Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD)
Participates in Hawaii’s Annual Hurricane Exercise

By Darrell D. Ames, JTF-HD Public Affairs

HONOLULU, Hawaii - It’s a scenario that emergency responders in Hawaii hope will never happen. A Category 4 hurricane with winds exceeding 135 miles per hour and a storm surge of 15 feet aimed directly at Oahu’s southern shore. But, it’s an event that experts think will happen sometime in the future and officials want to be as prepared as possible.

Local, state and federal agencies tested their plans, readiness and abilities recently in the annual hurricane exercise dubbed “Makani Pahili 2010”. The exercise ran from May 28 through June 4.

Playing a pivotal role were members of an organization called Joint Task Force, Homeland Defense (JTF-HD), an organization whose mission is to help direct the military resources during a natural or man-made disaster. The organization, located at Fort Shafter will play a pivotal role in helping Hawaii and other mid-Pacific island communities prepare and recover from disasters by coordinating requests from local governments for military assistance.

Weather and disaster experts predict that a Category 4 hurricane could cause billions of dollars worth of property damage and hundreds of deaths if it were to zero in on populous areas of Oahu. It’s predicted that the recovery from such a storm would quickly overwhelm local and state resources, thus the requirement for federal assistance. That’s when JTF-HD would likely come into play providing the coordination for help from military assets (Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines).

JTF-HD, the organization, has liaisons from the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Those representatives play pivotal roles in assessing the requests for aid and matching them with military assets and resources.

Makani Pahili 2010 is an interagency exercise designed to test the coordinated efforts among all levels of government and private sector organizations. “Given the isolation of the island chain, we have to have dependency and reliance on each other so we can sustain and maintain life support for our residents following a disaster,” Mel Garcia, JTF-HD Deputy Chief said.

The commander of U.S. Pacific Command established a Joint Task Force for Homeland Defense with the commander of U.S. Army, Pacific, Headquartered at Fort Shafer, Hawaii, as the designated Commander.

JTF-HD’s mission is to execute operations to provide Civil Support (CS) or Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA) for all hazards including responding to and recovering from natural or man-made disasters and defeats threats in the land domain in order to retain key/critical infrastructure and protect the force within the Joint Operations Area (JOA).

While JTF-HD is available to coordinate military help to state and local civilian agencies, it is not in charge. “We only step in when requested,” Army Col. David Norton, JTF-HD J3 said. “In a situation like we had with Makani Pahili 2010 we were in support of civilian authorities and can provide a substantial amount of help only if called upon.”

The exercise was designed to test agencies to their limits and beyond. “We need to find out what our weaknesses are and use that information to build our ability to respond in the event of a real disaster,” Mr. Garcia said. “We don’t want to wait until an actual event occurs and then determine we don’t have the resources to respond.”

This year’s scenario called for substantial damage not only to civilian property, but to military assets. This situation tested the military’s ability, capabilities and resources to handle situations within its property boundaries while at the same time providing assistance to civil authorities.

Hurricane season started June 1 and continues through November 30. For the 2010 hurricane season the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts the Pacific can expect 13 to 18 named storms with six to 10 hurricanes, of which two to five would be major hurricanes.