Hurricanes, wildfires keep AF Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers busy in 2017

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Timm Huffman
  • Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization

2017 was a busy year for the 88 Individual Mobilization Augmentees who serve as liaisons between the Air Force and local, state, tribal, territories and federal disaster response authorities.

With massive category 5 hurricanes slamming the Gulf Coast, East Coast, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, and wildfires raging in the West, these Reserve Citizen Airmen Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers were called on 197 times to support real-world disasters, National Special Security Events  and Special Event Assessment Rating Events.

Joe Sanders, the deputy director of the National Security Emergency Preparedness Directorate, which is responsible for employing EPLO capabilities, said EPLOs deployed to support civil authorities twice as many times in 2017 as they did in 2015 and 2016 combined.

The deputy director, himself a former EPLO, said NSEP’s team of Air Force Reservists showed their dedication by deploying for an average of more than 20 days each. The longest deployment lasted more than 60 days, with the Airman traveling directly from Hurricane Harvey, to Irma, to Maria.

Sanders made a point to note that NSEP’s reservists are not strangers to the areas of responsibility for which they support. Most of them live locally and are often impacted by the very disasters they are responding to. He added that one EPLO was on duty when he received a call that Hurricane Irma had blown the roof off his home.

At the core of their job, EPLOs are tasked to facilitate defense support of civil authorities.

“They represent Air Force capabilities to the interagency partners so the responders don’t have to look anywhere but within their own teams for a response,” said Sanders.

He added that EPLOs are part of a joint team supporting that supports a defense coordinating officer, who is integrated within each of the 10 FEMA Regional Response Coordination Centers located throughout the Continental United States. The DoD is one of 27 federal agencies that respond to disasters.  It is the responsibility of each defense coordinating officer to represent the DoD during a disaster, NSSE or SEAR event.

In 2017, EPLO deployments translated into 235 real-world FEMA mission assignments requiring DoD capabilities to complete, totaling over $1.87 billion in support. This included staging of FEMA supplies at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Seguin Airfield for Hurricane Harvey, where over 1,300 tractor trailer trucks and millions of dollars of relief supplies were staged before being sent to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

In addition to playing a part in the response to the various natural disasters in 2017, EPLOs also supported a number of high-visibility national special security events and special event assessment rating events. These events included the presidential inauguration, Super Bowl 51, Independence Day celebrations on the National Mall and the National Boy Scout Jamboree. They also supported four exercises, including the bi-national Vigilant Shield 2017.

All of that support would not have been possible without the work EPLOs do in the “Phase Zero” planning. This planning takes place during the time hurricanes are less prevalent, roughly December through May. EPLOs spend this time building relationships with emergency response entities, reviewing disaster response plans for their assigned area of responsibility, and networking with emergency managers at Air Force installations. They also provide training on how the National Response Framework and National Incident Management System works in response to a disaster or event.  

In 2017, the NSEP team visited more than 73 Air Force installations, training more than 4,100 emergency management personnel. They also met with and trained more than 200 wing and vice wing commanders and 350-plus mission support personnel.

The relationships built in the off-season are crucial when the weather takes a turn for the worse. These Airmen are a critical link in post-disaster response efforts. They sit in emergency management operations centers, FEMA RRCCs and at higher headquarters, where they keep a finger on the pulse of the response effort.

During Hurricane Irma, NSEP activated Col. Paul Pinkstaff and integrated him into the FEMA Region IV RRCC in Atlanta, Georgia.  Pinkstaff represented the Air Force’s response to the hurricane, and identified resources available to the affected areas. According to Pinkstaff, EPLOs help solve problems that states identify to the lead agency as gaps in their response capabilities, these gaps are then translated into mission assignment which then become requests for capabilities to DOD. EPLOs vet these requests in coordination with the defense coordinating officer and then forward them to the appropriate level for approval, in some instances up to the Secretary of Defense.

The EPLO program is staffed by IMAs who are line officers.  Sanders said the ultimate goal for the EPLO program is to represent Air Force capabilities in emergency situations, providing solutions that save lives, mitigate suffering and protect property.

IMAs are Air Force Reservists assigned to active-component organizations and government agencies. They provide augmentation during times of need. Unlike traditional reservists, who drill one weekend a month, IMAs work with their active-component organization to create a custom duty schedule. IMAs serve in every Air Force Special Code at locations all around the world. Visit to learn more.