An Inside Look at the role of the NY National Guard JOC

The official US Army website posted an article recently discussing the duties of the New York National Guard Joint Operations Center (JOC).  The article provides an inside look at the roles and responsibilities performed by the JOC during emergencies and the beginning of the pandemic.

The New York Guard (State Defense Force) is mentioned within the piece discussing their role during the previous in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.


Here is the article:

New York National Guard JOC tracks fight against COVID-19

By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell | New York National Guard April 7, 2020

New York National Guard JOC tracks fight against COVID-19

LATHAM, N.Y. – The nerve center for the 3,000 members of the New York National Guard operating across New York would look familiar to any veteran of Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Joint Operations Center, commonly known as the JOC, provides Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, and his leaders in the field with the information they need to make decisions.

“The JOC provides continuous 24/7 situational awareness to the office of the adjutant general by monitoring, collecting and analyzing data in order to develop and update the common operational picture,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Andres Jimenez-Uribe, the JOC controller noncommissioned-officer in charge.

Normally more than 20 Airmen, Soldiers and civilian employees cram into this room, which mirrors division and brigade wartime command centers.

For the COVID-19 response, though, only five people staff the room and access is strictly controlled to prevent the spread of disease.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo activated the New York National Guard, which first provided support to state call centers beginning March 11.

Since then, the Guard in New York has fielded more than 100,000 phone calls, established nine COVID-19 test sites and helped establish a Federal Emergency Management Agency field hospital at the Javits Convention Center in New York City with 1,000 beds, among other tasks.

Heading into April, 3,000 personnel were on mission across New York, including members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, the New York Guard, the state defense force and the New York Naval Militia.

All the while, the JOC ensured that members of the New York National Guard had jobs to do as quickly as possible.

“The JOC monitors an active database termed ‘NY Responds’ that serves as the medium for requests for support that have been validated by the New York State Office of Emergency Management,” said Kevin Ettrich, the civilian deputy director of operations for the New York National Guard.

“Mission requests accepted by the Joint Force Headquarters are then assigned to a Force Provider or Joint Task Force,” Ettrich said. “One of the first deployments for this operation was to send seasoned liaison officers from our staff to the New York State Office of Emergency Management, Emergency Operations Center, to assist in clarification and validation of requests.”

For the New York National Guard, responding to natural disasters is routine. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, over 4,000 New York Guard members responded to the storm, which caused more than $19 billion in damage. Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the New York National Guard had 2,500 personnel on duty.

Responding to the new coronavirus requires a totally different approach, however, Ettrich said.

“The COVID-19 response is unprecedented because the hazard is not limited to one geographic area in the state,” he said. “Although the New York City metropolitan area and surrounding counties are a major center of gravity due to their population density, nearly every county in New York is experiencing COVID-19 cases.”

Ettrich said the New York National Guard has established Joint Task Forces in every Joint Operational Area, for a total of six, and is working to get personnel across the state to be able to respond to whatever needs arise.

The JOC also supports the information management for an additional task force, the dual status command overseeing both National Guard and active component operations in support of New York City.

Throughout times of crisis in New York, the JOC maintains an ability to respond as quickly as possible to events as they come up.

“Our role is to respond immediately, absorb that information, process it based on our standard operating procedures and make a call,” said Army Capt. Justin Kupinski, the JOC battle captain.

Kupinski said he and his noncommissioned officers maintain the ability to make a call on the spot when anything isn’t clearly covered by standard procedures. They will then track all domestic operations across the state, prepare orders and maintain the bigger operating picture for the state.

So far, the personnel involved in the COVID-19 response have maintained their positivity.

“The atmosphere here is constant,” Uribe said. “These controllers are professional and efficient. They drink from the firehose and deliver a product that betrays the chaos that they must filter to distill that ‘deliverable’ information to the end user.”

During times when the New York National Guard is not activated, the JOC operates in what is called “steady-state operations,” explained Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Peno, the senior enlisted leader in the Joint Operations Directorate.

“There is at least one watch controller on duty at all times located within the JOC,” Peno said. “When an activation is announced, the J3 (joint operations) performs an analysis of the anticipated manning challenges and staffing levels to determine if sufficient manning is in place.”

The JOC is staffed to run 24 hours a day and has nearly doubled in size in the last three years, Peno said.

“This mission is unique,” Peno said. “With a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Sandy or Irene, we can see the cyclone approaching for days, so we have time to ramp our response staffs, issue plans, call in people and prepare.”

The current crisis is more similar to the 1918 influenza pandemic, Peno said.

“During the 1918 influenza pandemic, the National Guard was in federal service due to World War I, so the New York Guard was the response force then,” Peno said. “The missions noted in the reporting back then were patient transportation, use of armories as temporary hospitals, delivering supplies and assisting in burying the dead.”

The major difference, he said, was the fact that emergency management did not exist as we know it today, and overall response was not coordinated under one, unified command structure.

“Today we are coordinating efforts with our state and federal partners to provide horizontally consistent response actions and missions that are new to today’s Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine than (the missions) we did some 100 years ago,” he added.

This modern pandemic has seen a distinct lack of resources, though.

“As we are seeing today in New York City and elsewhere, certain critical supplies are limited and New York military force personnel are as well,” Peno said. “Part of the role of the JOC is to coordinate support with our state, and in some cases, federal partners.”

Messaging and information will flow into and out of the JOC, Peno said. It is also where senior leaders will go to be updated on current efforts.

He emphasized the JOC can serve these functions even when social distancing guidelines dictate that not everyone can gather in their physical space.

“As we are learning from this operation, we do not need to assemble in one room to receive an update on current operations,” Peno said. “Remote participation is possible where the members are still informed of events and missions sets and do not need to see or be seen.”

Peno said that no matter what, the JOC as the information conduit will remain and the New York State adjutant general and leaders from the New York National Guard will be able to receive the information they need to plan, coordinate and conduct operations.

And when the operations are over, the JOC will document how New York responded to the outbreak of COVID-19 while lessons learned will be applied to future responses, according to Peno.

But, he emphasized, that while the JOC coordinates the moving parts, it is others who deserve the credit.

“The JOC is not going to get the headlines, the responder who goes out to save lives, protect property and mitigate suffering does,” Peno said. “As they should, let me make that clear.”

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Source: US ARMY

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