Dual Status Command For Natural Disasters Advances In Senate

The U.S. Senate has moved forward with including dual status command as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Long a wish of governors, the move will allow for the appointment of a single commander over National Guard and military reserve personnel during disasters. The plan was first pushed after Hurricane Katrina, following conflicts over coordination between guard and reserve troops.

Sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and three other senators, the amendment will allow for the Department of Defense to order military reserve personnel to respond to major disasters for up to 120 days. The orders for responding to the disasters would come after a request is made by a governor.

"Currently there is no authority to order members of the reserves to active duty to respond to natural disasters,"Levin Spokeswoman Tara Andringa told HuffPost.

The amendment was included in the defense bill after lobbying from the National Governors Association and the Council of Governors. The council, formed by President Obama in 2010, brings together 10 governors from around the country to work with the Defense Department on National Guard policy and coordination, as well as addressing other joint military and homeland security issues. Among the governors serving on the council are Washington's Christine Gregoire (D), Iowa's Terry Branstad (R) and Arizona's Jan Brewer (R). Representatives of the Department of Defense and the Department Homeland Security serve on the council as well.

Under the provisions of the amendment, the dual status commander will lead all National Guard and reserve troops during the disasters, allowing for coordination over a variety of matters, ranging from what the troops will do to where they will sleep. In previous disasters, the two units had been split between state and federal command during disasters.

Under the terms of an agreement reached by the Council of Governors and the Defense Department in March, the dual status commander would be a National Guard officer. A reserve officer would take command only in areas that are exclusively federal in jurisdiction, such as on a military base.

While a formal law has not been adopted, the agreement reached by the Defense Department and governors in March was utilized in late August and early September when Hurricane Irene battered states along the east coast. During the state of emergency, commanders were named in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York.

While included in the committee version of the bill, approval by the Senate and House, and the signature of President Obama are still needed for the proposal to take effect.