Army North deploys first responder teams to four Gulf Coast states

U.S. Army

Defense liaisons to FEMA are coordinating efforts from SUVs stuffed with communications gear.

The Army has deployed about 85 personnel from its defense coordinating elements -- the Defense Department’s first responders to a disaster -- to four states, along with emergency response vehicles packed with communications gear, as Hurricane Isaac heads toward the Gulf Coast.

Col. Wayne Shanks, spokesman for the San Antonio-based Army North, said DCEs will serve as liaisons with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate Defense assistance in response to Isaac if civil authorities request it.

Shanks said the DCEs have been deployed to Clanton, Ala.; Tallahasse, Fla.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Jackson, Miss., alongside FEMA teams in those cities. Army North ran a disaster response exercise earlier this month at Camp Atterbury, Ind.

Sgt. James Venable, an emergency preparedness liasion officer, said the role of the DCE is to serve as “the bridge between the state and federal government in coordinating resources to provide assistance to the American public.”

Shanks said the emergency response vehicles, Chevy Suburbans topped with retractable satellite dishes, provide the teams with a range of communications capabilities. The satellite dishes connect to Defense networks with a throughput of 2 megabits per second.

The vehicles also have built-in videoconferencing hardware, Voice over Internet Protocol phones, four interior data ports to connect to Defense unclassified networks and another four to connect to classified Defense networks. The vehicle exteriors sport another 14 data ports to hook up computers.

DCE vehicles also feature four radios that operate on public safety bands to communicate with state and local agencies, as well as commercial satellite television receivers to tap into news and weather broadcasts.

Shanks said Army North also operates a larger, mobile command post, housed in a 33-foot truck called the Sentinel, which can support up to 55 users. That vehicle, he said, is “on the road” toward the Gulf coast in case it is needed.