Both U.S. civil defense of the past and homeland security of the
present demonstrate that disaster policy has always had a degree of
national security and military penetration. However, few appreciate
how dramatic the latest penetration of military and national
security matters has been in American emergency and public
management. There are both positives and negatives associated with
ramping up militarization and national security presence in
emergency management specifically, and public management more
Since 1950, each presidents national security policy has involved
civil defense or homeland security in some manner. In times when
civil defense against nuclear attack (1950-1991) was the federal
emergency management priority, much of disaster policy was imposed
from the top-down in the federal system. Remember, emergency
management in the United States is supposed to be from the
bottom-up, with local governments seeking supplemental help from
their state government and the federal government. The Clinton
administration (1993-2001) made possible a temporary respite from
civil defense worries when the Cold War ended, although foreign
terrorism against the U.S. homeland was not yet recognized outside
of national security circles as a major threat.
Following the 9/11/2001 terror attacks, U.S. disaster policy became
a top-down, president- and federal-dominated system. State and
municipal governments today carry a considerable portfolio of
national security-related dutiesmany implemented through homeland
security grant programs. Conditions specified in the law and grant
rules of federal homeland security programs have significant
effects on the substance and process of federal, state, and local
emergency management specifically, and public management more
Homeland security has militarized the disaster policy and emergency
management, but sociological research has demonstrated that the
military culture and the civilian
culture are highly incompatible. Homeland security has come to Main
Street, and federal emergency management is the chief vehicle
In some respects, modern homeland security policy builds on those
areas where there is a positive overlap and compatibility of
domestic emergency management and terrorism consequence management.
Anti-terror emergency management and conventional disaster
management may actually complement each other better today than
during the Cold War of 1946-1990 because of the range of weapons
and instruments potentially available to modern terrorists and the
damage these might cause. Admittedly, this claim is subject to
Military Involvement in Emergency Management
James Miskel, a student of military and national security studies
and an expert on emergency management, points to many examples of
U.S. military involvement in response to domestic disasters
(Miskel, 2006: 39). Here are a few examples of positive overlap of
military and civilian emergency:
- Preparation for hazardous materials incidents overlaps much of
the preparation for chemical weapons and bioterrorism preparedness.
- Preparedness and response planning for a major urban earthquake
parallels some elements of preparedness and response planning for
the detonation of a low-yield nuclear weapon in a large
- Hurricane evacuation planning dovetails civil evacuation
planning for dirty bomb incidents.
Certainly there are many other examples. Miskel (2006: 41) posits
that one of the underlying and enduring assumptions of the U.S
civil defense program was that much of the investment in civil
defense would improve the nations capacity for responding to
natural disasters. An interesting question today is whether the
same can be said for U.S. homeland security programs.
The military has heft and diversification. Active duty military
personnel and National Guard soldiers represent an immensely large
workforce. There are approximately 1.1 million people on active
duty military service and more than 1 million National Guard
members and reservists who may be called to duty. Moreover, the
U.S. Coast Guard, now under the Department of Homeland Security, is
entrusted with a large portfolio of emergency management-related
functions and activities, including oil and hazardous material
response on the water or along the coastline, marine safety, and
water search and rescue.
In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has, for some two
centuries, been directly or indirectly involved in the business of
emergency management through the vast system of dams and other
flood control works it builds and operates. The corps manages
reservoirs and water impoundments for not only flood control, but
also drought prevention, emergency potable water supply, and
dredging to keep shipping channels navigable. The corps manages a
massive assortment of public infrastructure, including bridges,
ports, lock systems, and coastal barriers, and aids in marine
Reasons for Greater Military Involvement in Disaster
There are a variety of reasons in favor of increasing the role of
the military in disaster response, including:
- The military offers a classic and strictly delineated
command-and-control structure for managing its people.
- The military possesses, and regularly perfects, its vast and
sophisticated logistical and communications systems.
- The military manifests a strong organizational and managerial
framework and a high level of efficiency and personal
accountability that is difficult to match in many civilian
agency-led disaster responses.
- Military and naval resourcessuch as planes, helicopters, ships,
amphibious vehicles, and watercraft for rescue, as well as tents,
compacted food supplies, and medicinesare often unmatched at the
state and local civilian levels.
- When the military is deployed to an area of disaster
devastation, it often has the capacity to deploy as a
self-sustaining entity that will not compete for housing, shelter,
food and water, transportation, power generation, and medical
- The military is able to provide security following the most
catastrophic and destabilizing events, thus serving as a multiplier
of civilian law enforcement resources.
- The U.S. National Guard and active duty military personnel are
trained to follow orders, to operate in the field for extended
periods, to move into hazard zones with enough equipment to sustain
themselves independently for considerable periods, and to put
themselves in harms way.
Conversely, the militarys advantages reflect civilian emergency
management disadvantages. For example, with the exception of police
and firefighters, government civil servants, often dedicated to
their work in valiant ways, cannot be expected to enter danger
zones that pose a significant risk to their health and welfare.
Federal civilian officials, including Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) workers, are in fact prohibited by federal law from
taking dangerous personal risks in disaster response.
Reasons Against Greater Military Involvement in Disaster
Just as there are reasons for greater use of the military in
disaster response, so too are there reasons against increased use
of the military in government disaster management. Military help is
typically highly temporary. When the National Guard and active
military are deployed to a disaster zone, this connotes that civil
government in that zone has failed. In the United States,
restoration of civil government should represent the end of
Moreover, our nations founding fathers were constantly fearful that
a strong national military force left to interfere in domestic
civilian governance might be, particularly under a powerful
military leader, tempted to overthrow duly elected civilian
government. This is one reason why the U.S. Constitution squarely
assigns top control of the military to the President, a
democratically elected leader of civil government. This is also why
the United States, until recently, has only entrusted the military
to carry our martial law in dire emergencies or as a last resort
act of desperation. Americans quickly grow to detest the extended
application of martial law.
In major disasters or catastrophes, the military is expected to
engage in search and rescue, protect property and life safety, and
maintain civil order, but not much more. Military organizations are
often ill-equipped to handle many short- and long-term disaster
recovery needs, such as rebuilding homes, managing shelters,
offering sustained feeding of those made homeless, resettling
people, helping businesses rebuild and resume operation, providing
disaster unemployment aid, servicing the long-term medical needs of
disaster victims, replacing major public infrastructure, and
reinstating public utilities.
Enhancing the role of the active military in disaster response
raises a host of difficult questions, including whether the active
military should have deadly force authority domestically to keep
order in a disaster, whether the National Guard or the active
military is in charge if both are responding, and what authority
governors, mayors, or other local leaders have in such a situation.
There are additional concerns about military and national security
involvement in emergency management and state and local governance.
National security and military security requirements customarily
embody official state secrecy. U.S. official state secrecy is
managed through a system of security classification. Access to
various types of government information is sometimes restricted to
those holding a certain level of security clearance and who have an
authorized need to know. The problem is that state secrecy and
security requirements, predicated on denying enemies access to
information they could exploit in committing acts of terrorism, now
shroud from public view a variety of types of local emergency
response plans, including those for privately owned facilities
whose operation may pose a danger to surrounding communities.
Military and national security encroachment has also made disaster
policy implementation more closed, secretive, and selectively law
enforcement dominated. Emergency responders of many types must not
only obey rules of state secrecy but often must qualify and be
vetted to receive security clearances as a condition of job
qualification. Some worry that the federal emphasis on the threats
posed by terrorism will distort federal, state, and local emergency
management in a way that either makes all forms of non-terror
disaster management lower priority or that complicates civilian
non-terror related emergency management.
An equally important concern stems from walling off the general
public from emergency plans and procedures it would benefit them to
know. The greater penetration of state secrecy into emergency
management the more disaster public education aimed at mitigation
and preparedness are undermined.
U.S. Department of Defense and the North American
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) provides help in disasters and
terror events through various emergency support functions under the
National Response Plan/Framework (NRP/F) and must do so in
conformity with the National Incident Management System (NIMS). DoD
itself is restricted because contributions its military and
civilian workers provide to civilian authorities must not interfere
with DoDs ability to perform its primary mission or adversely
affect its military preparedness.
As it stands now, specific military authorities are paired with
civilian counterparts at different levels of government in a
disaster or emergency. Military forces are authorized to support
law enforcement at federal, state, and local level in any weapon of
mass destruction event. DoD plays a lead role in any bioterrorism
event or any event involving use of nuclear materials by enemies of
the nation. In other types of catastrophes, disasters, or
emergencies, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)along with
FEMAis the lead or primary federal agency in coordinating emergency
response and recovery with state and local governments. In such
circumstances, DoD is then a supporting agency.
In short, DoD obligations in homeland disasters and emergencies
encompass military response; national mobilization; damage
assessment; military support to the civil and private sector;
limited police authority; response to all hazards related to
nuclear weapons, materials, devices; the management and allocation
of all usable waters in the United States; and the stockpiling and
storage of critical materials.
The North American Command (NORTHCOM) was established in 2003 to
better protect the homeland from attack. NORTHCOMs mission is to
help prevent another terror attack on the homeland by militarily
defeating attacks by foreigners, by protecting U.S. borders or air
space from encroachment or penetration by attackers, or by aiding
in the response to a weapon of mass destruction incident inside the
United States. NORTHCOM now fulfills many duties under the National
Response Plan and Framework.
NORTHCOM and the military are prepared for various forms of
terrorist attacks and terror-caused disasters. The problem is that
organizations like NORTHCOM and DoD are prone to mission creep,
because their ambitious officer corps looks for things to do
between terror attacks on the homeland. Should NORTHCOM be
compiling lists of potential terrorists in the homeland? Will
NORTHCOM seek to supplant National Guard jurisdiction in disaster
response? Public managers and emergency managers on that state and
local level who agree to play with NORTHCOM must also agree to play
by NORTHCOMs national security rules.
Presidential National Security and Public Managers
Despite assumed Posse Comitatus limitations on use of the active
duty military in law enforcement, the President possesses
constitutionally protected authority to declare a national
emergency, thus freeing the U.S. (active duty) militaryas well as
federalized National Guard soldiersto participate in criminal law
enforcement and to make arrests. The National Emergencies Act
empowers the president to declare a national emergency of one-year
maximum duration, which may be either terminated or extended by
Congressional approval. Most presidential emergency powers involve
mobilization, use of funds and personnel, and calling up reserves.
The President can use DoD resources as he sees fit to address any
event he considers of unique federal importance.
Most presidents have been reluctant to declare national
emergencies. However, presidents have used federal forces more than
175 times in 200 years (Sylves, 2008: 174). Executive Order 12656
(issued by President Reagan in1988) sets out primary and support
functions during any national security emergency, develops plans
for performing these functions, and develops the capability to
execute those plans.
In civil disturbances, Article IV of the Constitution allows the
military to respond when necessary to prevent loss of life or
wanton destruction of property, or to restore governmental
functioning and public order. Under Homeland Security Presidential
Directive 5 (HSPD-5) issued by President George W. Bush in 2003,
there is no longer a distinction between crisis management and
consequence management. HSPD-5 stipulates that, states have primary
responsibility in responding to terrorist incidents.
The point is that national security concerns have now interlocked
emergency management concerns. Emergency managers and emergency
management are now part of a system of counter-terrorism or
terrorist attack preparedness. State and local emergency
management, and of course federal emergency management, are now
part of the nations defense and security.
In the matter of biological-chemical WMD, the President may take
action on his own and no state request is needed. However, the U.S.
Attorney General must ask the Secretary of Defense for law
enforcement assistance first. During bio-chemical WMD events, if
military aid is needed to protect human life, and civilian law
enforcement is incapable of taking action, the military may assist
in arrests, searches and seizures, and any direct participation in
the collection of intelligence for law enforcement purposes.
Emergency management, as a result of the Anthrax letter attacks of
2001, is now a major part of the execution of quarantine and health
laws. A 1915 public health law authorizes military forces to
faithfully aid in the execution of quarantines and other restraints
established by the health laws of any state any vessels arriving
in, or heading toward, any port or district.
President George W. Bush, using homeland security presidential
directives, launched Project BioShield, which dramatically expands
the role of state and local emergency management in public health,
particularly in matters regarding bioterrorism preparedness and
response (Sylves, 2008: 118-130).
Quarantines are traditionally state public health matters; however,
the federal government may restrict the movement of persons
suspected of carrying specified communicable diseases in order to
prevent interstate spread of disease. The president could use the
armed forces to assist in quarantines at airports, sea ports, and
state borders. Such concerns do not seem irrelevant in an era of
SARS and the H1N1 Virus.
As a result of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, a stream
of Americas active duty military forces have flowed into what were
before civilian domains of emergency management. Also, the nature
of emergency management has become permeated with national security
and military-like duties, organizational frameworks, protocols, and
New homeland security grants, though welcomed by many state and
local emergency managers, did not directly permit funding of
conventional disaster mitigation and preparedness. The State
Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP), the Urban Area Security
Initiative (UASI), and the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention
Program (LETPP) all project the primacy of terrorism. The
requirements of each of these programs have added dramatically to
the workload of state and local emergency managers and other public
The military role in homeland security continues to expand through
NORTHCOMs activities, National Guard augmentation, and DoD
initiatives. Today, as in the past, there are longstanding
emergency management roles for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and
the U.S. Coast Guard, which have grown to be considered an
acceptable militarization in public management. However, the terror
attacks of 9/11, followed by the Anthrax letter attacks shortly
thereafter, steered emergency and public management into a realm of
very heavy militarization and national securitization. Civil
military relations in emergency and public management cannot be
ignored. This may be a good time to, in Washington-speak, walk-back
the military penetration of emergency and public management.