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WASHINGTON – For 40 years the Department of Defense has tagged the Navy’s Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers to help local communities respond to emergencies when those communities most needed help. NEPLOs are the Navy’s support under larger, joint programs. These programs deploy NEPLOs to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate great property damage.
How the Navy Helps Communities Recover from Crisis
The Reserve-only force of NEPLOs report to and serve regional commanders in that emergency response mission.
The job of a NEPLO is to help Americans on their worst day as they surge support to communities besieged by floods, earthquakes, mudslides, snow and ice storms, fires or even the pandemic.
NEPLOs help communities reach into the Department of Defense for help.
“In many cases during an emergency, the initial reaction – once local, state and federal agencies are stretched thin – is to call the DoD. At the state and local level, they know that the DoD has the capability to respond,” said George Nixon, Jr., the emergency management director for Navy Region Northwest.
That support is called Defense Support of Civil Authorities. When civilian authorities request DSCA, the DoD is able to send people and resources to respond to an emergency.
“DSCA is a region-centric responsibility,” said Nixon. “The NEPLOs do a great job of talking to installation commanding officers, and they share their briefs with county representatives. NEPLOs have great connections with the states that they serve, which really helps us respond to emergencies involving DSCA when called on.”
Responding As More Emergencies Emerge
“The nature of military training hones our skills and enables us to be ready as emergency planners,” said Navy Capt. John Saccomando, the commanding officer of the entire NEPLO enterprise. “There is greater demand today than ever before for DSCA. Our NEPLOs have been stepping up to serve at record-breaking levels over the past two years.”
As the NEPLO mission grows, an update to the OPNAV Instruction 3440.16F moved policy toward supporting installation commanders by reintroducing local planning agents. These local DSCA coordinators help bridge Navy resources and NEPLOs with DSCA assistance in local communities.
“This further empowers installation commanders,” said Navy Capt. Darren Donley, a NEPLO. “The updated policy gives installations another tool to build relationships with local authorities outside their gates and develop plans for the Navy to assist when civilians need our help.”
According to Nixon, region emergency managers can back up NEPLOs who may already be coordinating support and also help NEPLOs in situations that require an immediate response.
Considering that the NEPLO community is an entirely Reserve-supported field without any active-duty counterpart, having DSCA coordinators ensures that the Navy is able to respond quickly when called on.
Donley noted that updated instruction creates more of an opportunity for NEPLOs to be NEPLOs, with the potential to have emergency management staff at each installation.
“With the 100% increase in DSCA events and length of deployments required to support the civil authorities that DoD has responded to recently, the additional DSCA coordinators will improve the process substantially,” added Robert Gulley, the NEPLO program manager.
NEPLO Numbers at Glance
Anticipating and planning for national emergencies has always been difficult. Even before the pandemic, bringing Reserve forces on orders to support NEPLO missions would often stretch the force.
Then during the pandemic, the small NEPLO community of 101 senior Navy Reserve officers and 35 enlisted sailors spent nearly 8,000 days on orders in FY21.
That year they responded to wildfires, tropical storms, winter storms and two hurricanes. NEPLOs supported three special security events. They participated in Operation Allies Welcome and assisted in the Unaccompanied Children mission as part of the border crisis.
In terms of force alignment, Donley pointed out that the NEPLO community is uniquely positioned in supporting the Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions.
“We exemplify how to align billets with the active-duty force structure,” said Donley. “To that point, we are the only ones in the Navy that do this job. When we mobilize, we do exactly what the Navy needs us to do.”
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