Last week the Department of Homeland Security released a “Notice of Change to the National Response Plan,” which contains a long series of edits to the original document, as part of the process of implementing the Townsend Report’s post-Katrina recommendations. These are summarized in the eleven items below:
- Multiple Joint Field Offices: This change explicitly clarifies that multiple Joint Field Offices may be established in support of an incident (for both regional-level and nationwide incidents).
- Principal Federal Official (PFO) and Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) roles and responsibilities: This change clarifies PFO and FCO roles and responsibilities, and provides the flexibility to designate a single individual as both PFO and FCO (with additional Deputy PFO and FCO designations as appropriate) during certain highly complex or geographically dispersed incidents other than terrorism (e.g. a hurricane with multi-state impact).
- DoD JTF Commander and JTF HQ: This change provides that if a JTF is established, consistent with operational requirements, its command and control element will be collocated with the PFO at the Joint Field Office to ensure coordination and unity of effort.
- Structure of the JFO Sections: This change provides for the integration of the Emergency Support Functions into the JFO Sections rather than as stand-alone entities.Â
- Domestic Readiness Group: This change recognizes the formation of the HSC Domestic Readiness Group (DRG) and explains the roles and responsibilities of the DRG relative to other NRP entities.
- Catastrophic Incident Annex: This change broadens the scope of the Catastrophic Incident Annex and differentiates response procedures for no-notice incidents as opposed to those allowing for pre-incident staging of Federal assets.
- Quick Reference Guide: This change provides a new Supplement to the National Response Plan for the quick reference of senior government, non-government organizations, and private sector leadership.
- Interagency Incident Management Group and Homeland Security Operations Center: This change reflects the establishment of the National Operations Center as the successor to the Homeland Security Operations Center, and reformulates the former IIMG as a senior advisory council and adjudication body for the Secretary of Homeland Security in his role as the Federal incident manager.
- Incident of National Significance: This change clarifies the applicability of the National Response Plan through scaled and flexible activation of NRP coordination and reporting mechanisms.
- ESF #13 Coordinator: This change removes the Department of Homeland Security as a co-coordinator and primary agency for ESF #13 â€“ Public Safety and Security. The Department of Justice will have sole responsibility as ESF Coordinator and primary agency. Â
- Mitigation: This change recognizes the reorganization of the DHS Mitigation program within ESF-14 and the Joint Field Office Operations Section which occurred after the NRP was implemented in April 2005.
These changes are all appropriate, and in some cases very necessary; it’s particularly important that they’ve resolved the confusion over the meaning of the Catastrophic Incident Annex. But the real challenge is still ahead, via efforts to link the Plan to execution and performance on the ground.