By Edward W. (Bill) Lent III, CEM

Response to the question: "An independent FEMA ? ? ?"

During a discussion in the IAEM Discussion Group of the issue of the question of removing FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security Bill Lent posted the following message:

While I very almost never take part in any of these discussions, I feel that this question is of great importance to our profession and to those things we have worked so hard to accomplish.

I have been in the emergency management profession for over 25 years and have seen it come from a group of politically appointed people with a basic assignment of planning for the protection of the citizens (Civil Defense) in the event of a nuclear or other attack to a group responsible for the planning, preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation efforts to protect our citizens and their property from all hazards.  This has been a long and sometimes painful process lead by the International Association of Emergency Managers (formerly the United States Civil Defense Council and the National Coordinating Council on Emergency Management) and the National Emergency Management Association.  Both organizations are working together to ensure that the profession continues to provide an effective disaster management capability that we have thus far managed in spite of those who would diminish our ability to do so.  A continued push toward professionalism is embodied in both the Certified Emergency Manager and the Emergency Management Accreditation Program which places expected standards upon those who serve in the profession and the agencies, programs which conduct emergency management activities. 

<>While terrorism is a very grave threat, it is only a threat.  Since my first day in this profession, I have planned for all hazards including natural hazards and man made hazards.  Terrorism has always been one of the threats facing us, as has civil disturbance, hazardous materials, hurricanes, tornados, snow storms, floods and a myriad of other hazards.  When we start the planning process, we assess the likelihood and probable impact of all the hazards and whether or not they are likely to impact our jurisdiction.  By taking historical data we can determine the frequency of occurrence of hazards that normally impact our jurisdiction and assign a weight to them for frequency of occurrence and extent of impact.  By doing this we arrive at a listing of those hazards that occur the most and have the most impact.  This process allows us to logically attack the problems of planning, preparing (exercising and training),  and, when called upon, responding to and recovering from disasters and/or emergencies.   <>

The current emphasis on terrorism, a threat of high impact but low frequency, and the declining emphasis on those hazards which have a high frequency of occurrence and a high impact, somehow seems to be against the logic we have used throughout our professional lives.  We do not have command responsibility, as do law enforcement and fire, but only have the ability to coordinate the efforts of government in the most effective manner possible to respond to and then recover from those hazards we have been planning and preparing and hopefully working toward mitigating the impacts of.  ,   <>

I have watched the unfolding of this current crisis and have been appalled by the lack of preparedness exhibited by those levels of government that are supposed to be the bedrock support for the local responders and emergency managers that are, as the military is so fond of saying “at the pointy end of the spear”.  It is a fact and not just a saying that all disasters are local.  The entire system including all the new national response plans and national incident command directives are designed to assist the local emergency responders when they are overwhelmed.  While this did occur in Mississippi and Alabama (the states executed their plans well), it did not occur in Louisiana and probably because despite all efforts they were immediately overwhelmed and no immediate assistance was forthcoming.  I have worked with all these states and know from first hand experience that the plans, training, and preparations were basically in place.  Where the system failed was the support for local authority.   <>

I was in Anchorage at a meeting of NEMA when this occurred and can testify that the Emergency Management Assistance Compact process was implemented immediately (they were operating from the conference hotel and the state directors were coordinating the transfer of requested personnel and equipment under the compact). I really  think that things were requested immediately once they were able to communicate, I do think that delivery was delayed, and quite possibly by some infrastructure problems.  I believe that it is to early too either condemn or praise anyone.  Yes the Mayor is justifiably upset, and we have not fulfilled our professional obligations to our residents, because many have died when they might have been saved, and a lot of property damage could have been avoided if we had listened to those who were shouting that the levees needed to be upgraded,   <>

Instead of talking about all of that now, we need to pull together as a profession and simply get the job done.  There is a lot to do.  It will take a long time to remove the debris, and rebuild and I for one believe that the city will never be the same.  Lets just get back to being professionals.  <>

Now a final thought.  We have exhibited the very American trait of knee jerk reaction to an event.  In the case of terrorism it was 9/11.  I don’t think that should be the all consuming hazard we have made it.  I also believe that we have simply poured multiple billions of dollars down the drain in a uncoordinated effort to become as prepared as possible for another terrorist attack.  I would hope that someone will get a handle on what needs to be done an then proceed in a logical manner to examine what is needed before we just buy everything and ignore the consequences of those things that occur daily.  Yes we need equipment for our first responders, but we need to balance that with were we need it and how much we really need.  We have just simply spent and spent and not very wisely in a lot of instances.   <>

Additionally, some things are best left to industry and government should not continue to spend funds that wind up duplicating things that private industry has already developed.  I would suggest that radical idea the government should define their needs and then private industry should make the investment to fulfill those needs.  That is something called free enterprise which I believe is what we as a nation are about.  By continuing to fund massive projects through often times self serving national laboratories we are not only adversely impacting our private industrial base, we are in many ways contributing to a process which actually produces non usable results.  Lets take a good look at how we spend our valuable assets and what we can do in partnership with industry to produce the best possible results.  <>

I am coming to the end of my career and would like to think that we have become smarter and possibly more and better prepared for all hazards, but that hope is diminishing daily as I watch the federal part of our profession being systematically gutted and pushed into the background.  I agree with the concept of the Department of Homeland Security and think it is an important and generally a critical mission, but I do think that by eliminating the cohesiveness of the profession and its ability to perform all its functions a mistake with far reaching consequences is being made.  The emergency management function needs to be contained within a single entity, not have the various functions split up.  The cycle of planning, preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation when fractured ceases to be either effective or functional.  To allow this to happen through a simple reorganization of a single department and to remove the capability that the emergency management  profession brings to the well being of all citizens is an unconscionable act.  <>

No other profession within government has the exposure for impacting all the residents of a jurisdiction that emergency management does.  This is a simple fact

And removal of that capability will prove to be a serious mistake and will certainly cause additional loss of life and property in the future.  Those in a position to make these decisions need to closely examine their motives and the effect such a move will have on the future ability of our nations first responders to effectively respond to and recover from future disasters.

<>Just my opinion.  <>

Edward W. (Bill) Lent III, CEM