The DHS Inspector General’s office publicly released a report yesterday that reviews the TOPOFF 3 exercise held by DHS in April 2005. The report’s release, during this period of congressional review of the response to Katrina, is very well-timed. The report barely mentions Katrina, but in several places it hints at the reasons why elements of the response to hurricane were so tragically flawed.
For example, on page 12 of the report (page 16 of the PDF), the report notes about the exercise:
However, as events unfolded and intensified, the response and coordination efforts of some participants could have been more effective had they possessed a better understanding of NRP and NIMS protocols. For example, there was confusion over the different roles and responsibilities performed by the Principal Federal Official (PFO) and the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO).
The PFO is designated by DHSâ€™ Secretary to act as the Secretaryâ€™s local representative in overseeing and executing the incident management responsibilities under HSPDâ€“5 for Incidents of National Significance. The role of the PFO is to provide the Secretary with pertinent information, but the PFO does not direct or replace the Incident Command System and structure, and does not have direct authority over the senior law enforcement official, the FCO, or other federal and state officials.
And later, on page 16:
Under the NRP, DHSâ€™ Secretary has the authority to declare an Incident of National Significance. What is not currently provided in the NRP is a procedure for how such a declaration is disseminated throughout federal, state, and local levels of government. More importantly, it remains unclear what new resources and authorities are available to states when an event is designated an Incident of National Significance.
This confusion about NIMS and NRP, and the roles fo the PFO and FCO as they pertain to an “Incident of National Significance” reared its head again during the response to Katrina, undermining (by many accounts) coordination efforts across federal, state and local levels.
The report also notes on pages 9 to 11 that officials from the OIG recommended to the organizers of TOPOFF that they improve their preparations in three areas, before the exercise took place: (a) getting FEMA more involved, (b) getting the private sector more involved, and (c) clarifying and enhancing DOD’s role in the exercise. It’s possible to make the case that some of these same intermediate problems – FEMA’s engagement, and uncertainty about military-civilian boundaries and responsibilities – came up again during the response to Katrina.
There are a lot of other interesting details in the report – too many to list here. The full report (7MB) is here.