Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2009

Mr. Manning’s message (and my meaning-making)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 30, 2009

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs met this morning to consider the nomination of Timothy Manning as FEMA Deputy Administrator for National Preparedness. 

The following is a real-time report, but due to technical difficulties is being posted after the hearing’s conclusion.  Prepared testimony should eventually be found on the Committee’s website.

In Chairman Lieberman’s opening, he emphasizes the value of linking preparedness with mitigation, response, and recovery.  He highlights the fundamental role of prevention and protection in the strategic continuum of homeland security.

In his brief opening statement, Mr. Manning says, “I believe a strong and resilient nation can only be built on a solid foundation of preparedness. I believe that through strong partnerships; between cities, counties, States, and territories, tribal governments, the federal government, the private sector and — most importantly — the American people, this is achievable.  Through a collaborative, joint process of doctrine development and implementation across all levels of government, and the furtherance of community resilience and readiness, we can overcome the missteps of the past, and the mistrust between partners that has developed in places.”  (He said it slightly differently, I am not sure about “doctrine development”  but this is pretty close.)

These two sentences are worth the kind of analysis, parsing, unpacking, and even hypter-texting that has been given the Nicene Creed.   Like the Nicene Creed, it may signal an effort to organize a capable but very diverse movement around core principles.

The Chairman follows-up with an inquiry about the Committee’s commitment to rejoining preparedness with response.  He asks, “What will you do to strengthen FEMA and especially the role of preparedness?”  Mr. Manning emphasizes that preparedness “transcends” the traditional boundaries of emergency management.  Preparedness needs to be built-into every aspect of emergency management and the homeland security disciplines.

The Chairman asks, “What is the role of the National Preparedness Directorate?”  Mr. Manning responds that it is a “peace-time activity, if you will,” that prepares professionals to 1) look past the current crisis for lessons-learned and principles to apply in the future, 2) works with responders to be better prepared for tomorrow’s threats, and 3) assumes and advocates that we are all emergency managers.  I understand that “all” to include all homeland security disciplines and the general citizenry.  But Mr Manning was not explicit in this regard.

In reference to the swine flu crisis  — then self-corrected to  H1N1 — the Chairman asks, what is the role of FEMA in managing the unfolding situation.  Mr. Manning responds that the Preparedness Directorate should match state, local, tribal and private sector partners with expertise to implement policy, strategy, and plans; as well as look at implications for the next crisis.

Senator Akaka points toward the H1N1 virus and hurricane threats, and the FEMA vacancy rate as priorities.  He then asks about how FEMA can better respond to a geographically isolated jurisdiction, such as Hawaii. Mr. Manning responds by emphasizing the FEMA role to support State and local leadership, especially through education, training, and upfront logistics planning and pre-deployment.

Senator Akaka asks about emergency preparedness plans and pandemic plans.  Mr. Manning responds that because of  investments in planning and training over the last several years we are better prepared for the pandemic threat than may be the case for any other foreseeable risk.  He also emphasizes the role of measurement in assessing how prior plans are being implemented now.  Honest  measurement and accountability will enhance readiness for dealing with future risks.

The Chairman follows-up with a question about the National Exercise Program.  He perceives the Program is not fulfilling its potential.  How can after-action and corrective-action be improved? Mr. Manning states that the evaluation phase of an exercise is what is most important.  He outlines the need for a consistent two-phase process:  a quick , meaningful flash assessment followed by a more complete and detailed full assessment.

(Full Disclosure: I consider Tim Manning a friend. In a profound disability for a blogger, I am inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt and this is especially my stance with friends.  But Tim and I occasionally differ — imagine that — and I will endeavor to engage in a rigorous appreciative inquiry regarding his leadership of a FEMA function that I consider critically important and too often neglected.)

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 30, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

As stated previously on this blog I think T.Manning is very highly qualified for his post. Now that I know Phil P. is a friend I can expect his normal ruthless efforts to root out any sympathy or emphathy for Mr. Manning in performing his job. Just joking.

One of the toughest tasks for the head of Preparedness in FEMA is delivering the “bad” news and given the old saw about messengers doing that I think with Craig Fugate, Tom is not likely to lose his head when he does that. The toughest task is developing systems and processes that can be mobilized beyond the planning basis to deal with the unexpected and developing verification systems to ensure that “It can and will be done.” This is a very very tough job so good luck with that. Not sure what Senator Lieberman was pushing with his manipulation of the preparedness function into prevention. What exactly is the portfolio of Mr. Manning in the “new” FEMA? Hoping a highly specific list including staffing and funding is made available by FEMA soon. Perhaps showing some bias, during my 20 years in FEMA there seemed to be higher educational levels in the Preparedness function and programs but perhaps that was just my viewpoint. The bottom line is that the skill and derring of the Preparedness leadership has to always withstand the audit of real world events and shortfalls. So design systems that can be expanded on and are resilient.

Comment by Quin

April 30, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

I’m going completely off your comments but I hope he comes to see that while its great to get out a flash assessment of these exercises, far, far more important is having a place for this information to “land”. It is essential that FEMA finally create, and learn to use, a doctrine driven culture that is functional and able to accept lessons learned. The hardest part is taking the lessons learned and putting that information in a usuable format that can be easily accessed and integrated with previous knowledge and then personnel have to be trained to use it and rely on it. And it applies to all phases of a disaster, and in fact may be of even more importance, long term, when used to support recovery efforts rather then the more familiar arena of response.

Ultimately the key is to convert these lessons into tactical success, what DoD would call tactics, techniques and procedures. By creating such an organization, it allows decentralized decision making, while still remaining consistent amongst the entire agency. By pushing decisionmaking to lower levels, it speeds up decisions, be it for mitigation, response, (where its easier to find) or recovery where it’s sorely missing. These lessons have to find their way into FEMA’s policies, directives, manuals and insturctions. FEMA then has to learn to teach from this doctrine and employ it consistantly across regions and disasters.

It also provides the truely scalable structure that might finally allow FEMA to expand quickly to handle the largest disasters. Only this allows large scale training efforts to accept the influx of new arrivals, and to refresh the training of current employees. Only by having a process driven system where individuals have the latitude to make decisions at the lowest possible levels can you address large scale disasters, but they can only do that if they are well trained off the same common concepts. Only with this common starting point can leaders create the sense of trust in subordinates to make decisions on their own with a reasonable expectation their decisions will follow their intentions, and agency policy (what DoD might call commander’s intent). These exercises are only the first step. Without the doctrinal home and culture to follow, their lessons learned won’t be permanently ingrained in the institutional knowledge of the organization.

I’ve referred several times to DoD, where I received my first government service, and it has the advantage of having doctrine that can trace itself back hundreds of years or longer (the modern logistics system can be traced to 16 or 17th century France for instance). But pure adoption of DoD doctrinal practices is not the complete answer. For instance the new Integrated Planning Guidance (IPS) almost completely follows the standard military planning model, but it completely fails to account for mitigation in its process. So while its a great place to start, and raid for ideas, its not a complete panacea to what ails.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 1, 2009 @ 9:50 pm

Some historians credit Alexander the Great with skilful but of course not always successful logistics largely by staying close enough for shipping to support his land warfare. The Greeks were amazingly adept at combined ops.

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