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Homeland Security: U.S. not ready for disasters

: Prompted by 2005’s devastating hurricane season and the subsequent lackluster national, state and local emergency responses President Bush instructed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review state and city emergency plans, and response and evacuation procedures for all 50 states. DHS was further instructed to ascertain the preparedness of the nations 75 largest cities. The nations ?Hurricane Belt,? showed improvement but the review did reveal preparedness gaps in 131 state and city emergency response plans. Additionally, the report highlighted evacuation planning as an “area of profound concern”. Officials stated, ?We rely to a troubling extent on plans that are created in isolation, are insufficiently detailed and are not subject to adequate review,? concluded the department?s 160-page review of findings and annexes that was delivered to Congress on Thursday evening. ?Time and again, these factors extract a severe penalty in the midst of a crisis: precious time is consumed in the race to correct the misperceptions of federal, state and local responders about roles, responsibilities and actions,? the review found. ?The result is uneven performance and repeated and costly operational miscues.? The documents that were made available to the Associated Press did not include specific cities and states. A DHS official suggested that areas of the report would be released at a later time. Several areas of the report strongly criticized states and cities in key areas: ? Failing to address emergency needs for sick, elderly or poor people unable to help themselves. ? Being too slow to issue disaster warnings and other alerts to the public. ? Failing to designate a clear chain of command during major disasters. The report stated, ?Most review participants have demonstrated that they are able to successfully manage commonly experienced incidents, yet are not fully prepared for a catastrophic event.”. The reported concluded by calling the gaps cause ?for significant national concern.? The particularly active and brutal 2005 hurricane season demonstrated to the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states the need for better preparedness. The report highlighted the various areas in which these states were better prepared than other US states to include: issuing warnings; managing their resources; health and medical issues; as well as communications. However, DHS investigators also discerned a lack of notable improvement in the Atlantic and Gulf states ability to handle mass evacuations. The September 11 Commission and other various government-conducted panels noted severe shortcomings for large scaled disasters such as a major terrorist attack. It appears that nearly five years after the 9/11 attacks little progress has been made in these areas. . However local planning and preparing for disaster of any magnitude takes cooperation and money. The DHS review noted weakness on the part of the federal government to convey clear guidance and current relevant data to state and local officials. Cities and states often need financial assistance as in federal grants to have the resources to devote assets to develop action plans. These federal monies, such as in the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants programs, are hard to obtain with bureaucratic red tape often-hindering efforts. The recent announcement by DHS concerning UASI grants for state and local disaster planning included changes in the manner in which cities and counties submit ?investment justification? to be awarded funding. The new framework requires cities and counties in a designated region to work as a team and submit the aforementioned “investment justification” together. Prior to these recent changes communities were guaranteed some funding. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the change is intended to ensure that grants are spent wisely. Regional spending plans must be aligned with the department’s National

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OODA Analyst

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