Above is a fuzzy capture of an illustration from page 7 of a GAO PowerPoint entitled, “FEMA has made limited progress in efforts to develop a system to assess national preparedness efforts.” The original can be found at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1151r.pdf. The briefing was part of a GAO presentation to Congress on October 29.
Loyal readers and regular commentators have asked for this graphic to be published here for discussion.
I have had no prior engagement with the GAO report or this particular graphic. The GAO report provides no commentary on the graphic. To start the discussion, I will offer my interpretation of the graphic.
The more intense an incident in time and space, the more quickly and broadly a capabilities gap emerges in responding to the incident. In a major disaster or catastrophe local response capabilities are quickly overwhelmed. An especially intense incident will significantly diminish local response capabilities before state and federal capabilities can be applied. Time is required for non-local capabilities to be operationalized. The capability requirements of an intense incident — interacting with the temporal delay in surging state and federal resources — creates a capability gap. Over time this gap can be closed by increased application of federal, state, and local resources.
I have intended to engage the graphic affirmatively. Two readers with profound experience in this domain have already signaled considerable concern with the graphic. I do not expect my interpretation to alleviate those concerns.
Even given my affirmative interpretation, I will offer three critiques:
1. There is no attention to private sector capability and resources. The more intense the incident the more important will be private sector capability.
2. The graphic implies that given sufficient time public sector resources can be surged to fill the gap. In most cases this is probably true. But it is important to acknowledge that in some incidents the gap will persist.
3. Especially for consideration of preparedness, the graphic reinforces a tendency to view preparedness as being prepared to respond. Preparedness gaps will continue to grow if we continue to frame the issue primarily in being ready-to-respond.
Now I will stand aside for more fundamental critiques and/or further explanation.