Dual Status Command – An Evolution of Military Engagement in Domestic Emergencies

The publication Homeland Security Today has an analysis on dual status command, and the fight that states had to preserve their right to maintain control of National Guard forces – particularly in the event of a domestic emergency.  Most people don’t even realize the difference between National Guard and ‘Regular’ Army forces, so what difference does it make?  It’s a huge difference! 

Broadly, here are the differences… National Guard forces are created by Title 32 of the United States Code, whereas our US Armed Forces are created by Title 10 of the United States Code.  Very often, when military and emergency management folks talk about military forces active during a domestic emergency, they will mention that they are either ‘Title 10’ or ‘Title 32’.  The primary distinction is that Title 32 National Guard forces are under the control of the Governor of that state, whereas Title 10 military forces are under control of the President.  There is also the distinction of State Active Duty, which puts the forces under command of the Governor but with limited protections and paid by the state (which is often times lower and does not contribute to their federal retirement).  Title 32 does afford some federal law provisions and protections of the Guard forces, including federal pay.

A soldier or airman activated in one status can not command a soldier or airman activated in another status.  This has created some problems when federalized (Title 10) troops have been deployed to a disaster area and are working directly with National Guard (Title 32) troops.  First off, much of the problem actually stems from emergency management and public safety folks who aren’t aware of the difference (even if you knew the difference between Title 10 and Title 32, you really can’t tell the difference by looking at the soldier).  So when state or local emergency managers (perhaps from an EOC), make a request for military forces who have been assigned to the area, those requests, depending on the unit, must be handled differently.  Additionally, coordination between Title 10 and Title 32 isn’t as smooth and efficient as it should be.  On the surface, it seems like a silly problem, but the legalities behind it are significant.

The solution to this confusion represents a brilliant compromise and an evolution in how military forces as a whole are led and coordinated jointly in the event of a domestic emergency – dual status command.  Under dual status command, a commanding officer (likely a general’s rank) approved by both the President and the governor of the state in question, is appointed to control all forces – Title 32 and Title 10 – assigned to a domestic emergency within a state.  At the time this concept was put forward I had significant interaction with National Guard forces and USNORTHCOM – the concept was the proverbial talk of the town, and largely all positive.  It was seen as a great step forward and an excellent compromise, maintaining the integrity and legality of both the Title 10 and Title 32 status.  The concept is trained and exercised, keeping military commanders up to date on the best ways to integrate forces, not only between federalized troops and National Guard forces, but also integration, interaction, and coordination with first responders.  The Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) mission is vitally important to our nation’s ability to respond effectively to major emergencies, and now our joint military forces have another tool to make them more effective in that mission area.

A great training resource, especially for emergency management and public safety personnel who aren’t familiar with all the ins and outs of military resources that can be applied during a disaster, is IS-75 Military Resources in Emergency Management, provided free of charge by FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.  I’m proud to have been an early contributor to this much-needed training course.

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