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Defense Support of Civil authorities

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Title: Defense Support of Civil authorities  
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Defense Support of Civil authorities

Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) is the process by which United States military assets and personnel can be used to assist in missions normally carried out by civil authorities. These missions have included: responses to natural and man-made disasters, law enforcement support, special events, and other domestic activities. A recent example of the use of DSCA is the military response to Hurricane Katrina. DSCA is the overarching guidance of how the United States military can be requested by a federal agency and the procedures that govern the actions of the military during employment.

The "Directorate of military support" (DOMS) for domestic operations (DOMS) who is the functional process manager of DSCA is located inside each state's "Joint Operation Center" (JOC). The normal course of action is for the Office of Emergency Management within the state to request military support through the JOC. In turn, the JOC under the authority of the DOMS will initiate military support in the form of equipment that supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Emergency Support Functions.


The provision of DSCA is codified in Department of Defense Directive 3025.18. This directive defines DSCA as:

"Support provided by U.S. Federal military forces, National Guard, DoD civilians, DoD contract personnel, and DoD component assets, in response to requests or assistance from civil authorities for special events, domestic emergencies, designated law enforcement support, and other domestic activities. Support provided by National Guard forces performing duty in accordance with Reference (m) is considered DSCA, but is conducted as a State-directed action also known as civil support."

There are numerous other directives, policies and laws that shape the militaries role in conducting operations in support of other federal agencies. Some of them are the Insurrection Act, Homeland Security Act, Stafford Act, Economy Act and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive – 5. Each of these affect the way the military responds to a request for assistance from an interagency partner.

When federal forces deploy support of DSCA, once those forces enter the incident area they come under the operational control of U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). US Northern Command only controls federal forces deployed into the impact area in response to the incident. National Guard forces deployed under the authority of the Governor remain under control of the Governor.


Providing support to civil authorities can not impair the ability of the military to conduct its primary mission. It is also critical to understand that the military is always in a supporting role and never the lead. According to the 2011 DSCA Interagency Partner Guide, a request to the DSCA is made when a disaster, crisis or special incident occurs and local, tribal or state authorities can no longer manage the situation. All incidents are controlled at the lowest civilian levels with the military filling in critical roles. Only federal agencies can request Department of Defense assistance and this request usually comes on behalf of a state need.

All federal agencies can request military assistance by using a simple memo format that contains specific information on what capability is needed and also gives cost reimbursement guidance. Military assets conducting support stay under the control of the military chain of command. Assistance is coordinated with the local responders in the disaster area to ensure the military support is being properly utilized as per the approved request. If there is a need to change the original mission of forces conducting the assistance, the request process starts all over again. Determining when the military is done conducting the requested support is done collaboratively between DOD officials, local government and federal agencies.

All support provided by the military is required to be reimbursed by the agency that requested it. The military's budget does not include providing DSCA support so it must be paid back in order to maintain the ability to conduct its primary mission.


On the civilian side, the Federal Emergency Management Agency or better known as FEMA, is the main federal responder when a disaster overwhelms a state(s). When a state exhausts all of its resources or is lacking a unique capability during a disaster, it will turn to the federal government for assistance. The agency that usually responds and will coordinate the overall federal effort will be FEMA. FEMA has a cornucopia of options available to help a state in need, one of those options is to turn to the military. FEMA has the ability to direct most other federal resource under its statutory authority, but it can not direct the military, it must request the assistance. Military support is a last resort; all other local, state and federal resources must be exhausted prior to the military providing support or a unique requirement that can not be found within the civilian or federal system.

Requesting the military to respond to a disaster, manmade or natural, is done through a formal process established between FEMA and Department of Defense. While this process is pretty straight forward, it has many integrated steps that require involvement from numerous sources, both military and civilian.


An early instance that had a major influence on shaping how the military responds was the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. It set the stage for establishing the fundamental principles codified in our current laws. Because of the excise tax on whiskey, the taxpayers revolted against the federal government. Violence against tax collectors grew to such a level that it prompted Presidential intervention. During August to November 1794, federal troops deployed to Western Pennsylvania as a show of force. Throughout this threat to federal authority, President Washington’s guidance was that the military was to support the local civil authorities, not impede them or control them in any way. This underlying principle remains imbedded in the present laws, systems, and processes of how the military interacts within the DSCA environment.

Another important factor governing the actions of the military in executing DSCA is the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA). This law was established post Civil War and prohibited the use of active duty military (Title 10) in enforcing civil law and order unless directed by the President. The most recent event that caused the President to employ federal military in direct support to local law enforcement was the Los Angeles riots of 1992 where troops where brought into to help quell the violence. The PCA does not apply to the United States National Guard in their state support role.


  • Directives
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency, "FEMA Mission." FEMA.
  • Select Bipartisan Committee. “A Failure of Initiative.” GPO Access 15 February 2006.
  • U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. “Defense Support of Civil Authorities.” U.S. Army 15 August 2005.
  • U.S. Department of Defense. FAQ’s: Defense Support of Civil Authorities.” Policy of the Twenty-First Century. 2006.
  • U.S. Department of Defense. “Military Support to Civil Authorities (MSCA).” Department of Defense Directive 3025.01. January 15, 1993.
  • U.S. Department of Defense. “Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs (ASD(HD&ASA)).” Department of Defense Directive 5111.13. January 16, 2009.

See also

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