Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 17, 2009

PJB pushes RECCWGs to advance NECP

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Preparedness and Response,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2009

(Editorial note:  Yesterday Peter J. Brown posted the following as a comment to a post on the 2010 DHS Appropriations Conference report.  Without Peter’s permission, I am copying below the comment, in its entirety.  I have added a couple of  embedded online links.)

This is an appeal to all 10 FEMA regional coordinators to stand up and be counted.

While I agree that much time and energy has been devoted to standing up 4500 personnel under the current 3 CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRF), there is a valid need for a more agile and responsive force consisting of 10 smaller teams assigned to all 10 FEMA regions. In instances where a specific FEMA regional coordinator calls for additional support, any movement /mobilization of appropriate CBRNE response resources and manpower could accompany a broader EMAC activation in close coordination with HHS /CDC and other components.

However, beyond any CBRNE /CCMRF concerns, it might be a good idea for each of the Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Groups(RECCWGs) in each of the 10 FEMA regions to reflect upon the recommendations spelled out Page 61 of the GAO report last summer (see GAO-09-604 Emergency Communications).

Specifically, what is the status of the broad implementation of the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP), and, if bottlenecks or significant glitches are apparent, what is the impact? A year after the release of the NECP, how relevant and how workable are the milestones, for example?

Whereas this GAO report suggests that each region might want an update from DHS on the status of the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center (ECPC), and how the progress to date and intended outcome of the ECPC project helps or hinders efforts to implement NECP, perhaps the ECPC concept needs further scrutiny in light of overall progress to date on the NECP.

As DHS and FCC attempt to craft a “common vision” and “better collaborate on each agency’s emergency communications efforts” what exactly are the priorities and how do these match priorities at the local and state level in terms of overall planning and coordination efforts — again something that is relevant to the RECCWGs.

Finally, where the GAO recommends –

To help ensure that federal agencies and their communications assets are well-positioned to support state and local first responders in catastrophic disasters, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security provide guidance and technical assistance to federal agencies in developing formal emergency communications plans. These plans could include identifying how federal agencies’ communications resources and assets will support state and local first responders in a disaster. To help DHS and FCC enhance the value of stakeholder groups’ recommendations, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Chair of the Federal Communications Commission systematically track, assess, and respond to stakeholder groups’ recommendations, including identifying actions taken by the agencies in response to recommendations, whether recommendations are duplicative with past recommendations, and opportunities to work with other agencies, as appropriate, to advance recommendations.

Perhaps, given all the time spent on this and related topics to date, the time has come for the RECCWGs in the 10 regions to be empowered to act as one and emerge as a logical overseer of this process. In other words, rather than sitting on the receiving end of the outcome, the RECCWGs could speed the process by setting out what exactly is needed at this point, and set a realistic timetable as well. As end user representatives rather than providers, the RECCWGs are in a good position to take realistic look at where this is all leading, what has been accomplished to date, and how the vendor-driven and real world environment could benefit from the activities in question.

I do not want to sound as if I do not see the value of an NPD task force like the one described here, but at the same time simply from a confidence-building standpoint, I cringe when I hear that another task force of such an immense scope may be forming up to do nothing more than critique the entire national preparedness and response apparatus that has been taking shape during this decade. We should, at this point, be devoting time and energy to a more productive exercise.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 17, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

Just noting for the record that FEMA throughout its history and now DHS and its related components have tried to and have spent mucho dinaro to upgrade STATE and local communications and their reliabiltiy and interoperability and redundancy. Because neither FEMA nor DHS has any standard setting or regulatory authority in the communications areana even with the NCS now part of DHS [housed I believe in the NP&PD (National Protection & Programs Directorate) under Rand Beer that system [see EO 12472 and 47 CRF Parts 201-212) have not accomplished that mission. Firemen died at the WTC on 9/11 because they failed to receive the evacuate message applicable to all first responders although police largely did evacuate. In many ways federal, state, and local policy is to make the FIRE SERVICE the canaries of the system as far as hazards and their identification and appropriate response. Guess the free market that so many seem to want is built in part on lack of communiciations capability.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 17, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

Just to absolutely clear in my comments on this post. Guidance and technical assistance and funding are NOT substitutes for standard setting and regulations.

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