Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 16, 2008

Quick Pace, Ambitious Goals Set for National Emergency Communications Plan

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS — by Peter J. Brown on August 16, 2008

~Guest Post~

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.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 16, 2008 @ 11:08 am

Obviously the major theme of this post is the NECP! Before discussing that item it is important that Mr. Brown comment on federal personnel participation in full-scale exercises not be overlooked. The last full-scale exercise involving federal personnel in the FRERP (despite its continued separate status from the NRF) was Zion Nuclear Power station in 1986. This is a travesty. The cancellation of FFE-3 by James Lee Witt in April 1993 was a critical failure. Nuclear power is a difficult technology that deserves the best efforts of the regulators. After the Seabrook Administrative and federal court litigation determined that FEMA did NOT determine the radiological risk but that remained the function of the NRC, the close integration of the radiological response and recovery must be upgraded. In fact, NRC should consider a rulemakeing limiting its off-site exercises and FEMA findings to the radiological preparedness, response and recovery. There is no need to test or Verify (as the NRC regulations state at 10 CFR Part 50 Appendix E) the offsite capability that is unrelated to radiological preparedness, response and recovery. Then also FEMA needs to have health physicists on staff and trained to assist Stat and local governments in issuance of PARs (Protective Action Recommendations) to the public. This of course leads us back to the NECP.

The FCC is trying to upgrade its emergency communications effort post 9/11. Time for FEMA to do the same. It should be giving block grants to State and local governments for communications including resiliency, interoperability, and exercising 24/7 capability. There should be a senior civil servant in each FEMA region whose entire effort is devoted to communications issues. Once the ARMY support for FEMA communications was pulled out in the early 80’s the entire system went through a catastrophic downgrade that has never been rebuilt. FEMA is relied upon by the White House for effective communications with the governors so that the President can perform his Chief Executive Civil functions. How about a no-notice test of how fast each of the governors can be reached by the President? Also the states need to grow up. They keep approving new kinds of subordinate governmental units, now over 90,000, there is no way this unwieldy mass of jurisdictions can be made into a coherent communications system, much less emergency management. The Japanese have recently started a program to end the status of small units of government that have NO professional staff, NO capability to do much of anything, and almost NO people. Perhaps all muncipal and county governments that are contiguous should be merged into one. Battle Creek, Michigan as an example did this under corporate pressure in the early 80’s (Kellog). If you really want to reduce governmental costs, reduce the number of adminstrative units. And of course by the way, a Constitutional amendment allowing realignment of STATE boundries might also be useful. California might be three states and thus no longer be able to black mail the entire country with its stupidity. By the way California unlike NY has yet to mandate common fire fighting hookups statewide. Just an example.

Here is to NECP finally being a driver on reform.

Comment by Justin Kates

August 16, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

Specifically with the COML training, it should be interesting to see how it evolves as these deadlines near. I just took the COML training by DHS in Kansas City during the APCO conference and was very pleased with its structure and material. I think training like this is the other half to the interoperability issues that the NECP is really focusing on.

Best Regards,
Justin Kates
Delaware Emergency Management Agency

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