Heritage.org recently published a piece outlining the top four homeland security priorities for the next administration, which can be found here. It’s a thought provoking article that certainly identifies some important issues. In the same spirit, I’d like to offer what I think are the emergency management priorities for the next administration.
1) Support an Effective FEMA Organizational Model
The Heritage.org model pointed out several issues with the DHS organization that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. I’d like to add some FEMA-specific items to their suggestions, regardless of if FEMA is kept within DHS or not (honestly, I think that ship has sailed and FEMA is there to stay).
In building a bit of background for this article, I took a look at FEMA’s current strategic plan, knowing that the document already identifies some of their priorities. Within in that list of priorities, they mention mission and program delivery, becoming an expeditionary organization, posturing and building capability for catastrophic disasters, and strengthening their organizational foundation. To me, these four all directly relate to their organizational model.
Along with having a strong central administration of programs, FEMA needs to have agility in their program delivery. This is best accomplished through the FEMA regional offices, which act as an extension of the ‘central administration’ by coordinating directly with states and neighboring regions to apply those programs in the best possible manner within the guidelines of the program. While this is currently performed, it is not performed to the greatest extent possible. John Fass Morton provides some great perspective on this approach in his book ‘Next-Generation Homeland Security’. Info on the book can be found here.
2) Bolster Risk Reduction Programs
I write often about preparedness, as that has always been a focus of my career. Risk reduction, however, is essential to eliminating or reducing the impacts of hazards on communities. Risk reduction includes all aspects of hazard mitigation and resilience, which are ideally applied at the local level but supported by state and federal programs, policies, and resources.
While the National Weather Service has implemented and promoted the StormReady program, which encourages community resilience, the best program we have ever had in our field is Project Impact. I’d love to see a revival of Project Impact (call it that or something else – I don’t really care), incorporating the concepts of StormReady as well as other best practices in risk reduction. A big part of this program MUST be incentivization, especially access to funds that can be applied for in the present for hazard mitigation activities.
3) Build a Better Cybersecurity Program
This item was added to the list by a colleague of mine. It’s also found on the Heritage.org list. It must be pretty important, then.
Yes, there are a LOT of initiatives right now involving cybersecurity, but I think there can be more. Jon, the same colleague who suggested this for my list has also stated repeatedly that cybersecurity is really a Core Capability that cuts across all mission areas – Prevention, Protection, Response, Mitigation, and Recovery. The recent update of the National Preparedness Goal suggests this, but sadly doesn’t commit.
What do we need in regard to cybersecurity? First of all, we need to demystify it. There are plenty of people out there who have just enough tech savvy to turn on their computer, send some email, and post to Facebook. While that may work for them, they are likely intimidated by talk of cybersecurity, hackers, and the like. We need to continue programs in plain speak that will help to inform the average consumer about how to protect themselves.
Better coordination with the private sector will pay off heavily when it comes to cybersecurity. Not only is the private sector generally better at it, they also have a tendency to attract experts through better incentives than the government can offer, such as higher pay. Cybersecurity also impacts everyone. We’ve seen attacks of all types of systems. The only way to stop a common enemy is to work together. Let’s think of it as a virtual whole-community approach.
4) Prepare for Complex Coordinated Attack
Another of Jon’s suggestions. While terrorism is often quickly shoved into the category of homeland security, there is a lot that emergency management can assist with. These types of attacks (think Mumbai or Paris) have a significant impact on a community. They require a multi-faceted approach to all mission areas – again, Prevention, Protection, Response, Mitigation, and Recovery. While law enforcement is clearly a lead, they must be strongly supported by emergency management as part of a whole-community approach to be successful. Preparedness across all these mission areas must be defined and supported by federal programs.
5) Infrastructure Maintenance
We have roads, bridges, rail, pipes, and other infrastructure that MUST be maintained. Maintenance (or replacement) will not only prevent failure of the infrastructure as a disaster itself, but will also make it more resilient to impacts from other disasters. Yes, these are projects with huge price tags, but what alternative do we have?
6) Continuity of Existing Model Programs
There are few things more infuriating than a new administration wiping the slate clean of all predecessor programs to make room for their own. While every administration is entitled to make their own mark, getting rid of what has been proven to work is not the way to do that. Eliminating or replacing programs has a significant impact all the way down the line, from the federal program administrators, to the state program people, to the local emergency managers who are often understaffed and underfunded to begin with.
Changing gears is not as simple as using a different form tomorrow, it requires research and training on the new program and costs time to re-tool. While I would never say there is nothing new under the emergency management sun, as I believe we are still innovating, I’m pretty skeptical of some new appointee walking into their job and making wholesale changes. While improvements can certainly be made, summary execution of successful programs does no one any good. Let’s not make change simply for the sake of change.
Related to this, I fully support the efforts of FEMA in the last few years to gain comprehensive input on changes to documents and doctrine through the formation of committees and public comment periods. This approach works!
7) Pull Together Preparedness Programs
NIMS, HSEEP, NPG, THIRA, etc… While each of these programs have their own purpose and goals, more can be done to bring them together. I’m not suggesting a merger of programs – that would simply make a huge mess. What I’m suggesting is to find the connections between the programs, where one leads to another or informs another, and highlight those. Things like better application of the Core Capabilities within HSEEP exercises to have a more effective evaluation of NIMS capabilities (I suggested this while being interviewed for a GAO report), or referencing the THIRA when building a multi-year training and exercise plan. While some jurisdictions may already do this, these are best practices that should be embraced, promoted, and indoctrinated. These links typically don’t add work, in fact they capitalize on work already done, allowing one project/program/process to be informed or supported by another, creating efficiencies and supporting a synchronization of efforts and outcomes.
There is my list of seven. What are your thoughts on the list? There are certainly plenty of other ideas out there. If you had the ear of the next President, what would you suggest be their administration’s emergency management priorities?
© 2016 – Timothy Riecker
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