Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 7, 2006

WSJ surveys FEMA’s readiness

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on August 7, 2006

The Wall Street Journal’s Bobby Block (whose new book on Hurricane Katrina hits bookstores tomorrow) has an article in today’s WSJ that assesses the state of FEMA’s readiness for the current hurricane season. He finds measurable progress in many areas:

Under R. David Paulison, the former Miami fire chief who took over in April as FEMA’s director, the agency has streamlined its operations; hired hundreds more employees; outfitted delivery trucks with satellite tracking systems; purchased record amounts of ice and water; and signed more than $4 billion in forward contracts with big engineering firms and the U.S. military for emergency supplies and services that could be activated during a disaster.

FEMA says it now has enough provisions to feed one million disaster victims for a week, and it has made arrangements with the Department of Defense for backup supplies should the need arise. To speed up assistance to victims, the agency also has tripled its daily capacity to inspect homes for damage following a storm.

…but still a number of lingering concerns, including FEMA’s communications capabilities, the efficacy of its new asset tracking system, and its coordination with DHS HQ. The story also notes state-level concerns with the National Response Plan:

Several states are complaining, however, that Homeland Security officials still are too often ignoring state officials when drawing up their response plans. Some emergency experts in California and Washington state have accused the department of pushing a one-size-fits-all approach to disaster response that may be well-suited to hurricanes on the Eastern seaboard but could be irrelevant for Western states facing the possibility of earthquakes and tsunamis. FEMA officials say they can’t focus on all the nation’s disaster risks at the same time. But even hurricane-prone states have voiced complaints.

Heading into peak hurricane season, Louisiana and Department of Homeland Security officials remain at odds over who is in charge of evacuations and shelters. In a sharply worded letter sent to Mr. Chertoff last month, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco cataloged what she saw as multiple shortcomings in the Department of Homeland Security’s plans for the 2006 hurricane season.

In particular she questioned whether Washington was doing enough to guarantee sufficient shelter space for future hurricane evacuees. She also told Mr. Chertoff that officials from his department were working outside the National Response Plan, introducing untested ideas into emergency plans without consulting the state. These moves, Ms. Blanco said, “will only serve to confuse the response.”

I’m still not sure, after reading this story and many like it over the last few months, if we really are prepared. I don’t think we’ll really know until the system is tested under live fire. And I share the concern mentioned in the excerpt above about being solely focused on one threat (hurricanes). Are we appropriately preparing at the same time for other natural disasters and manmade threats?

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 7, 2006 @ 4:17 pm

Again the readiness changes while admirable fail to come to grips with key federalism issues identified during 9/11 and Katrina. Essentially DoD can’t figure out state and local issues generally much less be sensitive to federalism. The States continue to be the weak sisters and want everyone else to do their jobs. They could start by the way by rationalizing the 75,000 different sub-state planning, administering, taxing districts. Start out by figuring out that only sue or be sued local entities are worth much in the way of readiness. Second, for emergency preparedness and response meaningless multijurisdictional conflicts slow down everything. Perhaps only where multi-state geographic areas are affected or SMSA’s (Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas) or unique federal areas of expertise, terrorism, wmd’s, and interstate corporate threats should the feds even show up. Of the 3400 counties almost a 1000 are losing population and most have fewer than 10,000 people. State on the record in advance that these areas are not of federal concern and emergency incidents/events are for the State to handle exclusively. Perhaps federalize on declaration of National Emergency the fire service in SMSA’s and make sure these groups are fully fungible, interoperable, and trained and equipped to federal standards. The rest can be handled by the state. Right now the states are responsible for nothing under the Stafford Act once a Presidential declaration has taken place. So make the declaration does not take place for jurisdictions that exist because of state politics and are not of federal concern. Cynical maybe, but in the meantime the system is broken and no one is willing to fix it. Governors have better legal authority for crisis management and response, the feds have money bout neither states or feds have both. This is crazy.
By the way, eliminate the hold-harmless for USACOE projects and see how many get built or repaired. This also is a joke. The feds should be fully liable for their sins of misfeasance, non-feasance and abuse of discretion.

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