Brigadier General Donald P. Dunbar has served since September 2007 as Wisconsin’s adjutant general, responsible for the Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard and the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management (DEM). Dunbar joined the Air Force in August 1983 and the Air National Guard in 1991, becoming a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, principally in B-52 and KC-135 aircraft. Dunbar served on the staff of the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs and as executive officer to the director of the Air National Guard. He came to Wisconsin in March 2005, deploying overseas and commanding the 385th Expeditionary Operations Group supporting operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He has received numerous awards including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. He holds a Master of Business Administration from the City University of Seattle, a master’s degree in national security strategy from the National Defense University, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Maryland Law School. He is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College and a distinguished graduate of the National War College.
Q. What are the responsibilities of your position and office?
A. I serve as Wisconsin’s adjutant general, which is a cabinet-level position as the head of the state Department of Military Affairs. My duties are in three broad areas, the first one being the commander of the Wisconsin National Guard. In Wisconsin that includes four Army National Guard units; it also includes two major Air National Guard units. They comprise a total of 10,000 soldiers and airmen. Secondly, I am responsible for DEM, which is further segregated into a planning and a response and recovery branch. The last hat I wear is that I’m Gov. Jim Doyle’s homeland security advisor. And in that capacity, I am the chairman of the state Homeland Security Committee, which he established in 2003.
Q. What are some of the state’s primary assets and threats—natural or man-made?
A. Here in Wisconsin we’ve got more than 111,000 miles of roads, about 3,600 miles of railroad tracks, and about 13,600 bridges on our state highways. In addition, there are 130 airports, which include the major ones like in Milwaukee and the smaller private concerns. As you know, we’re situated south and west of two of our great lakes, so we have several maritime ports, including in Milwaukee and Green Bay, as well as many other facilities throughout the state that make us unique.
We have diverse industries including Harley-Davidson, General Electric, Oshkosh, and General Motors. Tourism is a big part of Wisconsin, creating about $1.4 billion each year in generated revenue. Agriculture is a $51 billion a year industry. Dairy is also an important industry in Wisconsin; we are the second-largest milk producing state.
Since I’ve been named the adjutant general, we have had three federal disasters declared. Two have been significant flood events. The most recent one in June encompassed 30 counties. Last year, we had a major flood out in the southwest part of the state, and in February of 2008, we had a series of major snow storms—one in particular that really set us back a little bit, which for Wisconsin is saying something considering where we’re situated. In addition to flooding, tornadoes are a persistent risk in Wisconsin. We average about 21 per year. So far in 2008, we’ve actually experienced about 37.
Q. How would you characterize the state’s relationship with its federal homeland security partners? What would you change if you could?
A. I think DHS is now just starting to hit a rhythm. They’re five years old. That was a major reorganization for the federal government, and any type of reorganization like that is going to take some time to flesh out the battle rhythm, if you will. In my tenure, I’ve had very good support from DHS and from FEMA. In our flooding in June we had our federal disaster declaration in a very short period of time. And when we set up our joint field office with the FEMA folks and our state folks, it was really a terrific partnership.
But I think DHS has to continue to improve in certain areas. For instance, they moved the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness out of the secretary’s office and a couple levels down. I think that sends the wrong message, and I think that should be re-elevated under the next administration to place the significance, from the secretary’s point of view, of state and local relationships. I also think that there ought to be some more interaction with state governors’ homeland security advisors. It’s important to have each homeland security advisor at least aware of the different interaction between the state government and DHS.
Q. Has your office engaged the private sector at all in its homeland security efforts? If so, how?
A. Absolutely. Specifically, Wisconsin’s working with the federal government in the identification of our critical infrastructure, and we have worked hard to acquire federal funds to improve the security of these facilities. We work closely with these facilities and the local entities that operate them. We conduct site visits and evaluations and try to improve the overall security of particular events or venues or infrastructure. We are also in the process of developing a private-sector Web site that is going to focus on relevant unclassified but important information.
Q. What did the state take away from the past year’s emergency responses?
A. I’ll compare our winter storm response with our most recent flooding. February’s blizzard completely shut down Interstate 90/39, overwhelming the ability of state salt and plow trucks to get on the highway and of tow-truck drivers to gain access to stranded motorists. If people needed emergency services, we had no way to get to them. Our state agencies were slow to realize the extent of the backup, and once we grasped the scope of it—which was probably about three or four hours too late—we worked to get all the trucks and cars off the highway. But that took about the better part of 24 hours. Nobody got hurt, thank God. We dodged a bullet.
We did a full review and developed a whole new procedure for the state’s emergency operations center (EOC). Instead of EOC either being open or closed, we developed a stratified approach where you have a day-to-day presence. Then, as necessary, we expand it to key desks like emergency management, National Guard, and State Patrol. It would be ramped up as the emergency expanded. In the worst emergency situations, all the state agency representatives would be at their desks, as necessary, for the response.
Fast forward to June; this worked very well. The National Weather Service notified DEM that severe storms were coming our way, so the administrator initiated a level 2, and started things in motion. As it turned out, storms rolled through for about 10 days straight with heavy, heavy rainfall. But we had full understanding of what was going on, and we were in constant contact with everyone involved in the response. I think it was about as good as a disaster response can be, given the hand that we were dealt.
Q. What are the agency’s top goals for the coming year?
A. We have to remain prepared to respond to any state needs; that’s a big goal for us next year. We’re in the process right now of updating our homeland security strategy, and I’ve been working with the governor to standardize our approach to align our homeland security strategy review process along with the gubernatorial election process, much like the federal government does for the Quadrennial Defense Review.
We continue to work with our FEMA Region V partners. We’re working with other states to have mutual-aid agreements where it makes sense, and we’re also working with our Great Lakes partners and Canada to develop an international agreement that would allow us to help Canada and would allow Canada to help us in times of emergency. So there’s some exciting things going on that we’re working on.
I’m also establishing a new position of deputy adjutant general, specifically to focus on support to civil authorities. This will be a one-star general officer here in the state of Wisconsin, and he’ll be in charge of a standing joint task force that will have joint capability ready to respond to any event that happens here in the state of Wisconsin, be it a flood or a terrorist attack or a tornado or whatever it might be. So it’s going to be an exciting year for us. It’s very ambitious, but I’m surrounded by good folks, and I think we can make a lot of headway next year.