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    - Print Page: Federal emphasis on terrorist threat frustrates local disaster response officials (10/20/05)



    DAILY BRIEFING October 20, 2005





    Federal emphasis on terrorist threat frustrates local disaster response

    officials

    By Shane Harris, National Journal



    The distance between the Homeland Security Department, where the nation's

    national disaster-preparedness plans are crafted, and America's cities and

    counties, where the plans are put to the test, can be measured many ways.

    It's about 2,800 miles, for example, from the department's Office for Domestic

    Preparedness in Northwest Washington to the King County Office of Emergency

    Management in Renton, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. On a map of the lower 48

    states, the feds and the Washington state emergency planners couldn't be much

    farther apart. And that's fitting, because King County is also philosophically

    miles apart from Uncle Sam on how to protect its citizens from the gravest

    threats, and on what those threats actually are.

    Federal and local officials ask a simple question: What should we worry about

    more? Federal officials say that it's the terrorists, who strike without warning

    and can wreak large-scale physical, economic, and political damage on the

    country, and even on America's standing in the world. The locals say that it's

    natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes, which

    can cause the same level of harm and are bound to occur on a somewhat regular

    basis.

    For Eric Holdeman, the director of emergency management in King County, the

    answer is obvious. His region sits near a seismic fault line and an active

    volcano, and it's prone to crippling ice storms and ravaging wildfires. Yet when

    he talks about natural-disaster readiness with Homeland Security officials, who

    control Holdeman's access to millions of dollars in grants that he needs to

    protect King County, he says he hears the same response: He's worrying about the

    wrong threats. In the post-9/11 world, he -- and everyone else -- should be

    ready for terrorism.

    "It's terrorism only," complains Holdeman, a former Army infantry officer with

    almost 15 years of experience in disaster management. Homeland Security

    officials have "an obsession with terrorism that has caused them to operate the

    department and direction for the nation with blinkers on."

    Federal officials are fed up with hearing that refrain, and nowhere do they hear

    it more than at the Office for Domestic Preparedness. ODP has one of the least

    enviable jobs in the federal government -- ensuring that every state, local,

    tribal, and territorial government within the United States can defend itself

    against a major disaster.

    The office pumps out billions of dollars in grants for emergency equipment, such

    as chemical-protection suits and radios. It trains first responders in

    mock-disaster drills, testing their mettle against imaginary hurricanes or

    subway bombers. It writes national preparedness standards that states and

    localities are supposed to meet.

    ODP, in short, is the instrument with which the Bush administration implements

    its national homeland-security strategy, town by town, county by county. If the

    office fails, then, by extension, the Homeland Security Department fails. Four

    years after 9/11, ODP relentlessly delivers a mantra that has become a refrain

    of its own: The world has changed, and we have to change with it.

    "People have faced catastrophic hurricanes since the beginning of time.... But

    9/11 changed our world," says ODP spokesman Marc Short, a political appointee

    who joined the office last year after graduating from business school. "The

    federal government has devoted a lot of resources to preparing for natural

    disasters" that affect local areas, Short says. But 9/11 was a "seminal event"

    that made it the federal government's job to plan a national response to a

    national problem.

    That's a fundamentally new role for the federal government. Historically, it has

    deferred to states and localities on disaster preparedness. But Hurricane

    Katrina reminded the nation that a natural catastrophe can become a national

    problem, with far-reaching consequences for many layers of society. "People are

    looking at this as 9/11 without the terrorists," says David Heyman, the director

    of the homeland-security program at the Center for Strategic and International

    Studies in Washington. "And they're [asking] fundamental questions about our

    preparedness and our ability to respond in a crisis."

    The bickering and finger-pointing that has followed the convoluted governmental

    response to the hurricane finds all sides -- federal, state, and local --

    questioning their own and each other's readiness to handle all kinds of

    calamities. This is not a new argument. The fight over how to prepare, and for

    what, has been playing out ever since the Homeland Security Department opened

    its doors nearly three years ago. The federal government's insistence that

    terrorism poses the greatest threat to national security, and most state and

    local officials' belief that terrorism concerns should not completely overshadow

    other preparations have fueled the flames ever since.

    Strings Attached

    ODP, a relatively tiny agency staffed by about 250 people, is the central player

    in this drama. In 2003, it moved to Homeland Security from the Justice

    Department, where it had administered terrorism-preparedness grants. The Federal

    Emergency Management Agency, which also moved to Homeland Security, had managed

    natural-disaster planning. But the Bush administration has shifted many

    preparedness tasks to ODP and left FEMA as a response agency, the one that leads

    the rescue and cleanup.

    ODP is the one place in the federal government that pays attention exclusively

    to state and local first responders -- police officers, firefighters, emergency

    medical personnel. Since 2003, the agency has distributed more than $9.5 billion

    in preparedness grants and trained tens of thousands of first responders.

    Communities desperately need ODP's grant money to carry out the administration's

    aggressive homeland-security strategy, which calls upon local jurisdictions to

    have in place as many as three dozen "target capabilities." These capabilities

    include detection of chemical or biological agents in public areas; trained

    urban search-and-rescue teams; and standing economic-recovery plans. State and

    local disaster-management officials don't want to turn the grants away. But,

    they say, the ODP money comes with a catch: Most of it can be used only for

    terrorism preparedness.

    Most ODP grants and first-responder training programs are indeed designated for

    terrorism preparedness. "Almost three of every four grant dollars appropriated

    ... for first responders in fiscal year 2005 were for three primary grant

    programs that had an explicit focus on terrorism," the Government Accountability

    Office reported in July. The funding levels, which Congress sets, are also

    skewed toward terrorism preparedness. Those three primary grants received $2.4

    billion this fiscal year. By contrast, ODP awarded $180 million this fiscal year

    under the Emergency Management Performance Grant, the program that local

    governments have historically used for natural-disaster preparedness.

    Locals tell of frustrated attempts to use ODP grants for "all-hazards" purposes,

    only to be turned down because their plans weren't exclusively earmarked for

    terrorism. Holdeman, for one, says he can use grants to buy chemical-protection

    suits but not equipment to fight wildfires, which have so far proven far more

    devastating to Washington state than Al Qaeda.

    Other local officials tell similar stories. In Shelby County, Ala., managers

    reported that they could purchase chemical suits, but not interoperable

    communications systems that would let personnel from different agencies talk to

    each other in an emergency.

    State and local officials would also like to build modern emergency operations

    centers with their grants, says Ken Murphy, the director of emergency management

    in Oregon and the chair of the Preparedness Committee for the National Emergency

    Management Association, the national body of state emergency directors. But

    grant money for physical structures, Murphy says, is limited to security

    measures like blast-resistant walls or fences.

    State and local officials want more choice in how they spend their grants. The

    federal government, however, has to approve their purchases once they identify

    the equipment they want to buy, Scott Behunin, the director of Utah's emergency

    services and homeland-security division, explained to the House Select Committee

    on Homeland Security in 2003. He urged the federal government to allow "greater

    autonomy in the process," so that states could "better meet unique needs in

    their communities."

    Repeating a message that local officials have long sent to Washington, D.C.,

    Holdeman says: "Our message is, 'Give us block grants ... and then audit the

    hell out of us.' " But the funds "are wrapped in concertina wire," he says. So

    Holdeman has had to get creative.

    Outside the Box

    Last year, Holdeman got the idea to air a series of public service announcements

    telling King County residents to construct "car kits" -- small packages of

    survival staples, such as flashlights, first-aid equipment, and food and water

    -- that would serve in any kind of emergency, and could be easily carried or

    thrown into a car. Holdeman figured that one more prepared citizen was one fewer

    he had to worry about.

    Holdeman played to his audience. "I said, 'We've got a lot of skiers. If they're

    afraid of getting stuck in the snow, they'll be motivated to have a car kit.' "

    Those kits would come in handy during a terrorist attack, he reasoned. "When

    Osama comes knocking, who cares if you're motivated [by the fear of terrorism]?

    You still have a car kit." Holdeman wanted to use the ODP money to create a

    series of televised ads, but he says that the agency turned him down because the

    messages weren't raising awareness of terrorism.

    In the end, Holdeman found a local solution to his national problem. He took a

    two-track approach. King County used ODP money to produce two ads featuring

    first responders who told citizens to be "ready for anything." "Have a plan,"

    they say. Stock up enough food and water for three days, appoint an out-of-state

    contact to call in an emergency. The ads mention terrorism only twice.

    Working with a local television station, Holdeman also created a second set of

    ads -- without federal grants. These ads were more specific and targeted threats

    that King County residents understand. One reminds viewers that, with winter

    storm season approaching, they should make their car kits. Another advises

    homeowners to prune their shrubs and to relocate wood piles before fire season

    arrives. The ads don't mention terrorism.

    ODP officials are particularly sensitive to the charge that they've blocked

    grant spending on projects like King County's, or that they've stopped state and

    local governments from purchasing equipment that's not exclusively suited to

    terrorism preparedness. "That's completely false," says Suzanne Mencer, the

    former director of ODP, who served as the chief of public safety for Colorado

    and was a longtime FBI agent. She resigned in January, and ODP is now between

    permanent directors.

    "What has to be said, and what I said almost every time I gave a speech, is,

    'Think about two words: dual use,' " Mencer says. The grants don't prohibit a

    city from buying equipment for use in a natural disaster if it can also be used

    in a terrorist attack.

    Tim Beres is the director of ODP's Preparedness Programs Division, and he

    managed grants when the agency was in the Justice Department. Asked about

    Holdeman's complaints, and those from state and local officials in Alabama and

    elsewhere, he responds, "If someone actually said that, that's absurd." In

    fiscal 2004, grants paid for more than $1 billion worth of dual-use equipment,

    he says, including $925 million for interoperable communications equipment and

    $140 million in chemical-protection suits.

    "Some of these people cannot think outside the box," Mencer says of grant

    recipients. They read the requirements too narrowly, she says. For instance, one

    ODP grant allocates funds for preventing, responding to, and recovering from

    terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction.

    Mencer says that some locals see that wording and think it prohibits items, such

    as radios, that could also be used in a natural disaster. "They can still meet

    their needs in almost all instances if they look at the broader picture and not

    [just] the wording in the grant." She added in exasperation: "Some people would

    complain if you hung them with a new rope."

    Marc Short, the ODP spokesman, concedes that some officials may not understand

    how to use the grants, but he believes they are exceptions. Instead, he says

    that critics' complaints are "a straw-man argument," set up for political

    convenience by people who oppose the Bush administration's tight control of the

    national strategy. The strategy, by design, takes away much of the states' and

    localities' authority to enact their own disaster plans, so that they don't

    overlap or become deficient.

    A number of state and local emergency managers -- including Holdeman and others

    who've spoken publicly on behalf of the National Emergency Management

    Association -- disagree and say that the problem isn't a matter of turf or of

    local officials misreading the grant guidelines. It's that the Bush

    administration gave so much of FEMA's preparedness duties to ODP.

    Before DHS was created, disaster planners widely admired FEMA for drawing

    national attention to preparedness and for working more as a cheerleader for

    local efforts than a controller. Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, a Clinton

    appointee who'd been an emergency director in Arkansas, was a superstar in the

    disaster-management field. ODP, on the other hand, consisted of Justice

    Department counter-terrorism specialists who had stronger ties to law

    enforcement circles than to disaster managers. The cultural differences mirror

    the split over how to prepare. ODP is "focusing on prevention and protection,

    which is really a law enforcement function," says Oregon's Murphy.

    Hearing that complaint, Short replies, "There's a fondness for the way that it

    was done before. People are uncomfortable with change."

    Back to the Drawing Board?

    It shouldn't surprise anyone that ODP pays so much attention to terrorism

    preparedness. Short points out that this, after all, has always been ODP's

    mission, stretching back to its Justice Department days. And, as Mencer

    stresses, "DHS was set up because of 9/11, not a hurricane." Although ODP

    officials don't deny that planning for natural disasters is partly a federal

    responsibility, they contend that the attacks of 9/11, that "seminal event,"

    require the government to put terrorism preparedness first.

    But in the wake of Katrina, ODP and the senior Homeland Security leadership will

    have to defend that philosophy. ODP's portfolio is already large -- it manages

    more than 23 grant programs -- and it has now taken on port-security grants, a

    program for which Homeland Security receives criticism from several quarters. In

    January, the department's own inspector general said that the program's

    "strategic impact" wasn't clear, and that "its purpose and goals require

    refinement to support national priorities effectively."

    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has proposed more changes to the

    department's preparedness operations, following a sweeping review earlier this

    year. Most significantly, he said in July that, in order to "increase

    preparedness with a particular focus on catastrophic events," he wants Congress

    to create a new position: an undersecretary for preparedness.

    In those public remarks, Chertoff seemed to give a nod to those who have pressed

    the department to remember the natural-disaster front. DHS "has sometimes been

    viewed as a terrorist-fighting entity, but of course, we're an all-hazards

    department," he said. "Our responsibilities certainly include not only fighting

    the forces of terrorism, but also fighting the forces of natural disasters."

    Chertoff made those remarks three days after Hurricane Dennis had hit the Gulf

    Coast. Dennis, Chertoff said, "was a reminder ... of how potent those forces can

    be."

    Chertoff's preparedness proposals pass muster among some homeland-security

    experts. Last December, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and

    the Heritage Foundation released a joint study called "DHS 2.0," in which the

    authors suggested adding a new undersecretary for preparedness with direct

    access to the secretary.

    Such a move, they said, would speed preparedness decisions past some layers of

    bureaucracy. Today, both ODP and FEMA are buried in the chain of command,

    reporting up to the secretary through middle layers of management. "A 'flatter'

    structure is preferable here and will better enable the secretary to exercise

    leadership," they wrote.

    But "flatness" has never been part of the department's vocabulary.

    "Centralization" and "hierarchy" have been the operative terms. A "flat"

    structure is what FEMA embodied when it was running the full gamut of

    disaster-management efforts, including preparedness. The agency had

    Cabinet-level status during the Clinton years, so the director had a clear line

    to the president.

    FEMA's national strategy was a classic study in devolution and private-public

    partnership. It supported and emboldened first responders by lobbying Congress

    and creating flexible grant programs. But it left the real work up to the local

    communities and their first responders.

    "I'd love to see that emphasis again," with localities taking the lead, says Ann

    Patton, who is an emergency planner in Tulsa, Okla. "I call this stuff

    'grassroots homeland security.' "

    To learn lessons from Katrina, President Bush wants to examine those grassroots

    efforts and find out whether they're working. He has ordered a review of the

    disaster plans of all major U.S. cities. In his speech from New Orleans on

    September 15, Bush blended the natural and man-made calamities with a new twist:

    "In a time of terror threats and weapons of mass destruction, the danger to our

    citizens reaches much wider than a fault line or a floodplain. I consider

    detailed emergency planning to be a national security priority."

    " 'How safe is America?' this review is supposed to ask," says Oregon's Murphy,

    who says he has discussed it with senior Homeland Security officials, including

    Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson. "I find that a very hard question to ask....

    Just because you have a plan and it looks complete doesn't mean it's going to

    work."

    With their confidence weakened and their frustrations already running high, the

    local front-liners in the national-preparedness army may feel abandoned. If ODP

    becomes a hindrance to their efforts, rather than a helper, they've shown they

    can take matters into their own hands, as Holdeman has done in King County.

    Perhaps the lesson from Katrina was that the disaster business is still a local

    affair. As Patton of Tulsa sees it, the distance between the federal and local

    planners now is wider than ever. "If New Orleans didn't teach us anything else,

    then it taught us that we better be able to take care of ourselves."







    2005 by National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

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    For the better part of my last three years in a public law enforcement agency, I was involved in planning for WMD incidents. These plans was put to the test in 10-11/01 when we handled over 300 suspicious package incidents during the anthrax scares. We also had a very comprehensive plan for bio-terrorism, including such things as voluntary monitoring of absenteeism at major corporations and trend analyses of ED visits. We were light years ahead of the rest of NJ in this regard.

    One basic tenet that guided us in our planning efforts was no reliance on State assets for 24 hours after a major incident and no reliance on federal assets for 48 hours after a major incident. We knew that any and all planning had to be based on this simple fact.

    There is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing deficient at either the state or national level because of this level of response. It is simply up to the local agencies to deal with emergencies in your jurisdiction. The federal government is not a first response agency. I don't want them to be and I pray that they never are.

    If you follow our lead, and conduct planning for your agency's response to a major terrorist or natural disaster incident as though there is no one else out there, you will be better off.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI
    For the better part of my last three years in a public law enforcement agency, I was involved in planning for WMD incidents. These plans was put to the test in 10-11/01 when we handled over 300 suspicious package incidents during the anthrax scares. We also had a very comprehensive plan for bio-terrorism, including such things as voluntary monitoring of absenteeism at major corporations and trend analyses of ED visits. We were light years ahead of the rest of NJ in this regard.
    Excellent! Out of curiousity, did you find any actualy anthrax packages or what not?

    One basic tenet that guided us in our planning efforts was no reliance on State assets for 24 hours after a major incident and no reliance on federal assets for 48 hours after a major incident. We knew that any and all planning had to be based on this simple fact.
    We are of the same mindset, only with larger numbers. We realise there are more populated areas that will get first attention over us. We are basicaly low priority and expendable...and we know this and plan acordingly. The record blizzards in this region this month reflect this. Who ever realy heard about us being burried? Not many people since the hurricans were a much bigger deal.

    There is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing deficient at either the state or national level because of this level of response. It is simply up to the local agencies to deal with emergencies in your jurisdiction. The federal government is not a first response agency. I don't want them to be and I pray that they never are.
    The kneejerk reaction to come out of the hurricans has been to possible make the National Gaurd the lead planning, responce, etc... agencey nation wide! I cant seem to find an article, but thats what has been discussed on the news by more then 1 DC politician.

    If you follow our lead, and conduct planning for your agency's response to a major terrorist or natural disaster incident as though there is no one else out there, you will be better off.
    Exactly, you have to be self reliant. You can never trust or count on anybody else! Even the Feds...which makes me very suspicious as to the effectiveness of all the billions of dollars we throw at this stuff.

    Money that may better be left local in the first place????
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

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    In regards to the article.

    So many contrasts!

    The local feel that we are on our own, that we cant count on the Feds or States.

    The Feds say we are all in this together.



    The Feds say that ODP is all hazards.

    3 of every 4 dollars spent has to be spent on WMD/Terrorism items.



    All hazards means all hazards. Fire, ice, earth, wind....and yes, WMD/Terror.

    WMD/Terror garner 95% of all effort and money.



    Something does not add up here. We have blow billions and billions of dollars and I dont feel one damn bit safer!
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

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    Excellent! Out of curiousity, did you find any actualy anthrax packages or what not?
    Like virtually every other law enforcement agency in the country, the answer is no. We had one serious scare when we dealt with a package at an abortion clinic. It was one of 47 hoax packages sent by the Army of God. The FBI locked up their leader for the jobs. It was very scary.

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    Prior to 2001, how much money went to "all hazards" related projects and how much went to WMD/Terrorism?

    Exactly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SamsonFCDES
    The kneejerk reaction to come out of the hurricans has been to possible make the National Gaurd the lead planning, responce, etc... agencey nation wide! I cant seem to find an article, but thats what has been discussed on the news by more then 1 DC politician.
    Actually it has been the state governors, not DC that has been making the most flap about making the Guard the lead, politics are first and fore most local!
    Be for Peace, but don't be for the Enemy!
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    Learn from the mistakes of others; you won't live long enough to make them all yourself.

    Quote Originally Posted by nyckftbl View Post
    LOL....dont you people have anything else to do besides b*tch about our b*tching?

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