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Reserve liaison officers sort out Sandy relief

Nov. 9, 2012 - 10:03AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 9, 2012 - 10:03AM  |  
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Navy reservists are on the ground helping civilian responders use Navy resources for Superstorm Sandy relief.

Navy emergency preparedness liaison officers, or NEPLOs, are senior reservists who work with local and national emergency responders in the aftermath of domestic disasters. As of Wednesday, there were eight NEPLOs in the New York and New Jersey area facilitating the post-Sandy response.

NEPLOs are not first responders. Rather, as naval officers, NEPLOs understand Navy capabilities and communicate those to civilian authorities, according to Capt. Mark Patterson, the lead NEPLO for Navy Region Mid-Atlantic.

During the response to Sandy, for example, NEPLOs outlined the Navy's dewatering capabilities to civilian officials who were using various methods to attack the flooded areas of New York City, Patterson said.

Because of the Nor'easter that hit parts of the Northeast on Thursday, the officers will likely be in the area for another five to seven days, Patterson said Wednesday.

Capt. Stephen Whitaker, a NEPLO assigned to Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 2 and a pilot for Delta Airlines, went to New Jersey on Oct. 27 in preparation of the storm, then moved on to New York City on Nov. 5.

He said he will remain in the area until the job is done.

"The destruction is extensive, the pictures don't do it justice," said the Connecticut resident. "I've seen not the full extent, but the periphery of it. You can see where normalcy ends and destruction begins."

In the field, tactical control of the NEPLOs falls to the defense coordinating officer, the on-scene Defense Department representative who coordinates with the FEMA.

Unlike most reservists who drill once a month with their local unit, NEPLOs practice with other NEPLOs across the country twice a year. The rest of the year, they train with local emergency response and National Guard units.

Nationwide, there are more than 70 NEPLOs: one in each state, two assigned to each of the 10 FEMA regions and a couple at other commands, such as U.S. Northern Command, Patterson said.

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