Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Domestic Civil Emergency Preparedness Capability of the US

Do you ever wonder what the actual state of Emergency Preparedness is today in the civil sector of the US? We do get periodic reports from DHS/OIG and GAO on slices and dices of that capability. And of course we also get periodic audits by actual events! I would include Tropical Storm Agnes (1972)Hurricane Andrew (1992), Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the current BP OIL CATASTROPHE in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1976, the Senate Special Committee headed by Frank Church not only reviewed INTEL ops and Constitutional issues, national emergency powers, but at least set out an architecture for examing the state of Emergency Preparedness in the US. In Senate Report 94-922 they outlined that architecture but declined to give an overall or specific grade on Emergency Preparedness in the US. An extract of that report is available from this blogger. Its discussion of the merits of planning as an element of preparedness is worth the read.
As to the status of the federal efforts at Emergency Preparedness, the Joint Committee on Defense Production which had operated since the Korean War sent out a comprehensive survey instrument to all federal components in part to react to what was becoming the pressing issue of federal coordination and collaboration that led in part to the formation of FEMA under Reorganization Plan No. 3 in June 1978, implemented in 1979 by President Carter. My documentation of that effort was carefully left behind in FEMA in several places but I understand that the destruction of the FEMA library means most of that effort to "preserve the dead sea scrolls" has failed. Perhaps the CRS of Library of Congress can still find those items.
A very interesting effort was launched in 1988 by Director Julius Becton to determine FEMA's actual capability in a range of emergency situations. Led by Dr. John Powers, PhD, this produced a classified and unclassified report that IMO was the best staff effort in the 20 years I worked in FEMA. I am grateful to that effort for pulling together much of what I know about a number of the components in the first decade of FEMA's existence, a period in which my time was largely devoted to defending FEMA in litigation and administrative hearings over nuclear power issues before NRC tribunals. I am just now attempting to make some of that documentation available to researchers now.

Where is this post going? Well it is long since time when perhaps with a joint effort of GAO and DHS/OIG the actual civil capability of the federal government in emergencies be reviewed and analyzed. This is not a one-year effort and would be both expensive and time intensive. But the starting point should be a literature search of their excellent reports over the last several decades and documentation of what is and what isn't. That step should be staff intensive but gathering of the key reports and their analysis at least has the benefit of being largely a paper process and does not require field audits. Those could follow later.

What we do know is that the big four issues of 1) response to catstrophic environmental events; 2) response to catastrophic radiological events; 3) response to catastrophic WMD events; and finally response to 4) catastrophic natural (including disease and pandemics) events all indicate currently major deficiencies even when the full assets of DOD are included. Clearly some of these items are interrelated and the permutations and combinations of events, concurrent and otherwise must be also examined.

Also what we do know from the very very limited analysis FEMA has conducted of STATE and LOCAL capability is that there are major deficiences.

I would argue that the failure to have documented in a coherent and consistent fashion the NATIONAL capability is a serious defect in the governance process for our democracy (Republic) and in particular for the world's oldest and richest democracy.

Hoping this will occur.