Kansas City, MO -- Federal, state and volunteer agency representatives gathered here recently for a three-day certification exercise conducted by the Fifth U.S. Army to train and certify the U.S. military Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO). The DCO is the person who would coordinate the U.S. military's response in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
The scenario used in the exercise, aptly named "Distant Rumble", is a real threat to communities across the Midwest, including Missouri. It simulated a massive 7.5-magnitude earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone that lasted more than two minutes and was felt as far north as Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and Jackson, Miss.
In a presidentially declared disaster, the president appoints a Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) to orchestrate the federal response. An event such as the one imagined in "Distant Rumble", which involved seven states, could require the resources of the Department of Defense to assist in providing assistance.
Overseeing that effort is the Defense Coordinating Officer. The DCO for FEMA Region VII is U.S. Army Col. Robert Townsend who, in addition to serving as the regional DCO, commands 3rd Brigade, 75th Division, an Army Reserve training division headquartered at Ft. Riley, Kan. Successful completion of the exercise is a requirement for him as DCO and his Defense Coordinating Element (DCE).
The typical DCO assignment lasts two years. Col. Townsend assumed his DCO role last August. It's an assignment he finds interesting because of the opportunity to do something different from what he normally does as a brigade commander. One aspect he has noticed is the similarity with which FEMA and the Army run operations centers.
"It's an interesting job," he said. "I've enjoyed working with FEMA and all the agencies involved in disaster response."
The Fifth Army's Military Support of Civilian Authority and planners from the region's Emergency Preparation Liaison Office developed and conducted the exercise plan.
In addition to players from FEMA and the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy were representatives from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Departments of Transportation and Veterans Affairs, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, Missouri National Guard and the American Red Cross.
The exercise's prime goal was the certification of the DCO and DCE. However, Curt Musgrave, FEMA Region VII response and recovery division director, said the exercise was a golden opportunity in two additional areas. It let the region test how well the regional operations center would function if activated for a large event and gave the emergency support functions an opportunity to work together in a disaster field office setting.
"Everyone had to do a lot of coordination to get the job done," Musgrave said. "In each operation we learn more about how to accommodate ourselves to a new environment and to solve problems. This was beneficial to everyone who participated in the exercise."