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Getting Down to Specifics

September 14, 2007

117350090_20aac063fd In an earlier post, I passed along the gist of a GAO report (pdf) ripping DHS’ implementation of key mission and management objectives.  I’d like to spend a bit of time reviewing the Emergency Preparedness and Response section, as it’s the area that I’m most concerned with and that DHS seems to be least concerned with.

The GAO report had a unique metric for success, wherein a set of performance expectations is tested to see if each has been “generally achieved” or not, where possible.  “Generally achieved” means that DHS has taken actions to satisfy most elements of the expectation.  Not all; not completed; just working toward satisfying most of the identified elements.  Generally achieving 75% or more of the expectations means that particular area of management and/or mission has scored “substantial” progress; 50 – 75% is “moderate” progress; 25 – 50% is “modest” progress; and generally achieving less than 25% of the expectations is considered “limited” progress.

As we noted before, only one area (maritime security) achieved the rank of substantial, but four out of the fourteen identified areas achieved the rank of limited.  The worst, by far, of those four (in terms of number of expectations generally not achieved) was emergency preparedness and response (having achieved only 5 out of the 24 identified expectations).  I’d like to spend some time reviewing those expectations pointing out where I think that GAO is wrong, and where DHS has dropped the ball.

Performance Expectation Generally
Generally Not Achieved?
Establish a program for conducting emergency preparedness exercises X  
Develop a national incident management system X  
Provide grant funding to first responders in developing and implementing interoperable communications capabilities X  
Administer a program for providing grants and assistance to state and local governments and first responders X  
Allocate grants based on assessment factors that account for population, critical infrastructure, and other risk factors X  
Establish a comprehensive training program for national preparedness   X
Conduct and support risk assessments and risk management capabilities for emergency preparedness   X
Ensure the capacity and readiness of disaster response teams   X
Coordinate implementation of a national incident management system   X
Establish a single, all-hazards national response plan   X
Develop a complete inventory of federal response capabilities   X
Develop a national, all-hazards preparedness goal   X
Develop plans and capabilities to strengthen nationwide recovery efforts   X
Develop the capacity to provide needed emergency assistance and services in a timely manner   X
Provide timely assistance and services to individuals and communities in response to emergency events   X
Implement a program to improve interoperable communications among federal, state, and local agencies   X
Implement procedures and capabilities for effective interoperable communications   X
Increase the development and adoption of interoperability standards   X
Develop performance goals and measure to assess progress in developing interoperability   X
Provide guidance and technical assistance to first responders in developing and implementing interoperable communications capabilities   X
Provide assistance to state and local governments to develop all-hazards plans and capabilities   X
Develop a system for collecting and disseminating  lessons learned and best practices to emergency responders   X
Support citizen participation in national preparedness efforts    


The expectation for supporting citizen participation was deemed not assessable.

A quick review of the expectations above shows a recurring theme, interoperable communications systems have been generally ignored.  DHS has not developed a plan, helped local and state governments develop a plan, developed standards, assisted local and state governments implement interoperability; they have, of course, thrown money at the problem.

Basic planning has not been done, according to this report – we don’t even have a preparedness goal, well, I guess besides, “Get better prepared.”

I do have a quibble, though, with the GAO report.  The second to last expectation (Develop a system for collecting and disseminating lessons learned and best practices to emergency responders) I would classify as generally achieved, frankly.  Maybe they know something I don’t, but I direct your attention to this website:  The title of the website?  Lessons Learned and Information Sharing.  The very first line on top of the first page?

Lessons Learned Information Sharing ( is the national network of Lessons Learned and Best Practices for emergency response providers and homeland security officials.

Notice the exact wording used?  I’m not saying that GAO missed this, I’m just saying.

I’m a user and have been impressed with the quality and breadth of information available on there – even if the registration process is a bit cumbersome.  I absolutely recommend response and homeland security folks register and browse around the site.  You can very easily lose an afternoon looking at some of the AAR’s there.  I’ll put the link on my Resources page for future reference, as well.

Photo credit: Jimmy Six Bellies

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