The Edmond Sun

Local News

May 23, 2013

Oklahoma National Guard coordinates tornado relief support

MOORE — Oklahoma National Guard members, who work side-by-side with local responders to aid in recovery efforts during domestic operations such as the May 20 tornado that tore through Oklahoma City and Moore, are given their tasks through the Guard's Joint Operations Center.

The JOC, located in the Guard's Joint Force Headquarters in Oklahoma City, is primarily responsible for the collection, dissemination and tracking of information to increase the situational awareness for leadership as well as the National Guard Bureau, said Lt. Col. Hiram Tabler, the director of military support for Oklahoma's Joint Force Headquarters.

Once an incident has occurred, first responders will arrive on scene and use their resources to carry out their mission. If more resources are needed, the State Office of Emergency Management is alerted. The state will contact the JOC with information pertaining to requested assets. The JOC will then make vital decisions to begin tasking Guard members with specific jobs and goals.

Thus far, the JOC has tasked aviation support overall situational awareness; a military liaison on the ground; Air National Guard security forces and air support operations squadron; civil support teams to open military communications and command posts; and search and rescue teams to support civilian agencies on the ground, said Tabler.

The JOC also tasked the National Guard response force and the quick reaction force to aid in the initial recovery, he said.

“We’re here to support the first responders with whatever they need,” said Tabler.

The JOC has several elements including the message center where information is collected; the Common Operating Picture manager, who displays information centrally and disseminates it to the appropriate areas; and the battle captain, who directs and coordinates events.

All of this tasking is done through interactive computer programs that allow the JOC to send and receive real-time, current information.

There are approximately 230 Guard members on state active duty orders including those on site as well as a support element at JFHQ.

The JOC's main on-site command post is located at the Target store on 19th Street and Telephone Road in Moore. However, there are two additional command sections in Moore and Oklahoma City, representing both jurisdictions in the tornado's path.  

Major Gene Mastin is in charge of the on-site command. He said the communication link in the field is important because they are essentially the eyes and ears for the command.

“What we’ve had here in this tornado event is several impassible roads,” Mastin said. “By having a unit with the ability to communicate situations like that, it’s enabled us to maintain our freedom of movement as well as accomplish our mission.”

The JOC operates daily on a smaller capacity, but is normally able to prepare for an incident such as weather, said Tabler. In the case of the tornado, the JOC was able to increase manning in JFHQ ahead of time.

“We start leaning forward, especially with weather," he said.

This ability to change illustrates an important characteristic of the JOC — its flexibility in a time of disaster.

“We expand and grow as the incident expands and grows,” Tabler said.

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