Sunday, August 29, 2010

What is a Catastrophe?

Section 602 of PKEMA 2006 defines the following in subsection (4):

"(4) the term ‘‘catastrophic incident’’ means any natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster that results in extraordinary levels of casualties or damage or disruption severely affecting the population (including mass evacuations), infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, or government functions in an area;"

Well attempts to deal with catastrophic situations and scenarios is one area in which I complement the Bush Administration. FEMA was statutorily prohibited from "catstrophic" or "worst case" planning to some degree by the President's Reorganization Plan No. 3. of 1978. That this conflicted with FEMA's delegated statutory authority just reflects again on the poor legal efforts mounted during the run-up to implementation of that plan. Note I was part of that but only in the sense that the words of the plan itself were never shown to all the members of the legal team until the very very last moment before its release to Congress. PKEMA 2006 also outlines a National Preparedness System so perhaps that and the HOMELAND SECURITY ACT of 2002 can safely be assumed to void that plan in its entirety including the planning restriction.

Since as readers of this blog know, there is no domestic civil crisis management system or chain of command, and the Stafford Act does not create such a system or chain of command, nor is a comprehensive all-hazards statute, the efforts of the Bush Administration to deal with 15 catastrophic scenarios later consolidated into eight at least attempted to draw attention to what situations/incidents/events were so beyond the normal domestic response sysem capability that they required new paradigms to deal with them.

My own definition of "catastrophic Event" is slightly different than the above. MINE WOULD READ: Wherever governmental operations are disrupted or the incident/event precludes those operations, and/or the event involves multiple geographically dispersed areas beyond the boundries or one state, and/or federal, state, and local existing EM capability is exceeded then the event can be assumed to be catastrophic in its consequences and should be considered as such for all response mechanisms and responders involved!

Thus capabilities must be closely analyzed in advance to determine rapidly whether my definition is triggered. The failure to document closely the actual existing response capability of federal departments and agencies, state and local capability and private capabilities including NGO's means that my definition cannot in fact operate. It is only determined as a condition subsequent to the determination of capability. Thus, efforts to mandate or review plans under documents like CPG-101 as a largely paper audit are worthless. Instead like the military, these capabilities must be continuously update, and verified and reported 24/7 and 365 days a year. FEMA has no capability now to determine such capabilties even though they are mandated by statute to do so. This is the key deficiency in the way FEMA is organized and operated today and has been since its creation and beginning of operations on April 1, 1979.

So I series of posts will follow analyzing federal, state, and local actual capability but first their will be discussion of newly created offices and organizations in FEMA since PKEMA 2006 and DHS generally. Perhaps the NATIONAL RESPONSE COORDINATION CENTER in FEMA and the NATIONAL OPERATIONS CENTER in DHS would be a good starting point. Both of these organizations were created or mandated under various statutes. More to follow! And as always just want noted that NO regulated industry is involved in the original 15 catastrophic scenarios, which perhaps indicated a pernicious absence of willingness to deal with the problems created by regulate technology, such as off-shore drilling. As I have asked before what if the BP Catastrophe had been triggered by terrorist attack? Such an attack did occur in Kuwait prior to Desert Storm precipitated by a nation-state, IRAQ under Saddam Hussein.