Emergency professionals train to boost preparedness, unite to enhance resilience

  • Published
  • By MIchael C. Dougherty

Atop the waters of San Diego Bay, Naval Base Coronado/Naval Air Station North Island became the stage for the pivotal Joint Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer (JEPLO) Homeland Defense (HD)/Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) National Exercise and training course. From February 26 to March 1, 2024, this four-day event brought together nearly 500 Regional and State Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers (EPLOs), Interagency Partners, and Defense Coordinating Officers (DCOs), uniting under the theme, "Enhancing a Resilient Nation."

“Emergency preparedness is now more important than ever. As we saw from the recent pandemic, natural disasters, and aggressive actions by peer competitors and non-state actors alike, we need to be always ready,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Nordhaus, Air Forces Northern (AFNORTH) commander. “A key part of this is ensuring our collective commitment to a “’whole-of-community’” effort, in which the military, civil authorities, emergency managers, organizational and community leaders and residents band together to meet these challenges head-on. Our EPLOs play a crucial role in ensuring we are contributing 100 percent as part of this larger effort.”

The genesis of this comprehensive training program, known as JEPLO PRO, traces back to 2019. Before its establishment, the United States Air Force and Navy each had their separate EPLO training programs, leaving a noticeable gap in the preparedness of Army, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard EPLOs. Recognizing the imperative for a unified approach, JEPLO PRO emerged from a collaborative effort among EPLO Program Managers from each service. The program aimed to create a holistic and joint-service training initiative, incorporating service-specific considerations to address the unique challenges faced by each branch. This year, AFNORTH served as JEPLO PRO’s host and executive planning agency, with the effort spearheaded by its National Security Emergency Preparedness (NSEP) directorate.

U.S. Army North (ARNORTH) provided the largest personnel contingent in this year’s event, totaling nearly half of all participants. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Scott Sherman, the Deputy Commanding General -Support and Deputy Commanding General - National Guard for United States Army North (5th Army), welcomed the assembly and emphasized the importance of the event.

“JEPLO’s are a critical component in the defense of our homeland and support to civil authorities. The relationships JEPLOs establish with our interagency, state, tribal, and local partners ensures a unified response in time of crisis” said Sherman.

The inclusion of the U.S. Coast Guard, a military service under the Department of Homeland Security, was a significant aspect of JEPLO PRO. Although the USCG doesn't perform DSCA, the recognition that DOD and the USCG often coordinate to provide complimentary resources during incidents highlighted the need for their involvement in joint training. JEPLO PRO's core objective was clear—to establish a baseline level of knowledge and standardize EPLO training across all services, enhancing DSCA support.

The course objectives outlined a structured plan to achieve this goal. Priority was the establishment of a primary training mechanism, JEPLO PRO, to train and exercise EPLOs during a five-day course facilitated by certified cadre of EPLO instructors. Second, the creation and implementation of a standardized training program for all service EPLOs, equipping them with essential knowledge, skills, and abilities required to support Combatant Commanders in coordinating and executing DSCA and Homeland Defense plans and responsibilities.

The training incorporated scenario-based exercises to simulate real-world emergencies, testing the EPLOs' ability to respond effectively to various situations. It also created a process for certifying EPLOs upon successful completion of the training program, ensuring they meet the required knowledge, skills, and abilities for their positions. Finally, it established performance metrics to evaluate the success of the JEPLO PRO training program and identify areas for improvement, ensuring continued relevance to the needs of the EPLO Program and their supporting organizations.

The climax of JEPLO PRO was the annual Joint EPLO HD/DSCA Exercise—a crucial Phase Two of the training program. Originating in 1993, this event had evolved into an annual training exercise hosted on a rotating basis by different services. The exercise aimed to ensure realistic training – to “train as we fight”, to ensure EPLOs are prepared for real-world scenarios. It emphasized adherence to all relevant orders and directives, effective collaboration between all elements, and enhanced the capabilities of JEPLO PRO instructors as they supported Region DCO HD/DSCA Breakout Exercises, integrating the training into actual operational scenarios.

"This course and exercise exceeded all expectations,” said Joe Sanders, NSEP, Air Forces Northern director. “We accomplished all of our planned objectives, and went beyond that by building long-term relationships across five service branches from every U.S. state, with federal and state agencies, the private sector, and non-profits. When disaster strikes and the need arises, these relationships will prove to be as valuable, if not more so, than the training itself.”

As the sun set over the Pacific on March 1, the echoes of collaboration, training, and preparedness resounded across North Island. JEPLO PRO had not only bridged historical gaps in EPLO training but had also fortified the nation's resilience by ensuring that EPLOs from all services were not just individually prepared but were capable of seamless collaboration in joint environments. The story of JEPLO PRO was one of unity, dedication, and a shared commitment to the security and resilience of the nation.