Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 7, 2008

FEMA’s Readiness for Next Catastrophe Assessed

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Jonah Czerwinski on April 7, 2008

The DHS Inspector General’s report on FEMA’s readiness is public. Thanks to reader William Cumming for sending in a copy. The IG identified nine areas in which FEMA must be invested in order to be ready for catastrophic emergencies. The report shows how FEMA fairs in each of the areas using a four-tiered scale of substantial progress, moderate progress, modest progress, and limited or no progress.

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FEMA officials told IG investigators “that budget shortfalls, reorganizations, inadequate IT systems, and confusing or limited authorities negatively affected their progress” in these areas researched. While the IG agrees with FEMA, it also suggests that FEMA would benefit from better “knowledge management” and plans for sustaining initiatives.

After a July 31, 2007, hearing on FEMA preparedness, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform tasked the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) with providing a high-level assessment of DHS and FEMA’s preparedness for the next catastrophic disaster.

The report identifies key areas for managing catastrophic disasters and determines the progress FEMA has made in these areas since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. FEMA’s funding spiked following Hurricane Katrina, but is today approaching to pre-Katrina levels.

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Click to enlarge.

The report reveals that FEMA has shown moderate progress across the board, but several FEMA shortcomings identified in the report are vital to managing this year’s upcoming hurricane season. FEMA was found to have made limited progress in establishing regulations, policies, and operating procedures for major emergencies, in staffing and training, and in the management of mission assignments.

Next, the OIG plans to review the development of FEMA’s plans, policies, and procedures for managing major disasters. This includes the development and implementation of the National Response Framework, community preparedness, and planning for catastrophic scenarios.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 7, 2008 @ 11:18 am

It is interesting that the OIG report fails to document any specific technical failures in catastrophic planning in FEMA. For example, how does FEMA prepare for and handle any WMD incident or event? Completely undocumented by the OIG. How does it relate to other critical Executive Branch organizations on a daily basis in preparation for a no-notice event? Completely undocumented by the OIG. Or relating to other critical NGO operations. It should be noted that The ARC (American Red Cross) should be labeled as fully disabled as of today on both an administrative and fiscal basis. The layoff of 1500 experienced personnel at ARC HQ’s has to be made up somewhere. Perhaps FEMA, now the lead for ESF 6, a change not documented by the OIG even though well within the timeframe of the report, could hire some of these mass care and sheltering experts. Why did the ARC undergo a collapse and what does it protend for FEMA operations and capabilities in major large scale unplanned for events? The ARC could never get adequate funds for Preparedness, just as FEMA is completely underfuneded and staffed for Preparedness. Note the OIG documents 25% of all Preparedness FTE’s are unoccupied. Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Paulison just don’t get it. These Preparedness types are not just planners, but also system developers that can be utilitized in large-scale events if absolutely necessary. Many of the OIG findings go back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and despite retorical fixes have not yet been fixed. Interesting how direct White House orders in the form of HSPD’s have not been fixed, in particular HSPD-5 & 8. Admittedly these are unfunded when issued but this is years later. Also the OIG could have documented from its own and GAO findings repetitive deficiencies from the past that are still uncorrected. Interesting that they choose to not do so. Is the past prologue, yes when it comes to large scale events. By the way Adminstrator Paulison has never been confirmed in that positon and his service period under the Federal Vacancy Reform Act is up in December. But chief Paulison, give it a shot! See if this year you will bet the large unexpected event in an unprepared state that so far you have been lucky enough to avoid. Remember, you took the top FEMA job after Hurrican Katrina and only fair to see if you have fixed FEMA, that is the NEW FEMA that you keep speaking and testifying about. It is interesting that not since 1988 has there been a no-holds barred analysis of FEMA true capability to response in large-scale events done by either the OIG or Program Officials. Now the OIG is arguing for a new and accurate capability assessment. Perhaps the 1988 report should be the baseline for starting. Also the OIG says state capabilities should be measured. FEMA has been mandated to do this from 1979 on in various statutes, Executive Orders, and other directives from the White House. Even the Stafford Act talks about federal assistance being supplemental. Supplemental to what? Is the Stafford Act as written a disincentive to preparedness by the states? Interesting that FEMA always looks pretty good in States that have good preparedness, California or Florida for example. But read the report of the Special Commission on the Ice Storm in Pennsylvania a few years back and you can see even large sophisticated states have no lock on being prepared, much less for a WMD event. Interesting silence on all this from the Presidential Candidates. Hey they are serving in the SENATE correct? Oh, I guess they are practicing for being don’t know, don’t care, don’t worry Presidents. I attended an National Academy of Science session-Disaster Roundtable last week and flatly stated by several speakers, Sacramento Valley Levees, and NYC could easily be worse than Katrina. And then of course the really big ones, like New Madrid or S.California Earthquakes, or worse WMD incident or event in major cities. Note the highlight that one of the reasons FEMA states it still is unprepared is various reorganizations. True Congress tried to freeze reorgs in the Post-Katrina Management Reform Act adopted in fall 2006 but prior to that all reorgs of FEMA including abandonment of its name were self-initiated after incorporation of DHS. By the way perhaps someone should ratify all official actions by “FEMA” from March 1, 2003 until March 1, 2007 when it was re-established by statutes. See katrina problems go away. They were all unauthorized since no such thing as “Color of Authority” in federal adminsitrative law. Either you have lawfully delegated or vested authority or you do not. Little v. Bareme, US Supreme Court 1803.

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