The new National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) , which was released last month is definitely a work in progress. And yet, exactly how far we have now come in general with respect to synchronizing planning and communications as we work to achieve national preparedness objectives including the NECP was apparent, for example, during the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s meeting earlier this week with FEMA and state and local representatives.
In a free-flowing, roundtable discussion, state and local representatives spoke directly to the full Commission along with FEMA Director David Paulison. Among the issues raised was the need for federal personnel to actually take part in large-scale drills and exercises. This sort of frank exchange was unimaginable a few years ago. Today, however, it is essential. Making the NECP a coherent and user-friendly plan in a short amount of time requires a serious effort from all stakeholders.
The NECP’s stated “milestones” illustrate just how little time they have.
The first milestone calls for a review of the DHS’ emergency communications capability framework within 18 months “during a series of technical working group meetings with stakeholders from the emergency response community.” Another requires the creation within 24 months of the new emergency communications capability framework, which will be incorporated as the communications and information management capability in the DHS/FEMA National Preparedness Guidelines/TCL. This will serve as a basis for future grant policies.
The very next initiative demands that “within 12 months, tactical planning among Federal, State, local, and tribal governments occurs at the regional interstate level.”
Consider these goals set forth by the NECP:
Goal 1: By 2010, 90 percent of all high-risk urban areas designated within the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) are able to demonstrate response-level emergency communications 3 within one hour for routine events involving multiple jurisdictions and agencies.
Goal 2: By 2011, 75 percent of non-UASI jurisdictions are able to demonstrate response-level emergency communications within one hour for routine events involving multiple jurisdictions and agencies.
Goal 3: By 2013, 75 percent of all jurisdictions are able to demonstrate response level emergency communications within three hours, in the event of a significant incident as outlined in national planning scenarios.
Progress toward the initial milestones appears to be underway already. According to the NECP, Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Groups (RECCWGs) are taking shape in each of the 10 FEMA regions, “to assess emergency communications capabilities within their respective regions, facilitate disaster preparedness through the promotion of multijurisdictional and multiagency emergency communications networks, and ensure activities are coordinated with all emergency communications stakeholders within the RECCWG’s specific FEMA region.”
The NECP makes no mention of how all this greater emphasis on regional coordination ties into the Task Force for Emergency Readiness (TFER), a new concept which has received considerable attention lately. This will have to be addressed by the DHS Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) as it fine tunes Communications Unit Leader (COML) training. OIC is charged with devising, “a tool for training (COMLs) and their command and general staff to perform the critical mission of managing interagency and cross-disciplinary communications during all hazards incidents.”
In the next 18 months, OIC must not only develop and disseminate “training program guidance and curricula for emergency communications technical staff,” but also provide, “educational and training opportunities to emergency response agencies per requests through technical assistance programs.”
Roy Jones, communications manager at the Maine Emergency Management Agency, offers an upbeat assessment of the NECP. “It is really good to have these deadlines. Some may be difficult to achieve, and others may need to be revised as with any plan. However, overall, they are reasonable and they reflect input from the stakeholders. This plan allows us to better see what is on the way and what everyone else is currently working on,” says Jones.
Yet deadlines are not the only source of pressure on the implementation of the NECP. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International stressed to Congress that motivation and organization can only get you so far.
During his testimony last month before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, APCO International Vice President Richard Mirgon asserted that if “the goals of the NECP are to be successful, the Administration and Congress must ensure the NECP and the interoperable emergency communications grant programs are fully funded.”
Peter J. Brown, a freelance writer from Maine, writes frequently about the role of satellite technology in disaster response and emergency management operations.