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How Prepared Are We?

By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
How prepared is the U.S. for disasters and emergencies? A new federal task force is looking at just that issue and hopes to make recommendations for improvement to Congress by this fall.
“In a nutshell,” said Indiana Sen. Tom Wyss, “it’s all involved with what is the best way to protect the homeland most efficiently … is there a better way or is there a way to do things in a much more manageable and much more efficient manner?”
Wyss is one of 35 state, local and tribal government officials appointed to the federal Preparedness Task Force, which was mandated in the 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, according to a press release from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s office.
“Enhancing preparedness across our nation requires close collaboration between all levels of government,” Napolitano said in the release. 
The task force will review disaster and emergency guidance and policy, federal grants and federal requirements, and identify areas that need updating, according to the release.
Members include a diverse group of officials, including mayors, sheriffs, fire chiefs and state emergency management directors. That broad range of experience enhances the discussion and review, said John Madden, director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and Region 10 vice president for the National Emergency Management Association, an affiliate of The Council of State Governments.
“The experience of the group allows us to look for patterns and trends about the effectiveness of programs and projects and plans,” he said.
The mandate from Congress, Madden said, covers all levels of government—it’s not limited to Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Hans Kallam, director of the Colorado Division of Emergency Management and secretary of NEMA, said it’s a good time to review the nation’s preparedness and look for ways to improve it.
After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he said, “there was definitely a social wound to America.” Shortly thereafter, the anthrax attacks and the potential threat that terrorist groups would attack the U.S. using chemical or biological weapons drove a lot of the nation’s preparedness.
“We tried a lot of things that we never tried before,” Kallam said.
But then Hurricane Katrina reminded Americans that natural disasters pose risks as well, he said.
“We are trying to figure out what have we done that’s working and what have we done that’s not working,” he said.
Congress, at some point, will look at the cost of preparedness, Kallam said.
“As we apply federal dollars and help shape the efforts of everybody receiving those dollars, how much do we need to apply and how can we tell we’ve gotten to where we need to be,” he said.
Madden said the task force will look at three broad issues:
  • Grants and grants management—What are they? What is their purpose? And how do they fit together?
  • Measurements and assessment—Is there a way to effectively evaluate grant programs or other preparedness efforts to see if they’re accomplishing their goals?
  • Doctrine, plans, strategy and guidance documents—Do they fit? Are there conflicts between them? Are there opportunities to align these doctrines under an overarching set of values and principles?
Basically, said Wyss of Indiana, “what do we do to make sure we’re getting the most efficient bang for our buck?”
The full task force is expected to meet again this summer, while various committees also will be meeting to discuss issues related to those three broad issues. The task force is expected to make its recommendations to Congress in September.
“My hope is that as a collective group that we can really provide value in making recommendations for the future that are going to ensure that future investments are efficient and as effective as possible for our citizens,” Kallam said.


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