Report | May 16, 2019

Audit of the DoD’s Preparation for Natural Disasters DODIG-2019-086


Publicly released: May 17, 2019


We determined to what extent the DoD has prepared to respond to future natural disasters within U.S. Northern Command’s area of responsibility. We performed this audit as part of a Disaster Assistance Working Group– Cross Cutting Functional Effort by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE). Seven Offices of Inspector General were part of this working group: the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and the Small Business Administration. Each Office of Inspector General involved with the working group agreed to determine the extent to which its agency had prepared to respond to future natural disasters.

We addressed the objective by reviewing the DoD’s policies and guidance, exercises, corrective action programs, training, contracts, and agreements related to natural disaster preparedness.

Our audit focused on the DoD’s preparation for natural disasters, in the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) area of responsibility (the continental United States, as well as Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The scope of the audit, as coordinated with the Disaster Assistance Working Group–Cross Cutting Functional Effort by CIGIE, was to review preparedness and not response. Therefore, we did not evaluate, and cannot state, whether or to what extent the DoD’s preparedness measures will enhance its disaster response.


The DoD provides support for natural disaster response through mission assignments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or requests for assistance from other Federal agencies. According to Public Law 93‑288, “Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act,” (the Stafford Act) February 23, 2018, a natural disaster is any hurricane, tornado, storm, flood, high water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, mudslide, snowstorm, drought, fire, or other catastrophe that may cause damage or injury to civilian property or people. The Stafford Act defines a “mission assignment” as a work order that FEMA issues to the DoD to direct completion of a specific task and provide funding.

The DoD Components with primary roles and responsibilities for preparing for natural disasters, which we reviewed, are the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security (OASD[HD&GS]); Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS); USNORTHCOM; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE); and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).


The DoD prepared for natural disasters by developing a framework for natural disaster preparedness. The DoD’s framework includes guidance, recurring exercises in disaster scenarios, corrective action programs that incorporate lessons learned and after‑action reports, training, advanced contracts, and agreements. We determined the DoD’s support and resources are critical to supplement state, local, territory, and tribal response efforts. Continuous preparation and process improvement are key to ensuring that the DoD can rapidly deploy essential resources in support of FEMA mission assignments and requests for assistance from other Federal agencies.

Guidance.  The JCS, the OASD(HD&GS), USNORTHCOM, USACE, and the DLA developed policies and procedures to plan and prepare for natural disaster events. A Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) Execute Order (EXORD)delegates limited approval authority to USNORTHCOM for DSCA operations to allow for the DoD’s rapid and flexible response. Each DoD Component we reviewed followed the DSCA EXORD or developed its own internal guidance related to preparation for natural disaster events. Furthermore, USNORTHCOM, USACE, and the DLA developed concept of operations documents that provided organizational structure and general principles for managing disasters, and incorporated processes for managing disaster operations.

Exercises. USNORTHCOM developed incident‑specific exercises to support plans and enhance preparedness for natural disasters. USNORTHCOM exercises simulated disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Stakeholders from FEMA, various components within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the JCS, the DLA, USACE, and other DoD Components, Military Departments, and Federal agencies participated in the exercises.

Corrective Action Programs. The DoD Components developed policies and after‑action reports to incorporate lessons learned into future operations. With the exception of USACE, DoD Components used the Joint Lessons Learned Information System as a central repository for lessons learned across the DoD. USACE used a separate information system, ENGLink, to upload and store lessons learned data. USACE shares lessons learned with other DoD and Government agencies during joint and interagency events on a yearly basis.

Training. The DoD Components incorporated training requirements through various methods such as instructions, manuals, and operational plans. These training courses reinforced the concepts and procedures described in internal policies, and integrated the lessons learned from exercises. The training courses were available to personnel from USACE, DLA, USNORTHCOM, and other DoD Components, Military Departments, Federal agencies, and state and local officials.

Advanced Contracts. USACE and the DLA awarded 54 contracts in preparation for natural disasters. Through these contracts, the DoD can procure goods and services related to emergency power, debris removal, temporary roof repairs, Rapid Disaster Infrastructure Response, fuel, meals, and generator deployment.

Agreements. The DoD entered into 29 agreements for various natural disaster preparedness activities including the following.

• Food protection in emergency situations

• Planning and implementing roles during a national emergency

• Commodity support with supply chain management services

• Logistical support for non‑fuel support, fuels support, and generator leasing

• Light powered aircraft, aircrews, and communication support

• Management of water and related natural resources

• Hurricane evacuation software for tracking hurricanes.


The DoD prepared for natural disasters by developing a framework for natural disaster preparedness that includes guidance, exercises, corrective action programs, training, advanced contracts, and interagency agreements. Based on the scope of this audit, as coordinated with the Disaster Assistance Working Group–Cross Cutting Functional Effort by CIGIE, we did not evaluate the adequacy of this framework; therefore, we are not providing recommendations.

This report is a result of Project No. D2018‑D000AV‑0191.000