitude of possibilities for military assistance. The National Guard operates under two titles, Title 10, which is voluntary call to active duty, and Title 32, which is an order to active duty by the governor with the approval of the president or the Secretary of Defense (Wombwell, 2009). A state government has the opportunity to act alone as they see fit to address predicaments, but they can also elect to receive assistance from the federal government. This is paramount, as the state has the right to conduct relief efforts without federal assistance, as in the case of a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina.
Prior to the reality of Hurricane Katrina, states had been implementing and preparing for natural disasters. Each state has its own level of preparedness for emergencies or natural disasters that may occur. The states most severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana and Mississippi, were no different. These state governments both had plans and procedures in place to set up command posts and evacuate civilian personnel. Their plans included activating their respective National Guard and utilizing them to assist with evacuation procedures as well as command and control. The magnitude of this natural disaster would test the best laid out and rehearsed plans.
Federal, state, and local government operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, then United States President George W. Bush signed a disaster declaration for Louisiana and Mississippi, allowing federal support entities to assist with the recovery effort. The President also wanted to assist Kathleen Blanco, Governor of Louisiana, with full military assets (Bush, 2006). President Bush hoped to federalize the National Guard and turn command and control over to a single federal military commander (Tkacz, 2006). The Bush administration initially withheld federal troops from aiding the hectic situation caused by Hurricane Katrina because President Bush was concerned that sending federal soldiers would appear to be the federal government forcibly taking control away from Governor Blanco, who was affiliated with a different political party. The Bush administration feared that unrequested federal involvement would cause a political rift between the parties (Tkacz, 2006). President Bush ultimately ordered 7,200 active duty forces into New Orleans after the city was flooded (Tkacz, 2006).
The governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, requested as much assistance as could be given from President Bush. However, she refused the Bush administrations active duty military assistance and federalization of the National Guard. The Governor’s lack of foresight exacerbated an already chaotic situation caused by the natural disaster. The motivation, unfortunately, appears to have been fueled by political bickering. In Mississippi, Governor Haley Barbour did not need immediate active duty military assistance and was never offered it from the Bush administration (Tkacz, 2006). Governor Barbour accessed emergency systems in requesting assistance and prepared by setting up a command post. His choices allowed Mississippi to handle the wake of Hurricane Katrina more fluidly and effectively than Louisiana did.
At the local government level, then New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, was included in meetings with President Bush and Governor Blanco, working to get assistance as soon as possible for his city. Directing law enforcement activities would also prove to be challenging for the Mayor. Initially, he had the city’s law enforcement agencies conducting search and rescue efforts, but two days after the storm had passed, looting and crime had become so rampant that he then ordered the police back to normal law enforcement duties (Tkacz, 2006). With 13 of the city’s 16 hospitals closed due to flooding or looting, and law enforcement officers being unclear about what duties to assume responsibility for, New Orleans was in complete chaos. By many accounts, the Mayor had no control over his city, or the personnel in charge of it. Ray Nagin would later be indicted and convicted of 21 federal corruption charges stemming from contracts he delegated to contractors to repair the city of New Orleans (Jervis, 2013). This appalling situation is why oversight and guidance needs to be added to outdated laws in order to better serve the people effected by national emergencies.
National guidance could be refined to better assist with domestic emergencies
The National Guard has a wide range of missions, within their own state, and abroad supporting the war on terror. This was especially true during Hurricane Katrina timeframe, when the US was gearing up for a surge in wartime efforts. The army, and most notably the National Guard, could have done to better prepare and react to Hurricane Katrina. One important step towards improving the guidance would be to give the National Guard the federal responsibility to conduct homeland security operations. The National Guard in all states should be prepared in policy and in training to rapidly respond to domestic emergencies or catastrophic events (Davis et al., 2007).
Guidance should be written into regulation that designates special units of the National Guard, of each respective state, to train closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in reacting to disaster events nationwide (Wombwell, 2009). Clear guidance would allow a quick reaction force (QRF) to be on call in pre-planning and in the aftermath of catastrophic events such as Hurricane Katrina. These units could conduct training and certifications in a multitude of specialties, which would allow for vast coverage of needed aid. The activities could include search and rescue, command and control, movement and mobility support operations, and many other tasks that could assist not only FEMA, but also help the people of an impacted area.
Most notably, there were too many competing command structures in the impacted areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. While the president was closely watching and assisting where the law and guidance allowed, having too many decision makers in both Louisiana and Mississippi was not the most proficient way of handling things. Especially during emergencies, a command structure should be in place that allows quick and collaborative sharing between all elements of government. The structure should quickly collect, decipher, and prioritize all information, and make rapid and sound decisions. Having a collective and collaborative leadership would prove to be most effective with the governor’s and the president making decisions to help and assist the people impacted.
Reflecting on the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, the national guidance for use of the US Army during domestic emergencies could be further refined to offer a more effective response in the future. The current national guidance promotes a flow of command, such that decisions made by the local government may be out of sync with state and federal authorities who may be operating with more resources and a broader obligation. Revising the guidelines to outline the National Guard’s role, as well as identifying a clear command structure during emergencies, could better serve communities that are impacted by natural disasters.
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Tkacz, S.R. (2006). In Katrina’s wake: Rethinking the military’s role in domestic emergencies. William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 15, 301-334.
Davis, L.E., Rough, J., Cecchine, G., Schaefer, A.G. & Zeman, L.L. (2007). Hurricane Katrina: Lessons for Army Planning and Operations (RAND Research Brief MG-603-A). Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9255/index1.html.
Bush, G.W. (2006). Setting the record straight: The August 28th Hurricane Katrina videoconference. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=83024.
Jervis, R. (2013, January 18). Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin indicted. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/18/new-orleans-mayor-ray-nagin/1845617/.
Wombwell, J.A. (2009). Army support during the Hurricane Katrina disaster (The Long War Series Occasional Paper 29). Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press. Retrieved from https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/combat-studies-institute/csi-books/wombwell.pdf.