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Task Force Navy Family: applying lessons learned from previous natural disasters, the Navy responded quickly and efficiently following Katrina's devastating blow.

Hurricane Katrina came ashore in the Gulf Coast with a vengeance on August 29, 2005, affecting thousands of naval families homeported along the Gulf Coast, stretching from Pensacola, Florida, to New Orleans, Louisiana. The devastation and effect to many in the area were indescribable and unimaginable.

Vulnerabilities in Navy processes became evident as a result of this crisis. Foremost was the ability to account for all personnel on a timely basis, including military members, Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees, nonappropriated fund employees, and family members of aforementioned personnel. Out of concern for the welfare of Navy families, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) established the Task Force Navy Family (TFNF).

Selection of Leadership Team

The TFNF was charged with a single focus: to help Navy families in need. The CNO initiated TFNF by selecting a leadership team of senior leaders from the personnel spectrum--including active, reserve, and civilian organizations. All three perspectives were vital in standing up an effective task force, and constant senior-level communication ensured that the right people were assigned to perform the mission. The leadership team selected reservists, civilians, active duty sailors, and contractors with the right multidisciplinary skill set and experience to be part of the TFNF headquarters staff. The members were subject matter experts with the needed line authority to ensure full naval support.

In the early days of the disaster, even the seemingly simple task of accounting for our people was extremely difficult. Many families had departed the homeport sites to safe havens of their own choosing. In some cases, it took weeks of communication and tracking of members and families to ensure 100 percent accountability. But personal contact was essential in assessing family needs such as shelter, food, and clothing and in providing information about organizations, networks, and resources and determining what was needed most. The TFNF regularly communicated these needs back to the CNO and other Navy senior leaders, ensuring that all resources were used to help support our families.

The TFNF was established out of an urgent need but was organized based on lessons learned from previous natural disasters. The year before, during Hurricane Ivan, the Air Force had provided single-source funding for all of Eglin Air Force Base, with all members authorized and receiving standard entitlements. This was not the case for Navy families affected by Ivan. Each tenant command on Naval Air Station Pensacola had to issue evacuation orders for its service members. The end state was that only some of the commands authorized evacuation orders, thereby creating financial hardships for service members who did not have orders.

Prime Enabling Command

When Katrina hit, the CNO immediately stated his desire to have one command process and support all evacuation orders for all Navy commands impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Since the Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNI), provides services to Navy members and their families for MWR (morale, welfare, and recreation), childcare, family services, bachelor housing, and family housing, it was appropriate to use CNI as the prime enabling command. It took coordination with a variety of commands to orchestrate and communicate a process across all impacted commands.

The Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) provided a single entry point for families to call for information. The families were connected to the Personnel Support Detachment in Norfolk, where a cadre of personnel advised on entitlements and procedures for members requiring evacuation orders. This data was forwarded to the CNI Help Desk, in Jacksonville, Florida, which issued travel orders for military members and their families. As of the middle of January 2006, a total of 11,214 orders valued at $135.5 million had been issued.

The CNI held daily briefings to assess the extent of damage, to update status on accounting for our people and their needs, and to identify accomplishments in meeting these needs. Daily briefs were sent in from the CNI regions and fleet activities for compilation prior to briefing the CNO on status updates. Data included personnel status (percentage accounted for); mission readiness status; number of habitable housing units, facilities, and structures that were operational; communications availability; utilities status; community support programs staged and operational; availability of supplies in the Navy Exchange and commissary; and prioritized needs from each of the six bases and tenant commands.

Funding for Needed Relief

Funds were provided immediately to the Naval Facilities Command to begin cleanup and recovery of the bases. The availability of housing and family support was assessed, producing a budget estimate for evacuation costs to support military and civilian members alike. The TFNF team, in concert with BUPERS, helped ensure that every entitlement under the law was made available for military and Don civilian personnel. Where differences in entitlements between DoD civilians and military members were identified, waivers and/or changes to rules and regulations were initiated. Messages and requests were forwarded and processed to stand up FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) support centers and tent cities to house the marines, thousands of volunteers, and operating units reporting to assist with the recovery process. Community Service Centers were established to provide centralized family services such as counselors, MWR support, chaplains, personnel support, Navy relief, and volunteers to assist in providing basic needs and services for our members and their families.

A Job Well Done

Within days, from the shore and the sea, the U.S. Navy presence was visible, providing much needed relief and support to our sailors and their families. This was evidenced in the media footage that showed Seabees in Gulfport, Mississippi, working in the communities to remove debris, and our ships operating as command and communications centers. To witness the presence of our Navy during this crisis made everyone proud, military and civilian alike. Many volunteers from other parts of the country within our naval community were turned away, for there simply were no places for them to reside.

The financial management community can take great pride in the collaboration and efficient response provided to our sailors and marines during this disaster. Many principal administering offices worked across funding lines, coordinated data calls for budgets, and responded immediately to the need for customer service wherever it was needed. A key cadre of financial managers deployed to the area early on to establish a financial cell to provide a variety of financial management functions, such as government purchase card capability for consumable supplies (for example, batteries, water, and mosquito spray). This "boots on the ground" team interfaced with FEMA to determine funds flow requirements and the establishment of procedures and guidance that enabled quick responses to a myriad of issues. The members worked extremely long days and slept in the same spaces where they worked since lodging was not available until several weeks after members had reported to the area. The efforts by all within the naval family made TFNF a success under some extremely difficult physical and emotional conditions.

RELATED ARTICLE: Taking care of ASMC's own.

Following reports of the Hurricane Katrina devastation, the ASMC National Office staff decided to reach out and help ASMC members who were most affected. We asked ASMCers to contribute to a relief fund, and they responded with characteristic generosity. In just a few months, we collected more than $12,000 and, with the approval and encouragement of our National Executive Committee, we matched that amount with funds from ASMC headquarters.

In December 2005, we distributed the first of the funds to those ASMC members who had lost their homes to this terrible disaster. The checks, which went to members from the New Orleans Chapter, the Mississippi Sound Chapter, and the National Guard Chapter, were greeted with an Outpouring of gratitude. You can read some of the letters on our Web site (www.asmconline. org). Excerpts from those letters suggest the strength of feelings engendered by your generosity:

* "In the face of all the destruction, my faith in humanity has been restored by ... the unconditional giving of the ASMC membership."

* "With many being denied coverage from insurance companies and the FEMA assistance being sparse at best, you can't imagine how much these contributions help."

* "Words alone cannot express my sincerest gratitude and thanks."

ASMC is proud to have helped its own!

Nancy Brown comptroller for the Commander Navy Installations Command, Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Senior Executive Service corps and a member of the Washington Chapter.
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Article Details
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Author:Brown, Nancy
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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