Interoperability: National Guard Style

This close relationship between the National Guard and their localities ensures that local National Guard units are prepared to respond when needed.


Many threats, natural and man made, confront the United States today. Protecting the United States homeland from attack is the highest priority of the Department of Defense (DoD). The world changed dramatically on September 11, 2001. The current foe is not another nation but terrorists seeking to undermine America's political will and destroy our way of life. The United States now engaged in war, a war whose length and magnitude could very well be unprecedented. By attacking U.S. citizens, economic institutions, physical infrastructure, and the very social fabric, they seek to destroy American democracy. The United States must never underestimate the devastation that terrorists seek to bring to Americans at home. To defeat 21st century threats, requires innovative thought, planning and action.

By law and tradition, the National Guard (NG) connects local communities to the federal government. NG units are located in most large localities, and they have the capabilities, legal authority, and structure to respond to attacks or natural disasters within the homeland. The NG maintains armories and units within each of the 54 states and territories. This close relationship between the NG and their localities ensures that local NG units are prepared to respond when needed. The cooperative spirit and partnership between the Virginia National Guard (VNG) and public safety is well documented, especially during events such as natural disasters, weather related emergencies and terrorist attacks. One noteworthy characteristic about the NG in general, is that they are citizens of the state in which they serve.

The command structure of the NG is well-situated to oversee the training of units in weapons of mass destruction consequence management. Currently, the NG of each state and territory maintains a Civil Support Team that is trained and equipped to respond to a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) events. NG units have the capabilities to work with state and local officials to quickly rebuild "mitigating infrastructure" such as roads, bridges, and water supplies. Further, they should determine their ability to provide backup systems, such as power generation, water distribution, and communications systems, for local emergency facilities.

The NG can do all of these and is already doing them to some extent. But these critical activities and many others require full communications interoperability with state and local as well as federal agencies. The NG requires a networked environment in which full interoperability exists to allow all NG users and mission partners to access and share accurate, secure and timely information. The environment must provide for real time situational awareness and reliable communications.

The DoD responded to performance shortfalls during the 2005 hurricane season, including Hurricane Katrina, by upgrading and disseminating technology that promotes communications among responders. Prior to 2005 military communications, including those of the NG, was accomplished almost solely by Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINGARS), which is not configured for communications with civil authority and public safety personnel. However, the National Guard Bureau very quickly began to invest in portal and collaboration tools which facilitate planning and information sharing among the local, state, and federal entities that respond to disasters and other domestic incidents. It used supplemental congressional funding to upgrade and field its interim satellite incident site communications sets called the Joint Incident site Communications Capability (JISCC). As of today over 26 JISCC systems have been installed and are fully operational within NG Units.

At its core JISCC consists of software defined radios and a radio interoperability system. The JISCC is a key solution to the issue of interoperability among public safety and military responders. The radios and the repeater are provided by the E. F. Johnson Corporation. The SyTech Corporation provides the Radio Interoperability System. The JISCC consists of five modules.

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