Federal Disaster Planning -- The Human Costs

katrina.jpg I let out an all-too-familiar sigh of discouragement this week as I read the news headlines. The one that got me this time was, “States Feel Left Out of Disaster Planning,” from the home page of the Washington Post online.

Now, most people wouldn’t get worked up about that headline. Understandably, they’d still be on the senseless execution of three college students in Newark over the weekend. Or, maybe they would be sorting out their feelings about Barry Bonds smacking Hank Aaron’s old home run record into the bleachers - understandable in a different way. But those who have spent time working on disaster response know that the rift emerging between states and federal Homeland Security over the new disaster plan is something to be worried about.

Here are the first key quotes from the story:

A decision by the Bush administration to rewrite in secret the nation's emergency response blueprint has angered state and local emergency officials, who worry that Washington is repeating a series of mistakes that contributed to its bungled response to Hurricane Katrina nearly two years ago.

The national plan is supposed to guide how federal, state and local governments, along with private and nonprofit groups, work together during emergencies….Bruce Baughman, [former] president of the National Emergency Management Association and a 32-year veteran of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that a draft of the revised plan released to state officials last week marks a step backward because its authors did not set requirements or consult with field operators nationwide who will use it to request federal aid, adjust state and county plans, and train workers.

Why is this a big deal? While there are obvious concerns about federal and state emergency management and homeland security agencies not working well together, that alone wouldn’t make it relevant to this blog. What is relevant is that as a) population density and sprawl increase, raising the potential impact of human and made-made disasters; b) physical infrastructure built during the 20th Century boom begins to fall into serious disrepair; c) governmental bodies rely increasingly on non-government actors to be part of the basic human needs infrastructure of our society; and d) we see the need for, and have available an increasing array of possible responders from the military, to government agencies, to local and transnational companies, to churches, to other nonprofits big and small, the need for genuine, thoughtful coordination increases. No, that’s an understatement. It becomes absolutely essential.

Tiziana Dearing

Posted at 8:44 AM, Aug 15, 2007 in Emergency Preparedness | Permalink | Comment