Northcom's new C2: collaboration and communications

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The U.S. Northern Command has adopted the phrase collaboration and communication instead of classic military command and control (C2), said Adm. Timothy Keating, Northcom commander, here at a press briefing.

The command, headquartered here, must dovetail its operations with 60 other federal agencies or departments to help coordinate the Defense Department’s response to disasters or an attack on the United States.

When Northcom responds to a disaster, Keating said, he’s less concerned with C2 and more concerned about collaboration and coordination with civil agencies that can provide a “unity of results that comes from a unity of effort.”

Although Northcom has a significant military mission, Keating said how he spends his time illustrates how important collaboration with civil authorities is. He said he spends more time working outside DOD channels than within, “and I’ve spent more time on Coast Guard ships than Navy ships.”

Bernd McConnell, Northcom’s director of Interagency Coordination, said there are logical and legal underpinnings to the emphasis on collaboration at the command. There’s no chain of command between Northcom, the Homeland Security Department and other federal agencies, let alone the thousands of state and local agencies the command needs to work with in case of a disaster, he said.

To facilitate interagency cooperation, McConnell said, representatives from about 60 agencies, including DHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, work at Northcom. His group works to facilitate communication among those agencies and to ensure there is a unified response to a disaster at a local level.

If a community needs fresh water, McConnell said, the interagency group will find the agency best equipped to deliver it, ensuring only one agency delivers the water to the right place, rather than two or three.

Rear Adm. Kendall Card, C2 director at Northcom, said human interaction within the interagency group is the best way to share data among agencies. “We need to share data much more effectively than we do today,” Card said.

But that remains a challenge until Northcom and its federal partners come up with a data-sharing medium, common data sets and standards, and a way to identify and authenticate users. Until then, Card said, the human interface has to fill the bill.

But Card said he has concerns about the fragility of human interaction. In case of a pandemic flu outbreak, for example, Northcom personnel are to stay home to keep from contacting or spreading the flu.

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