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FEMA Missing Disaster Plan Deadline

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast and inundated New Orleans and other Gulf cities, it was Mike Brown, then the head of FEMA who took the brunt of the criticism. Almost immediately, our emergency response efforts at all levels – local, state, and federal were scrutinized. First and foremost was the implication of the poor response was a requirement for much needed changes in our disaster planning and preparedness. The second was that the US needed a more reliable and redundant communications systems, including a better emergency warning system. If the country wasn’t able to deal with a natural disaster, what would occur in the event of another mass casualty terrorist attack?

After Katrina, FEMA updated the National Response Plan (May 25, 2006) and established a comprehensive all-hazards approach to enhance the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents incorporating incident management best practices and attempting to integrate the efforts of homeland security, emergency management, law enforcement, firefighting, public works, public health, responder and recovery worker health and safety, emergency medical services, and the private sector (see the January 2005 news release announcing the then “new” National Response Plan – nine months before Katrina flooded New Orleans).

Last week, FEMA announced that it was very likely going to miss the June 1st deadline for its new National Response Plan. Last year, the hurricane season was unexpectedly tame. Now, with the 2007 season bearing down on us, FEMA says that the development of the new plan had been delayed by unexpected issues, and more time is needed to resolve them. The real problem is that no new timetable was announced, leaving FEMA to implement the modified version of the pre-Katrina era.

"Every post-Katrina report cited the enormous flaws with the current national response plan, yet here we are six weeks until hurricane season and FEMA has once again dropped the ball," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "Failing to have a revised plan in place and relying solely on the previously failed one is irresponsible and unacceptable.

This follows a report last September (2006) that FEMA urban rescue teams were understaffed and unprepared.

Early predictions for 2007 are that the Caribbean will see greater than average activity , with the potential for a Gulf Coast strike of 49% (versus a normal of 30%). And it appears that FEMA isn’t ready.



One of the many problems that surfaced during the emergency operations of Hurrican Katrina was the lack of a unified mapping coordinate system. Even though the U.S. National Grid had been mandated for use by federal agencies several years earlier, it had not been applied by FEMA, nor was there any kind of coordination center set up to publish maps that all had the same coordinates. As a result, emergency responders often struggled to get to people in need when the normal landmarks and street signs had been washed away.

Unfortunately, nothing much has changed. Most State and local emergency responders still have not implemented the USNG, so when federal troops or State National Guard units show up for the next crisis, they'll be operating on an entirely different mapping grid system then local fire and PD units.

Jeff, thanks. Yes, a coordinated mapping system is one system flaw that remains. So, too, is interoperable communications systems, NIMS compliant emergency communications, and it seems, a "ready to respond" to any emergency (so-called, All Hazards Response) FEMA.

"Brownie" took most of the heat, but then, that does not answer why these unexpected issues have delayed a new NRP.

Preparedness and readiness is something that cannot and should not be taken lightly. There are people who are so concerned about a terrorist attack using CBRN's, and yet, our simple readiness level for a hurrican or other natural disaster is wanting.

I hope that one of my colleagues here pick up on this.