Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 20, 2008

DHS Promotes DIY for Hurricane Prep

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Jonah Czerwinski on May 20, 2008

Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff and FEMA Administrator Paulison sat down yesterday with HLSwatch.com, Rich Cooper of SecurityDebrief, and John Solomon of In Case of Emergency Blog to discuss the Department’s preparedness efforts as hurricane season approaches. The dominant theme was devolution: states and individuals can and should do a lot more to prepare themselves for emergencies and to manage for the first 72 hours without federal support if necessary.

A lot was learned from Hurricane Katrina in which local and state response capabilities were overwhelmed and the federal government was caught flat footed. Paulison explained yesterday that the previous framework wherein the state would respond after the local authorities failed, and then the federal government would engage only after the states failed was proven to be flawed.

The new paradigm gets the Feds involved from the outset, but within limits. Moreover, DHS now expects states and individuals to do a lot more for themselves than was previously expected of them. For example, individuals are expected to self-select out of the government support efforts if they can help themselves. We heard the Secretary recap situations when people in Louisiana and Florida lined up for emergency food and water supplies from FEMA when they had the money and means to go to the open grocery stores and buy it for themselves.

Chertoff probably didn’t mean to imply that these hurricane victims were exploiting the government selfishly. This phenomenon may actually reflect a type of information vacuum. We did not discuss in detail the sort of communications efforts that may inform victims that other options exist than FEMA’s free supplies.

We did discuss another information/communications program that Chertoff and Paulison believe should be shouldered by the states. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) was piloted by DHS last year as a means of delivering warning and emergency response information to blind and deaf people in areas endangered by hurricanes. The program was praised, but when the pilot ended the Department did not re-up the contract. This is the responsibility of the states, according to DHS. At a cost of roughly $1 million per year per state, Chertoff suggested this was minimal for states to pay given the obvious benefits of the program. I think he’s right.

Of course, the feds have a significant responsibility in helping to minimize the impact of natural disasters. There are some things DHS just can’t devolve to states and demand of individuals. Paulison described the “prescripted mission assignments” that DHS, Defense, and other agencies drafted to preload authorities and responsibilities for more timely federal engagement in emergency response. The Department also lined up pre-signed contracts with private sector entities to provide supplies where needed. For example, Home Depot could deliver water from one of its nearly 2000 locations, likely to be closely positioned to a crisis zone.

There is no question that emergency response and preparedness are the responsibilities of the federal government, states, and individuals. Clearly a lesson this DHS leadership learned from Katrina was that states and individuals can do a lot more the next time around. Its also clear that the Administration that presided over the Katrina response is going to have a difficult time communicating a “do-it-yourself” strategy. Fortunately, the kinds of proposals we heard yesterday are not a stretch. Encouraging the capable to get out of line for a handout so that FEMA can focus on the truly needy is an American value that just about anybody will embrace. Let’s hope the message isn’t overshadowed by the messenger.

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2 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 20, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

Sounds like an interesting session and clearly Secretary Chertoff wanted to run the flag up on several major issues and see how it flies. First, the FCC held a very very major public hearing yesterday on EAS and public warning. Most of the real work is subject to FCC regulation and the states have no real role. So devolution of IPAWS is hokum. FEMA used to fund the PEP’s (Primary Entry Points) in the former EBS system now called EAS (see 47 CFR part 11, and also Parts 201-212. Communications is a basic federal responsibilty and just imagine States oversight of 911 systems and where that has led. Often 911 calls not even answered. Nonetheless good to get everyone talking and good to follow up on the Partnership for Public Warnings 2004 excellent National Warning Strategy report. It is interesting that in the most recent contractor conducted review of State level emergency plans (an remember paper plans don’t even start to reflect real capability such as 24/7 ops for several weeks) using a 12 year old blueprint that was politically compromised by the states even when developed in 1996 (specifically SLG 101) which superceded more onerous and more specific civil defense guidance, in that recent survey 50%of the STATES flunked cold. Interestingly, the contractor survey for whatever reason did not utilize in the review Attachment G to SLG 101 developed by ANL (Argonne National Lab) and fully coordinated throughout the federal community, and the failure was probably premised on the fact that that terrorism specific attachment might have flunked another 40% of the States. So who is kidding who? The States are not first responders, have inadequate mobilization doctrines and resources and if they have to go the first 3 weeks on their own which is likely in a WMD event they are up the creek without a paddle. Even the organization of the STATES is absurd. Just a superficial review of STATE Emergency Management Organizations such as that done by NEMA (National Emergency Management Association) reveals that many of the STATES actually have state Adjutant General’s (National Guard) in charge while their troops are deployed internationally, or even in STATES like Michigan and New Jersey the STATE POLICE. Come on the Lt. Governor in each state should be the lead for Emergency Management and Homeland Security and given something substantive to do instead of preening to be the next governor. By the way JHSEM (Journal of< Homeland Security and Emergency Management) just published a good little article on STATE Attorney Generals and their role in HS. Hope face time with the bloggers by the Secretary continues in the future.

Comment by christopher tingus, Harwich, Cape Cod, MA

May 21, 2008 @ 8:57 am

Let’s face it…the States and local communities are unprepared and the pervaded politics that adheres to nearly every decision makes it impossible to establish and maintain any real preparedness plan of any duration even with the best intention.

We could not handle Katrina or this season’s Katrina whether democratic or republican administration and we certainly all expect that we will fail again in preparedness for the next hurricane to strike, never mind anything of more substance.

DHS Chertoff taking the lead from Senators who I saw actually breaking down in tears on the floor of Congress when learning of their 76 year-old Ted Kennedy diagnosed with an unfortunate medical condition, com’on I never saw one of these Senators crying at the podium over the death and destruction of New Orleans….We are so tired of the good ‘ol boy network and their lack of genuine, innovative, and compassionate commitment watching every dollar in expenditure to help us, not the special interest groups…

Yes, William Cumming, you are on the right track. Your commentary and perspective is very much appreciated.

Unfortunately, with my background as a city planner and international business development and quite involved on a personal level with our esteemed police, firefighters and EMT’s as our first responders and their reuirements, given a more substantive terrorist scenario fro instance, this citizen and many like him see what has taken place thus far, read your astute commentary and unless someone becomes quite serious and in timely fashion at as time when this country is at war with those who seek our demise and let no one think otherwise, many of us will not last a week given a calamity as the US Senate, the “multi-millionaire club of good ‘ol boys” as I refer to it, don’t even know the cost of a half gallon of milk, never mind how to place their personal agendas aside and account for every dollar of this country’s expenditures.

Our Congressional members can weep for their colleagues, who by the way have been in office far too long with limitations of service required, yet it is time they professionally address the Department of Homeland Security and fund, train and give all the tools necessary to protect this great nation and put a halt on all this bureaucratic waste.

We have great agencies like the CIA asw ell as the folks at NSA, the FBI and other similar agencies who are committed, however what we the citizenry need are those entrusted by our vote to get the job done and Katrina portrayed their failures and from what I perceive and so many others do is the bottom line, the democrats and republicans fight each other for their power of office, however have lost their ability to see past their own agendas leaving us to fend for ourselves.

Unfortunately, many, many will perish because we placed confidence in those seeking our vote and they became too busy with themselves to care…

Yes, hurricane season will be here very soon. We have had a record year of tornados.

While I have been an advocate for replacement of all homes with new cost-eefective, environmentally-friendly (green) technology affording more wind resistent support of homes and suggesting safe rooms in homes especially w/no basements, in my representing subject construction rebuilding industry experts an approaching government officials only to hear not even a whisper of interest in learning more about technology which would in fact save lives.

On Cape Cod, we cannot even get a competitive bid among a list of insurance brokers for our house insurance which has skyrocketed even though we have not seen a hurricane of any substance for decades. I placed a fifty year roof with higher wind resistence on my home and my insurance company could care by showing a diminished annual policy cost. Look at the property owners in Florida who had to sell their homes because of spiralling insurance premiums, neither the government or the insurers give a damn other than their own pockets and we understand that whatever administration prevails, we are on our own other than being Blessed with first responders (police, firefighters and EMT’s – our heros) who will respond whenever possible no matter the disaster, however, many of us as the citizenry that comprises this great nation, fear for their safety as they are not afforded the tools and comprehensive training that they will be faced with when – not if – when we must deal as a nation with a calamity.

When referring to our government and an agency like DHS and FEMA, the bureaucracy is so apparent and while many within the agency are committed individuals, until our Congressional members get outr of their own way and truly address the seriousness of this issues confronting us whether the next hurricane or unfortunately worse, we are pretty much on our own and I remind all that food for our families will only be available for three days in a calamity if at all and this government has failed to even make easy to store with considerable shelf life – meals ready to eat in packet form – available to every home in America as the basis of DHS preparedness, never mind anything else such as designating each community to have disaster shelters fully stocked so that we know where we can go – to the local high school – where our police heros can protect us and we will have adequate accomodations…

We cannot even maintain the basics of emergency response….

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA

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