Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 13, 2006

Chertoff announces FEMA reorganization plans

Filed under: DHS News,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on February 13, 2006

Sec. Chertoff announced his plans for reorganizing FEMA this morning at the National Emergency Management Association conference in Alexandria, VA. They’re detailed in this DHS press release, and these stories from the AP and the LA Times provide some additional context on his remarks. The press release proposes the following changes to FEMA:

  • Enhanced logistics management to improving tracking of materials and equipment and distribution of supplies.
  • Upgrades to FEMA’s customer service system to make it easier for disaster victims to receive assistance and also improve fraud detection.
  • The creation of a “core disaster workforce” within FEMA’ s full-time staff (1500 people, acc. to the AP story).
  • The development of new capabilities for mobile disaster assistance.
  • Hardened communications capabilities, including new interoperable equipment that can function even with loss of infrastructure, and information systems that can inform decision-making and resource allocation activities.
  • The creation of new, self-sustaining DHS reconnaissance teams that can coordinate incident management activities.

My initial reaction: these are all appropriate steps to take, but they seem like tactical band aids instead of a real strategy. I don’t see the underlying systemic and cultural challenges of emergency response addressed in a comprehensive manner. (Perhaps Chertoff discussed the broader strategic thrust of the FEMA reorganization in his full remarks. The speech wasn’t on C-Span, and I can’t find a transcript yet.)

The proposals also seem too top-down in their approach. Any reorganization of FEMA needs to be system-centric rather than organization-centric, focusing on the on-the-ground responder and what it will take to provide that person with clarity about his or her authority and the information that he or she needs to be empowered to make decisions.

The evolving military doctrine of net-centric warfare should play a role in that strategy. Chertoff today cited the “fog of war” as a reason for the problems with the Katrina response. The U.S. military has been trying to combat the “fog of war” via net-centric warfare in recent years, and as I wrote recently, it could provide a good template upon which to strengthen our strategic concept for emergency response.

Update (2/13): The full transcript of the speech is available here. Statements like this answer some of my concerns above:

As I said before, I’ve mandated that we build the hardware and the culture to integrate these operations centers into a single virtual operations center, maybe eventually even a physically integrated operations center, so that we no longer have a seam or a stovepipe within the federal government on the flow of information.

But I still think DHS needs to go further, and develop a strategy that empowers responders to make decisions and allocate resources based upon non-hierarchical flows of information.

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3 Comments »

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 13, 2006 @ 8:02 pm

First principles of emergency management are still not being observed. Legally we have a Constitution and a federal system. Roles and responsibilities must be assigned and funded in accordance with law and tradition and capabilities. To the extent possible delegations of authority must be made to those persons and organizations that are both capable and accountable and funded correctly. Nothing is done without funding even for NGO’s like the Red Cross. DOD continues to absorb funding and staffing that starve the federal civil agencies including DHS and others, EPA e.g.!
The modern military is actually decentralized and not centralized in its ops and planning. Redundancy and resiliency is accomplished by pushing authority and accountability to the lowest possible level. Centralized systems fail in a modern technologically dependent world. States must review authority and accountability of subordinate jurisdictions. Hooome rule concepts conflict with certain emergency planning and response concepts. Mutual aid and EMAC make sense for humanitarian relief. The States have to stop gaming the system. They don’t want the disaster responsibility for housing nor for food and shelter. What do they want? They are not responders. What can they do? Special taxing districts and MUD’s are not sue or be sued entities and probably should be excluded from local disaster response. Secretary Chertoff needs to assist in developing a system for large-scale domestic incidents/events. This cannot be done without full State and local participation. The Fire community is underutilized in non-fire systems and it needs to provide the leadership that it could. The feds should be accountable for accurate infomation and adequate funding mechanisms, even in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year. The list goes on and on but DHS should be out of the business of providing assistance after expiration of 24 months. Then traditional federal State, and local programs should take over. Other federal agencies need to be funded adequately for this takeover.

There is still no effective Regional response and recovery structure. FCO’s and Regional Director’s of FEMA overlap. The current structure should be abolished with a liaison federal staff with trained FCO’s should be in each state EOC with numbers and sophistication to match the risk analysis. The new positions in the NRP (National Response Plan)need long term support, recruitment, and training to be effective and efficient. Have the old plans, e.g. NCP, FRP, FREEP, been superseded or rescinded?
These basic ideals, principles, and concepts need incorporation into DHS programs, functions and activities. Families and individuals need to know that they are on there own completely for the 72 to 96 hours. State and locals need to be able to fund and operate systems that can operate up to 90-120 days without substantial federal assistance.

The feds need to be ready to go 24/7, however, when state or local governments fail to prepare or respond. See, e.g. Executive Order 12657 involving fixed nuclear power facilities.Their first priority must be to restablish effective State government. This sensitive issue needs the most thoughtful advance planning and administration. Congress must finally understand that unfunded mandates at the federal, or State, or local level create the liklihood of failure in large-scale incidents or events. A federalism office like the Congressional Budget Office should review all pending legislation, in conjunction with the Dept. of Justice to determine whether federalism principles and concepts are observed in proposed legislation.

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Comment by Jeffery Fisher

February 14, 2006 @ 7:41 am

I disagree; FEMA and all disaster response should be take out of DHS, and DHS should focus on infrastructure protection, or DHS needs to reorganize along the ICS model, reduce the redundancy and pull many of the these under secretary positions under one umbrella. This organization is too diverse to act as an efficient response organization. In either case something needs to be done about the focus of DHS. We are leaving too much of the critical protection and preparedness to agencies that are working against DHS; e.g. ICE, CBP and FBI, not mention have the counterintelligence arm under the office of intelligence rather than DHS. This is to big of an organization to work efficiently, just ask any business man or military planner.

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Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » House Dems suggest FEMA fixes

February 14, 2006 @ 1:41 pm

[…] Chertoff announces FEMA reorganization plans […]

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