WASHINGTON, D.C. – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., introduced legislation Thursday to affirm the responsibilities of the Department of Defense (DoD) in the event of a catastrophic disaster.

The Ensuring Defense Support to Catastrophic Incident Response Act is the direct result of the first hearing in a series the Committee held on the threats of nuclear terrorism to the United States.

The measure would implement several recommendations of the National Guard and Reserves Commission, including that the DoD must have the statutory responsibility for civil support missions within U.S. borders and that it continues to plan, program, and budget to execute these missions based on coordinated planning with the Department of Homeland Security.

Sen. Collins said: “Defeating threats to the nation will always be the military’s first mission. But the breadth of our military’s skills and its deployment across the nation require that we ensure that America’s military is prepared to effectively augment civilian responses when catastrophe strikes in the homeland. One only has to look at the enormous contributions made by the National Guard, Reserve and active-duty troops following Hurricane Katrina to recognize the military is an essential part of any large-scale, coordinated response.”

“The challenges of responding to a nuclear or biological attack would be immense. Only the Department of Defense has the medical assets, the logistical capability, and the sheer manpower and the ability to deploy them swiftly,” Lieberman said. “It is critical that DoD commit to supporting a government-wide response so that the Department of Homeland Security, other federal agencies, and State and local responders will know what capabilities to expect. Hurricane Katrina showed how important a coordinated military response is to a disaster, and this legislation defines it in the law.”

The DoD frequently provides support during non-catastrophic incidents, such as wildfires, smaller hurricanes, and floods. This bill only covers DoD’s role concerning catastrophic events such as a nuclear detonation or a natural disaster that quickly overwhelms, state, local, and federal resources.

At a February HSGAC hearing, retired Major General Arnold Punaro, Chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, testified that “DoD must improve its capabilities and readiness” to respond to catastrophes in the homeland.

The measure introduced Thursday reaffirms and clarifies DoD’s responsibilities to:

• Plan and execute civil support operations in response to catastrophic incidents.
• Plan in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies with homeland security responsibilities.
• Plan to execute strategic requirements established by DHS.
• Organize and equip so as to execute these plans, and include necessary funding in budget requests.
• Exercise and train with DHS and FEMA to ensure successful execution of the plans.
• Include civil support planning and operations in the national security strategy and the Quadrennial Defense Review.

The bill would NOT:

• Interfere with the authority of governors to command and control their National Guard forces while in state active duty status, nor would it affect governors’ authority over disaster response.
• Alter any restrictions on DoD’s role in law enforcement in the U.S.
Modify DoD’s civil support role in incidents that do not reach the level of catastrophic disasters.