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Homeland Security

NEPLOs Deploy During Hurricane Irene

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS110902-22

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Monique K. Hilley, Commander, Navy Installations Command Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers (NEPLO) deployed to 11 states in support of Hurricane Irene Aug. 27.

"Our NEPLOs provide a much-needed liaison with civilian stakeholders, so we can act as a team during time of natural disaster," said Rear Adm. Mark S. Boensel, commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. "They were fully engaged in the hurricane preparations well in advance of Hurricane Irene. The training we do on a regular basis with NEPLOs throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region allows us to quickly respond at the right time, at the right place."

The NEPLO program, managed by Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC), was established to coordinate mutual service and Department of Defense (DoD) support for national security emergency preparedness, response to natural or man-made disasters, and other domestic emergencies. They provide DoD support inside the United States, acting as a direct liaison to civil and federal authorities to plan, prepare for, coordinate and execute DoD civil disaster assistance programs.

"NEPLOs operate at a critical nexus where local civilian authorities' potential requirements for DoD support are evaluated and validated," said Capt. Mark Patterson, Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Lead NEPLO.

Due to the size of Hurricane Irene and its track along the East Coast, which affected states from North Carolina to Maine, NEPLOs were pulled from all over the nation for Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA). For the first time, 19 of 21 Navy Region Mid-Atlantic NEPLOs, as well as NEPLOs from Naval District Washington, Navy Region Southeast and Navy Region Southwest were deployed.

"In just two days we were able to process everyone's orders and get them on station in state Emergency Operations Centers (EOC), Joint Force Headquarters and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Regional offices," said Patterson. "This is not only a credit to the officers who were ready to respond on short notice, but also to support staff at Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Norfolk and the Operational Support Officer at CNIC Headquarters who were standing by to process the orders on short notice, while also preparing for the brunt of the storm."

Once on station, NEPLOs provide on-scene, real time situational awareness to Navy commanders about potential requirements and the environment in which forces may have to operate.

Working with the Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO) and their staff, they make sure that when DSCA is necessary during disasters, the right people are in place to facilitate a quick response with the right capabilities.

The Navy specifically assigns a NEPLO to every state in the country, the ten FEMA regional offices, and several higher headquarters commands, including the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense (ASD/HD).

The NEPLO program is staffed entirely by the Navy Reserve and is an example of the One Navy concept at work. There are no active component counterparts to the NEPLO program.

"Reserve officers bring a unique perspective to this interagency and intergovernmental challenge because of civilian careers that often lend experience and expertise to the NEPLO's roles and responsibilities and because of a passion of service to be able to directly help our own fellow citizens," said Capt. Peter Finney, Massachusetts NEPLO.

Every branch of service has an EPLO program. The mission of the EPLO program has become increasingly important over the past decade due to significant events during which they were called upon, including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Unlike U.S. military operations and experiences in far off places, military support within the United States and its territories require special considerations because of laws that limit our military authority and use of power.

The EPLO program was designed to operate within the limits of the law, while using its special strengths and skills to serve DSCA.

There are many examples of EPLOs supporting DSCA. These include using air assets to aid in fighting wildfires and medical teams to help hurricane or flood victims. During the Minnesota bridge collapse in 2006, highly trained Navy divers aided in the search and rescue efforts. In 2010, seven NEPLOs assisted in the cleanup efforts off the Louisiana coast, following the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

All states have an ability and infrastructure in place to assist their citizens. However, when a disaster is beyond that state's capacity to respond, the federal government, including the DoD, has resources to assist.

In the case of Hurricane Irene, Patterson believes that everyone truly epitomized the Navy Reserve motto: "Ready Now. Anytime, Anywhere."

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