During this morning’s nomination hearing Mr. Fugate and the Senators joined in ritual obeisance to the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act. The Senators — as authors of the act — pointed to the sacred text and Mr. Fugate promised fealty to the sacred text. The ritualistic nature of the performance does not distract from its value or meaning; for me it enhances the meaning.
The hearing’s headline will be FEMA to Stay in DHS. But the shared understanding of what FEMA will do inside DHS is more interesting. Here is what the sacred text says is FEMA’s mission:
(1) lead the Nation’s efforts to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the risks of natural and man-made disasters, including catastrophic incidents;
(2) partner with State and local governments and emergency response providers, with other Federal agencies, with the private sector, and with nongovernmental organizations to build a national system of emergency management that can effectively and efficiently utilize the full measure of the Nation’s resources to respond to a catastrophic incident or other natural or man-made disaster;
(3) develop a Federal response capability that, when necessary and appropriate, can act effectively and rapidly to deliver assistance essential to saving lives or protecting or preserving property or public health and safety in a natural or man-made disaster;
(4) fuse the Department’s emergency response, preparedness, recovery, mitigation, and critical infrastructure assets into an integrated organization that can effectively confront the challenges of a natural or man-made disaster;
(5) develop and maintain robust Regional Offices that will work with State and local governments and emergency response providers to identify and address regional priorities;
(6) under the leadership of the Secretary, coordinate with the Commandant of the Coast Guard, the Director of Customs and Border Protection, the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Operations Center, and other agencies and offices in the Department to take full advantage of the substantial range of resources in the Department that can be brought to bear in preparing for and responding to a natural or man-made disaster;
(7) carry out the provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.);
(8) provide funding, training, exercises, technical assistance, planning, and other assistance to build local, State, regional, and national capabilities (including communications capabilities), necessary to respond to a potential natural or man-made disaster;
(9) implement a risk-based, all-hazards-plus strategy for preparedness that builds those common capabilities necessary to respond to both terrorist attacks and natural disasters while also building the unique capabilities necessary to respond to specific types of incidents that pose the greatest risk to our Nation; and
(10) promote and plan for the protection, security, resiliency, and postdisaster restoration of critical infrastructure and key resources of the United States, including cyber and communications assets, against or in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, in coordination with other agencies of the Federal Government and in cooperation with State and local government agencies and authorities, the private sector, and other entities.
The response, preparing-to-respond, recovery, and preparing-to-recover focus of the legislative decalogue is undeniable. By mission assignment number 10 we might discern some attention to prevention, but not much. (Is it just me or does the word “mitigate” in mission assignment number 1 seem thrown in at the last moment?)
Mr. Fugate seemed entirely comfortable with these preparedeness, response, and recovery expectations. He is insistent regarding his focus on preparing for the next disaster.
When asked about internal morale, bureacracy, or other possible problems, Mr. Fugate was inclined to repeat what I expect will become the mantra of his tenure, “Are we ready for the next disaster?” If other questions are suggested, they will probably be dismissed as distractions.
There is a need for an effective and focused federal response and recovery agency. Fugate may be the leader who will make FEMA do the job wisely and well. He is going to have the chance. But what about prevention and mitigaton? What about recognizing risk in advance and investing in risk reduction before a disaster? What about serious and sustained attention to mitigation and resilience?
EDITORIAL NOTE: Please access — and contribute to — the comments on this post. They are extending the discussion in some very important directions.
UPDATE: Coverage of the nomination hearing by the Congressional Quarterly, Miami Herald, and Associated Press.