The Democratic staff of the House Homeland Security Committee published a report yesterday entitled “Redirecting FEMA Toward Success: A Report and Legislative Solution.” It provides an interesting narrative history of FEMA, but unfortunately is light on substantive policy recommendations. The recommendations in the report:
- FEMA must be led by a director statutorily required to possess experience in emergency management.
- The organizational structure of the Department of Homeland Security must reflect the vital connection between the FEMA director and the President of the United States â€“ the director must report directly to the president during all incidents of national significance.
- FEMA must operate in accord with the emergency management â€œcycleâ€ system â€“ requiring the re-unification of preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation efforts.
I’m skeptical that these types of structural and organizational fixes are really what’s needed. Some of them are appropriate – for example, after Katrina it should be obvious to everyone that the FEMA director should be required to have prior emergency management experience. But they aren’t sufficient, and these types of fixes don’t address the core systemic deficiencies of disaster response in a catastrophic situation. Instead, as I argued in a post yesterday, we need an approach that addresses the decision-making, communications, and logistics processes down to the level of the individual responder, and gives people the tools that they need to make their own informed decisions in a networked (rather than hierarchical) management structure.
If we settle for moving the boxes around on the org chart one more time, I don’t think we’ll improve our preparedness and response capabilities to where they need to be.