A running commentary about the relative merits of response planning has been going on for several weeks on a blog that I frequently post comments on their posts. This dialectic has concerned federal response planning and plans and their merits for catastrophic events.
At the moment of course, at least superficially, the federal government's response to the BP oil spill has been under the NCP [National Contingency Plan} published by the EPA at 40 CFR Part 300.
A partially complete chart on civil response planning back to the Cold War and 1964 is available from this blogger. It has never been finalized because no buyer could ever be found but many have used it and like it.
The history of the current National Response Framework is available elsewhere but perhaps this post will help illuminate that history.
First, the statutory scheme that first mandated creation of a federal response plan was the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 which was enacted in anticipation that earthquakes could be predicted and of course that is still in the future if ever. As the physicists take over from the seismologist (largely statisticians) because deep earth sensing of magma flows gets more and more accurate each year and computers improve perhaps some day the hope of accurate prediction of earthquakes will occur. The world of science and engineering however is not there yet. It took until 1987 for that federal castrophic earthquake response plan to be finalized and unusually for a plan it was actually published in the Federal Register.
Upon the arrival of James Lee Witt as Director of FEMA, confirmed in April 1993 by the Senate, he immediately faced the prospect of major flooding in the upper mid-west. He also was witness to the first WTC attack in February 1993.
After the floods of that summer and the slowdown of activity he was sent various decision papers by program officials.
One of those decision papers was dated September 3, 1993, and concerned Integration of the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan (FRERP) and the FEDERAL RESPONSE PLAN first issued in May 1992. The program officials in the STATE and LOCAL PROGRAMS and SUPPORT Directorate unanimously supported this merger. Because different signatories and purposes existed at this point in time there was no other INTRA-AGENCY or INTER-AGENCY consent to this merger. None-the-less it was to be approved by Director Witt [Sepetember 5, 1993] and the merger concept had a life of its own.
In fact as of today the two concepts of the NFR and the FRERP have not yet been melded into a single concept. ESF-11 HAZMATS is the briding document between the two but their are niceities that EMERGENCY MANAGERS at all levels of government and private entities must in fact be aware of to do their jobs when the event involves contamination from radioactive materials.
What is important to note is that the HOMELAND SECURITY STRATEGY OF 2002 [JULY 6th], the Homeland Security Act of 2002 [November 25, 2002] and HSPD-5 [February 28, 2003] all also called for the merger of those two documents and other documents including the NCP currently being used in the BP OIL SPILL event.
Typically, the National Response Framework is utilized during a declaration of Disaster or Emergency pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. There has been no such declaration yet in the BP oil spill but interestingly the current NCP does contemplate a declaration at some point. I have advocated at least an EMERGENCY declaration but it appears that the WH dialectic is that BP will and can pay all damages and all victims "legitimately" impacted by that event. According to Reuters BP has now passed the $2B mark in its response efforts so far [Does that include lobbyist and publicists for BP?] and has self-identified a need to raise $50B fast. Partially by sales of assets, partially by bond issues, and by other means.
Those reading the disaster law might intially believe that an EMERGENCY declaration is statutorily capped at the amount of $5M but in fact that statute is just a reporting to Congress requirement and not a report and wait statutory scheme. Perhaps trickery is whether the approximately $1B in hazard mitigation funding obligated but not expended in the Gulf states from past hurricanes could be utilized to prevent and protect from further damages. The DRF [Disaster Relief Fund} is currently out of money but a $5.1 Billion supplemental is pending [opposed oddly by the Republicans] and of uncertain status. The bottom line is that the Republican Governors of the Gulf states have been convinced by their own party leaders to NOT repeat NOT request a disaster or emergency declaration. So at this point while the Administration pretends that BP will cover all cost [just as it pretends their is a functioning government in Haiti] legitimate claims are being processed but very very slowly. So my guess is that rather than smoothing the process for citizens and those residing in the Gulf states this travesty will continue even perhaps to Labor Day.
Time will tell.