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Liaison Officers Coordinate with County on National Guard's Flood

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- The North Dakota National Guard stationed two Airmen at the Tactical Operations Center, or TOC, in West Fargo, N.D., to work as liaison officers who assist Cass County officials with organizing and utilizing National Guard resources during the 2011 flood fight.

The TOC is a joint-force center where officials from different government and volunteer organizations have gathered to assess emergency situations and coordinate quick response teams.

Cass County workers process phone calls from county residents and, when necessary, officially task the National Guard to respond to the situation. Liaison officers Lt. Col. Nate Erstad and Capt. Grant Larson distribute this information to National Guard operating centers on the eastern side of North Dakota.

Erstad and Larson are the vital tie between the National Guard and county officials. The liaison officers work to keep county officials aware of what National Guard resources are available and help keep the operating centers in full function.

"The hardest part of my job is making sure everybody is communicated with effectively," Larson said.

Whenever possible, Erstad or Larson personally respond to the emergency and assess the situation. They decide what equipment is necessary for the mission and how many people will need to respond. After quickly detailing what needs to be done and who needs to do it, the liaison officers send the tasking to the operating centers.

After the operating centers have received official tasking from Erstad or Larson, contact is maintained to ensure county officials can coordinate with military personnel for the remainder of the joint mission. The entire process sometimes takes place in a matter of minutes.

"The National Guard's role in the flood fight is to assist in saving life, property and assets endangered by the hazardous conditions," Larson said.

Larson went into detail about different missions to which he has responded and supported. When two hunters went missing on the Maple River in Cass County last week, Larson worked throughout the night to ensure all equipment and resources were readily available in the search.

"Due to another emergency the following morning, I worked 24 hours straight," Larson said.

The liaison officers typically work 12-hour shifts so somebody is always available to respond to an emergency. While in the office, they often juggle two phones at once due to the high frequency of contact from National Guard operation centers.

"We truly value our partnership with the Guard. We attack the issues together to solve them faster," said Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney.

Other organizations working in the TOC include the U.S. Coast Guard, State Highway Patrol, North Dakota Game and Fish, U.S. Border Control and Valley Water Rescue.

"There are local, state and federal organizations working together, which is just how it should be," Laney said.

The Guard agrees.

"Everybody has their own strengths and capabilities to get things done," Larson said. "We all know our limits, which is why a united team effort is important."

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