New York National Guard Tests Ability to Keep Working When Headquarters Building is Unusable

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New York Army and Air National Guard officers and NCOs assigned to the Joint Operations Staff of the New York Army National Guard work in an ad-hoc Joint Operation Center on March 27.

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, SCOTIA, NY (03/28/2013)(readMedia)-- More than 50 critical members of the New York National Guard's military and civilian staff tested their ability to work from remote locations if the New York State Division of Military Affairs headquarters building outside Albany becomes unusable.

Known as COOP--short for Continuity of Operations Plan--the exercise is similar to the way a tactical unit sets up a "jump TOC (Tactical Operations Center)" to control missions when the main command post is moving and out of the fight.

In the event of a crisis, about one-third of the headquarters staff of 350, more than 110 personnel, form the Emergency Response Group to physically relocate the New York National Guard headquarters and keep state and federal tasks running. These are personnel whose jobs are considered key to keeping headquarters functions running.

"It is the Emergency Response Group that COOPs," explained Army National Guard Maj. Sean Flynn, the Chief of Current Operations of the New York National Guard Domestic Operations staff. "Most folks would remain at home," he said, referring to the many employees who would telecommute during a temporary relocation of the headquarters.

New York State mandates that all state agencies must have the ability to continue to operate during a disaster or emergency.

The Soldiers, Airmen and civilians who move as part of COOP, will ensure that Soldiers and Airmen keep getting paid, supplies keep on being delivered, and the New York National Guard can respond to state and federal emergencies.

The New York National Guard's military planning for COOP is refined each year to address different scenarios that might restrict access or availability of the Joint Force Headquarters.

"It is easy when we plan and we know we have to do this," said Brig. Gen. Raymond Shields, the Director of the Joint Staff. "Now we have to think about when it is unexpected."

Planning for the unexpected includes rehearsal exercises like this, preparing communications redundancies and staff "go kits" for the Joint Operations Center to rapidly establish a working command post off-site.

"We have 25 staff agencies spread across four locations, with fifty percent of the Emergency Response Group, or some 56 personnel, reported in," Flynn said. "We are fully functional and our JOC is up and running. Our biggest constraint is connectivity."

Using other military facilities in the Capital Region, various staff agencies remain linked through an expanded network, wireless connections, cellphones or blackberry devices. In the initial hours of COOP, informing the entire military and civilian staff and maintaining essential functions is essential.

Key personnel relocated to Stratton Air National Guard Base outside Schenectady, Watervliet Arsenal in Watervliet, the South Lake Avenue Armory in Troy and the New York State Military History Museum in Saratoga Springs.

Using the State of New York Office of Emergency Management Disaster LAN--website community allows all of the staff directorates to maintain situational awareness from any location with Internet connectivity.

DLAN is an emergency management software system compliant with the National Incident Management System that facilitates communications, liaison, mission taskings, and a common operating picture among multiple agency partners and state military forces during disasters.

The system provides the Joint Operations Center with a backbone for the state's common operating picture as well as archiving for key software or files for staff functions.

"DLAN has all of our state publications and forms online," said Air National Guard Master Sgt. Shawn Peno, New York's JOC Operations NCO. "That was one of our lessons learned from our last COOP exercise for the joint staff. Now everything we can think of is on DLAN."

"This event was a very good effort," Shields said, "and I'm sure we'd continue to improve our fighting positions here with the staff in the event that the COOP would continue for any length of time. Our next objective is to take this to the next level," Shields said. "We need to think of the next step."

The New York National Guard has planned and rehearsed variations of its COOP plan since 2006 as one of the many state agency COOP plans to ensure the sustainment of government services.

"It's important for us to rehearse and practice what we would do if we no longer had access to our normal work site," Shields said. "Exercising and reviewing our COOP plans helps prepare us for unexpected events."