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Homeland Security

Domestic Support Operations (DSO)

Domestic Support Operations (DSO) are those activities and measures taken by the Department of Defense to foster mutual assistance and support between the Department of Defense and any civil government agency in planning or preparedness for, or in the application of resources for response to, the consequences of civil emergencies or attacks, including national security emergencies.

The Department of Defense responds to domestic disasters and/or emergencies in accordance with a variety of plans with different Federal Agencies in the lead. The most prominent of these plans is the Federal Response Plan (FRP) which is coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Department of Defense is constrained as to the services it can perform in support of civil authorities by the provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act, 42 USC 5121 et seq.

Under 42 USC 5170b the President may authorize the Secretary of Defense to use DOD resources for performing on public and private lands any emergency work that is made necessary by an incident that may ultimately qualify for assistance, and which is essential for the preservation of life and property. The period of the emergency work cannot exceed 10 days.

The amended Posse Comitatus Act significantly restricts using federal military forces, to include federalized RC soldiers and units, in law enforcement. It prescribes criminal penalties for using the Army or Air Force to execute laws or to perform civilian law enforcement functions within the US, except as otherwise authorized by the Constitution or Congress. DOD policy extends this prohibition to the Navy and Marine Corps. The Stafford Act also defines and clarifies the role of US military forces in support of domestic civil authorities.

Posse Comitatus Act

Section 1385 of Title 18, United States Code (USC), 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 Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

The PCA does not apply to the U.S. Coast Guard in peacetime or to the National Guard in Title 32 or State Active Duty status. The substantive prohibitions of the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) were extended to all the services with the enactment of Title 10 USC, Section 375. As required by Title 10 USC, Section 375 the secretary of defense issued Department of Defense Directive 5525.5, which precludes members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps from direct participation in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.

The PCA generally prohibits U.S. military personnel from direct participation in law enforcement activities. Some of those law enforcement activities would include interdicting vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; conducting surveillance, searches, pursuit and seizures; or making arrests on behalf of civilian law enforcement authorities. Prohibiting direct military involvement in law enforcement is in keeping with long-standing U.S. law and policy limiting the military's role in domestic affairs.

The United States Congress has enacted a number of exceptions to the PCA that allow the military, in certain situations, to assist civilian law enforcement agencies in enforcing the laws of the U.S. The most common example is counterdrug assistance (Title 10 USC, Sections 371-381). Other examples include:

  • The Insurrection Act (Title 10 USC, Sections 331-335). This act allows the president to use U.S. military personnel at the request of a state legislature or governor to suppress insurrections. It also allows the president to use federal troops to enforce federal laws when rebellion against the authority of the U.S. makes it impracticable to enforce the laws of the U.S.
  • Assistance in the case of crimes involving nuclear materials (Title 18 USC, Section 831). This statute permits DoD personnel to assist the Justice Department in enforcing prohibitions regarding nuclear materials, when the attorney general and the secretary of defense jointly determine that an "emergency situation" exists that poses a serious threat to U.S. interests and is beyond the capability of civilian law enforcement agencies.
  • Emergency situations involving chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction (Title 10 USC, Section 382). When the attorney general and the secretary of defense jointly determine that an "emergency situation" exists that poses a serious threat to U.S. interests and is beyond the capability of civilian law enforcement agencies. DoD personnel may assist the Justice Department in enforcing prohibitions regarding biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Military support to civilian law enforcement is carried out in strict compliance with the Constitution and U.S. laws and under the direction of the president and secretary of defense.

Under DOD Directive 3025.1, commanders may provide assistance when time does not permit prior approval from higher headquarters. In addition, United States Corps of Engineers has civil authorities, responsibilities, capabilities, and funding under 33 USC 701n which are unique within the Department of Defense. As a consequence, USACE is involved in disaster response more frequently than the rest of the DOD.

Immediate response is that action authorized to be taken by a military commander or by responsible officials of other DOD agencies to provide support to civil authorities to prevent human suffering, save lives, or mitigate great property damage. Under the provisions of DOD Directive 3025.1, any commander of DOD official acting under "immediate response" authority shall advise the DOMS through command channels by the most expeditious means available and shall seek approval or additional authorization as needed.

In the event of imminent serious conditions resulting from any civil emergency or attack, all military commanders are authorized to respond to requests from the civil sector to save lives, prevent human suffering, or limit property damage. This immediate assistance by commanders will not take precedence over their combat and combat support missions, nor over the survival of their units. Military commanders will notify the DOD executive agent through their senior commander by the most expeditious means and seek guidance for continuing assistance whenever DOD resources are committed under immediate response circumstances.

Commanders may use immediate response authority to assist in the rescue, evacuation and the emergency medical treatment of casualties, the maintenance or restoration of emergency medical capabilities, and the safeguarding of public health. Commanders may also assist the emergency restoration of essential public services and utilities. This may include fire fighting, water, communications, transportation, power and fuel. They may also consider providing immediate assistance to assist public officials in emergency clearance of debris, rubble, and explosive ordnance from public facilities and other areas to permit rescue or movement of people and restoration of essential services.

This is not a blanket provision to provide assistance. Such requests are time-sensitive and should be received from local government officials within 24 hours following completion of a damage assessment. Commanders will always consider the impact that providing immediate response would have on their military mission requirements and not jeopardize them.

Although immediate assistance will be given with the understanding that its costs will be reimbursed, it should not be delayed or denied when the requester is unable or unwilling to make a commitment to reimburse.

Primacy for responding to disasters and emergencies rests with State and local authorities. When a disaster threatens or occurs, local authorities take immediate steps to warn and evacuate citizens, alleviate suffering and protect life and property. If additional help is needed, the Governor may direct execution of the State's emergency plan, use State Police or National Guardsmen, or commit other State resources as the situation demands.

When the response and/or recovery requirements are beyond the capabilities of local and State forces and assistance programs, the Governor may request that the President declare a "catastrophic disaster", "major disaster", or an "emergency". The Stafford Act provides the President authority to use Federal resources to supplement State and local efforts.

By Executive Order 12148, the President delegated to the director of FEMA the authority to establish policies for and coordinate, all civil defense and civil emergency planning, management, mitigation, and assistance functions of Federal executive agencies. After a Presidential declaration, the Associate Director of FEMA appoints a Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) who is responsible for coordinating all Federal disaster relief assistance programs to ensure the maximum effectiveness of federal assistance.

The Stafford Act (401) requires that: "All requests for a declaration by the President that a major disaster exists shall be made by the Governor of the affected State." A State also includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia are also eligible to request a declaration and receive assistance.

The Governor's request is made through the regional FEMA/EPR office. State and Federal officials conduct a preliminary damage assessment (PDA) to estimate the extent of the disaster and its impact on individuals and public facilities. This information is included in the Governor's request to show that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the local governments and that Federal assistance is necessary. Normally, the PDA is completed prior to the submission of the Governor's request. However, when an obviously severe or catastrophic event occurs, the Governor's request may be submitted prior to the PDA. Nonetheless, the Governor must still make the request.

As part of the request, the Governor must take appropriate action under State law and direct execution of the State's emergency plan. The Governor shall furnish information on the nature and amount of State and local resources that have been or will be committed to alleviating the results of the disaster, provide an estimate of the amount and severity of damage and the impact on the private and public sector, and provide an estimate of the type and amount of assistance needed under the Stafford Act. In addition, the Governor will need to certify that, for the current disaster, State and local government obligations and expenditures (of which State commitments must be a significant proportion) will comply with all applicable cost-sharing requirements.

Based on the Governor's request, the President may declare that a major disaster or emergency exists, thus activating an array of Federal programs to assist in the response and recovery effort.



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