Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 1, 2006

The National Response Plan gets an overhaul

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on January 1, 2006

Happy New Year!

The AP has a story today about current efforts to overhaul the National Response Plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:

Chief among the changes to the original 426-page plan are several ideas for rushing federal resources to a stricken area. They include:

Dropping small military or civilian vehicles, packed with communications gear, into a disaster zone by helicopter or driving them from nearby staging areas.

Setting up portable hospitals with federal emergency medical teams to augment local facilities.

Helping local and state police catch looters and snipers by providing federal law enforcement officers if requested.

I have no objections to taking a look at and improving the National Response Plan as part of a broader effort to improve disaster response capabilities. But I don’t think anyone should claim that the National Response Plan was itself the crux of the problem in the response to Katrina; the main problem was the way that it was used (or not used) by federal, state and local authorities.

I’m also not sure whether it’s ever possible to write a perfect master plan for disaster response. If you add new layers of detail, the complexity of the plan is going to reach a point where in a moment of crisis, it becomes more likely to promote “analysis paralysis” than effective response. Maybe what is needed to complement such a complex plan is a Hippocratic Oath for crisis management, short enough to be printed on an index card, which contains simple guiding principles about how to act in a disaster response.

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