Local and State Roles in Response to Disaster

Module 4: Response and Recovery


Part 1: Introduction

Emergencies occur in our communities every day. The large majority of these are easily managed by local first responders using the resources available to them. However, when disaster strikes, these resources can quickly become overwhelmed, requiring outside assistance. In this module, we will discuss the emergency management functions of response and recovery, and the ways in which local communities can plan and prepare for all incidents, large and small. We will discuss the processes a local or state emergency manager must initiate in order to obtain resources beyond those locally available.

We will also review the steps a state governor must take in order to get the federal government to issue a presidential disaster declaration. This declaration ensures the protection of the sovereign rights of the state while permitting the federal government to act in the interest of public safety. Obtaining this declaration would seem a complicated process, but it is actually quite straightforward, and is done numerous times each year across the country.

From 1990 to 2006, the United States experienced 823 presidential disaster declarations (an average of forty-eight per year), as illustrated in figure 4.2. Knowing approximately how many declarations the president will make each year, emergency managers can develop plans and estimates to identify the resources they have, and those they would need in the event of a large-scale disaster.

Figure 4.2 Presidential Disaster Declarations by Year, 1990–2006


Based on information from FEMA, 2007, FEMA Web site

The recovery phase of any disaster is almost always the longest in duration, and the most costly. It may take years, or even decades, for a community to restore its critical infrastructure, or for the economy to bounce back to the point at which the community is self-sufficient. In our final discussion in this module, we will review some federal financial support programs that can help individuals and governments during the recovery phase of a disaster.

Part 2: Local and State Roles in Response to Disaster

Despite our best efforts in performing the functions of mitigation and preparedness, we cannot prevent most disasters. Our best hope is that the groundwork we have laid will minimize the effects of a disaster when it occurs. Additionally, we can hope that our planning efforts have given us an accurate idea of the damage we can expect from various types of disasters, and that we have obtained the resources required to quickly respond to an incident and to restore the community to normal.

The response function begins the moment a threat is perceived (whether natural or man-made). The emergency management organization may receive indicators of a hazard or threat prior to the event. If the organization receives a warning of an imminent emergency or disaster, it can respond by positioning response assets, moving people and property out of harm’s way, and notifying citizens of the situation. Without such an alert, the organization must rely on pre-event planning and response resource preparedness.

Local Response Capabilities

When an emergency occurs in a community, the first responders to the incident are invariably neighbors and volunteers, followed immediately by local police, fire department, and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, and other civil responders. Typically, emergencies are managed using local resources, without assistance from the emergency management organization. Local resources act according to previously developed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or a community Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).

For example, the response to a motor vehicle accident occurring on the highway will begin with a call to the emergency 911 center. Once the 911 operator has determined the severity of the accident, he or she will dispatch local resources from law enforcement, fire, and EMS agencies. If the accident requires additional resources (e.g., the power company needs to fix downed power lines from a struck pole), the responding units on the scene will communicate back to the 911 center to initiate a request.

Our communities manage such events every day through the actions of first responders. If an incident becomes so large or complicated as to overwhelm local response teams, however, the emergency management organization may need to acquire additional resources. Any emergency severe enough to be considered a disaster will quickly exhaust local resources, and will necessitate the deployment of state and/or federal resources for effective management.

However, citizens and local response agencies should plan on practicing self-reliance during the first three days of a disaster. Federal assistance is based on a response plan that aims to have resources in the area within seventy-two hours of a large-scale disaster.

Regional and State Response Capabilities

All fifty states, the six U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), and the District of Columbia have some type of Emergency Management Office (EMO). Although the names of the different offices and their positions within state government vary from locale to locale, each has the same responsibility: to develop and coordinate a statewide EOP.

Some EMOs function as an independent agency within state government, reporting directly to the governor. Others serve as a component of the state’s military department or homeland security office. This latter type of arrangement appears to be a trend in states transitioning toward an all-hazard approach encompassing both natural disasters and terrorist events.

As directed by the U.S. Constitution, each governor is responsible for the public safety of the people within his or her state or territory. As a condition for receiving federal financial assistance for emergency management, governors must develop a state EOP and conduct preparedness activities to ensure that state resources are ready to respond to an incident occurring within their jurisdiction.

The federal government provides funding for a National Guard component for each state to assist the governor in these responsibilities. Although the National Guard remains a ready reserve unit of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, it is also one of the primary resources available to the state in a disaster response.

The assets of the National Guard include personnel, communications equipment, air and road transport vehicles and tools, construction and earth-moving equipment, and emergency supplies such as food, water, beds, blankets, and medical supplies. State emergency managers should regularly check the availability of these resources, however, as some may be deployed overseas in response to military mission requirements.

Each state’s EMO also maintains an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a safe location for the management and coordination of disaster response activities. The EOC is the central point at which responding agencies coordinate their actions, and at which policy-making individuals receive status updates concerning the response efforts.

The EOC handles two primary tasks:

1. resource status management (deciding what resources are required and tracking them from acquisition to demobilization)

2. situational status management (collecting information from local response agencies and disseminating a common operating picture to all players that describes the incident status and the actions being taken)

The EOC also plays a vital role in disseminating information to the public through a Joint Information Center (JIC) that prepares releases for the community and disperses them among responding agencies to ensure the delivery of a consistent and accurate message.

The state EMO must assess local and state efforts to determine whether the response is effective, or whether resources are overstretched and need federal assistance. Based on damage assessment reports, the director of the EMO will determine whether or not the governor should make a state disaster declaration or request a presidential disaster declaration.

The Role of the Private Sector

As an emergency manager, you should note the vital role that the private sector plays in emergency response. Private companies own equipment and supplies that the government might need in the event of a disaster. Local and state emergency managers should make an inventory of these potential assets and prearrange contracts or agreements to use them as needed. Resources available from within the private sector include heavy equipment for excavation and cleanup, and tools for power generation, refrigeration, housing, etc.

The private sector also includes a large number of volunteer groups that play an active role in emergency response and recovery. The American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and various religious organizations provide emergency shelters, clothing, food, and water as necessary. The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) supports emergency managers by delivering backup communications capability via ham radio networks.

Many volunteer groups are organized under a state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) group. The national VOAD group (NVOAD) serves as the coordination center for these organizations. VOAD is a necessary component of disaster response, as it enables these groups to receive regular communications, training, and tasking through a central administrative contact.

Recognizing the role of private citizens in the first response to a disaster, FEMA has encouraged many state and local governments to establish Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). CERTs prepare communities to help each other through the use of education, publications, and equipment. They enable citizens take an active role in the outcome of an event, increasing their awareness of hazards and the actions required to ensure the safety of their families and neighbors.

CERT members become qualified through training and exercise programs to assist in providing emergency medical care, handling evacuation and sheltering, and performing light search and rescue activities. During an event that stretches local assets to the breaking point, CERT members serve as a vital reserve force to meet the community’s needs.

Part 3: Managing the Response Function

In order to avoid effort duplication and the unclear delineation of authority, emergency management organizations must have a mechanism in place to effectively manage resources. In this section, we will review the development of the Incident Command System (ICS), a tool used by emergency services for incident management, and the evolution of the ICS into a National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Incident Command System (ICS)

Managing the vast and varying resources needed during an emergency requires the means to command, control, and coordinate those resources. This challenge came to light for America’s fire service in the 1970s, after a series of conflagrations in Southern California resulted in a large number of homes lost. An after-action analysis of these fires pointed to a high level of effort duplication among the responding agencies, a lack of coordination and communication, and the absence of a single plan to guide all parties.

These findings led to the development of the Incident Command System (ICS) as a structure for managing the resources and activities required in the response phase of an incident or disaster. FEMA funded the development of Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies (FIRESCOPE) in 1982 and adopted it as the model ICS for these types of incidents.

The Incident Command System (ICS) is characterized by the following six principles:

1. Unified command A single Incident Commander (IC) manages most incidents. A Unified Command (UC) team manages the response when multiple agencies or multiple jurisdictions share responsibility for the outcome.

2. Standardized organizational structure A common organizational structure is implemented in a modular manner for all incidents, large and small. Because it is modular, the organizational structure is also scalable and can be expanded if the complexity of the incident increases.

3. Manageable span of control Supervisors can effectively manage only a limited number of resources. The ICS recommends that no supervisor oversee more than three to seven resources, citing five as the optimal number.

4. Unity of command Similar to the above principle, this one holds that a subordinate should report to only one supervisor. This limits the potential for conflicting tasking during an operation.

5. Common terminology Resources from different disciplines or jurisdictions often adopt a local jargon to describe the tasks they perform or the resources they use to fulfill their mission. The ICS requires agencies and jurisdictions to adopt a common terminology to limit confusion at the incident location.

6. Management by objectives The IC or UC team develops a single Incident Action Plan (IAP) to define measurable objectives for each operational period, the resources required to complete these objectives, and the tasks assigned to each resource.

The Phoenix Fire Department later modified the FIRESCOPE model to manage structural firefighting activities, creating the Fire Ground Command (FGC) system. During the 1980s, fire service leaders debated the various merits of these systems. The National Fire Service Incident Management System Consortium (NFSIMSC) led a grassroots effort to merge the two ICSs into a single Incident Management System (IMS). These efforts and the disaster events of September 11, 2001, led to the formation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) under the mandate of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5).

The National Incident Management System (NIMS)

Following the horrific events of September 11, 2001, it became clear that the nation needed a single ICS model to manage large-scale disaster events. Responding agencies found themselves challenged by many of the issues that had plagued the fire service during the 1970s: duplication of effort, lack of coordination and communication, the absence of a single plan of action.

President George W. Bush signed HSPD-5 on February 28, 2003, requiring the newly established Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a National Incident Management System (NIMS) to “provide a consistent nationwide approach for Federal, state, and local governments to work effectively and efficiently together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity” (White House, 2003, White House Web site).

The NIMS accounts for six vital components of incident management that must be fully integrated to ensure a successful response:

1. Command and management The NIMS provides for a standard ICS, plus the added capabilities of a Multiagency Coordination System (MACS) and the Public Information Systems (PIS). These three structures facilitate the management of an incident at the local level (ICS), the coordination of different agencies in the jurisdiction (MACS), and the coordination of response actions with the public (PIS).

2. Preparedness The NIMS recognizes that effective incident management begins with preparedness. Agencies and jurisdictions must ready resources for disaster response through planning, training, and exercises.

3. Resource management The NIMS provides for a standard method of describing, inventorying, mobilizing, tracking, and demobilizing the resources required during the lifecycle of an incident.

4. Communications and information management The NIMS recognizes the importance of reliable, interoperable communications at an incident scene. It also notes the need for responders to collect and disseminate information to make a common operating picture available to all responding elements.

5. Supporting technology The NIMS supports investment in research and development to obtain the technology required for disaster response and incident management.

6. Ongoing management and maintenance The NIMS Integration Center (NIC) provides guidance to state and local jurisdictions during NIMS implementation activities, continually refining NIMS policy and procedures according to feedback during and after disaster events.

Mutual Aid Assistance and Multiagency Coordination

The NIMS assumes that the resources of each jurisdiction are limited, and that a large-scale event will require resources beyond local capabilities. The NIMS encourages local jurisdictions to develop mutual aid agreements with surrounding jurisdictions (including other states) to share resources, facilities, and equipment in the event of a large-scale disaster. Jurisdictions may also establish these agreements with private or non-governmental organizations to define their role in disaster response and recovery. Mutual aid agreements should detail the

· roles and responsibilities of each participating organization

· procedures for implementing the mutual aid resource request

· rules for the payment and reimbursement of costs incurred during aid provision

· relationship between the mutual aid agreement and other agreements (i.e., local or state EOPs)

· treatment of liability or immunity issues

· qualifications and certifications of involved parties

Part 4: Acquiring and Coordinating Federal Assistance

Once a jurisdiction decides that the response to a disaster has exhausted local and state assets, it will ask the federal government to provide additional resources to ensure public safety and to assist in restoring vital services. The governor of the state will forward a letter to the president requesting a presidential disaster declaration. This is the first step in directing federal equipment, supplies, and personnel to a disaster site—and a necessary one, because without it, federal aid could not be activated. Upon the declaration of a disaster, the DHS, through FEMA, will bring together the resources of the federal government under the provisions of the National Response Plan (NRP).

It is important to note that some disasters can overwhelm the capabilities of both state and federal response assets. A catastrophic disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, can cause such widespread destruction that even a huge amount of resources will not be able to immediately meet the needs of the citizens. Hurricane Katrina was the largest physical disaster this country has ever experienced. The storm affected more than 90,000 square miles of land, disrupted the lives of millions, and destroyed and degraded much of the area’s infrastructure.

In “normal” disasters, communities quickly obtain the help they need by looking to neighboring communities and states for assistance. In catastrophic disasters, neighboring communities all suffer equally. Emergency management depends on federal and Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) resources (described below).

To improve its response to catastrophic incidents, the federal government may have to find ways to shorten its seventy-two hour reaction time for those communities requiring immediate assistance. As we continue to evaluate lessons learned, we will work on refining our national response capabilities to address catastrophic disasters.

The National Response Plan (NRP)

As we previously noted, HSPD-5 required the development of the NRP to align and coordinate the federal resources called in to support response and recovery after a national incident. The NRP is built upon the framework of the NIMS, and sets forth guidelines for managing large-scale incidents that require federal assistance. The Stafford Act outlines the provisions for activating the NRP (discussed below).

The NRP was approved and released on December 2004, replacing the former Federal Response Plan (FRP), which primarily addressed the federal response to disasters; the Concept of Operations Plan (CONPLAN), which addressed the federal response to terrorism incidents; and several other federal response plans governing specific incident types. The new NRP provides a single all-hazard approach for defining the federal role in response to incidents of national significance.

It is important to note that both the NIMS and the NRP are under consideration for revision as a result of the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A new version of the NIMS and a National Response Framework (to replace the NRP) are under internal review, with a release scheduled for the end of calendar year 2007.

In developing the NRP, the DHS incorporated the best practices and procedures from established plans from across many disciplines, including emergency management, homeland security, firefighting, law enforcement, public health, public works, EMS, and hazardous materials response. The DHS recognized that these disciplines already had working plans and procedures. What the United States needed was a single all-hazard response plan that would enable all of these disciplines to function together in an integrated coordinating structure.

To meet this need, the NRP promotes the organization of support functions and the delegation of responsibility to various federal agencies to facilitate the delivery of critical federal resources to an incident location. The NRP coordinates federal responsibilities through the assignment of Emergency Support Functions (ESFs).

Each ESF provides a coordination mechanism for the function assigned. Under the NRP, each ESF is assigned to a group of primary and support agencies based on legal authority, resources, and capabilities. The NRP requires that ESFs support one another to form a cohesive response to the emergency incident. ESFs may direct staff to the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC), the Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC), a Joint Field Office (JFO), or an Incident Command Post (ICP) as required to provide the necessary support (more information on these below).

Many states have adopted the ESF model and have organized their EOCs in line with it to better manage state resources and to allow for the seamless integration of local and federal responders.

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