Hurricane Katrina is in the news again with the first anniversary of the deadly storm and subsequent flood that destroyed the city of New Orleans.
As a result of the deadly and catastrophic events that occurred in Louisiana and Mississippi, and the extraordinary number of committees investigating the failures in responding to the Katrina disaster, this appears to be a good time to look at what steps have been taken by the Homeland Security Department, as well as what still needs to be done.
Hopefully, once the political grandstanding and lecturing disguised as questions are through, perhaps some tangible and effective changes will be made to emergency management at all levels of government.
The events of Hurricane Katrina resulted in a greater focus on the role of first responders in carrying out the nation's emergency management efforts. The Department of Homeland Security is the primary federal entity responsible for ensuring that first responders, such as police, fire, emergency medical and public health personnel, have the capabilities needed to provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to any large-scale crisis.
DHS has awarded $11.3 billion to state and local governments to enhance capabilities, primarily to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism or natural disasters. Presidential directives have instructed the DHS to develop a national all-hazards approach -- preparing all sectors of society for any emergency event including terrorist attacks and natural or man-made disasters.
DHS has undertaken three major policy initiatives aimed at creating a national, all-hazards coordinated and comprehensive response to large-scale incidents: (1) a national response plan (what needs to be done); (2) a command and management process (how it needs to be done); and (3) a national preparedness goal (how well it should be done).
The US Congress' General Accounting Office reviewed these policy initiatives and determined that each supports a national, all-hazards approach, not just a terrorism response approach.
DHS has also developed plans to implement three related programs to enhance first responder capabilities: (1) to assess and report on the status of first responders' capabilities; (2) to prioritize national resources; and (3) to establish a national training and exercise program.
Implementing these programs will likely pose a number of challenges for DHS including integrating internal and external assessment approaches, assessing state and local risks in a national context to effectively prioritize investments, and establishing common training requirements for each first-responder discipline.
Because terrorist attacks share some common characteristics with natural and accidental disasters, 30 of DHS' 36 capabilities first responders need to support preparedness and response efforts are similar.
GAO's analysis found that the baseline capabilities required for terrorist attacks and natural or accidental disasters are more similar for response and recovery and differ most for prevention.
Since terrorist attacks are planned, intentional acts, all of DHS' prevention capabilities focus on terrorist attacks, while almost all other baseline capabilities focus on all hazards.
Legislation and presidential directives call for DHS to place special emphasis on preparedness for terrorism and DHS has directed that the majority of first responder grant funding be used to enhance first responder capabilities to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks. Nonetheless, grant funds can have all-hazards applications.
Sources: US Department of Homeland Security, General Accounting Office, National Security Institute, National Association of Chiefs of Police
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.