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Special Report #06 on Department of Homeland Security

April 7, 2006

Empowering America: A Proposal for Enhancing Regional Preparedness

By

Executive Summary

In the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Congress required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to pro­pose a framework for regional operations. The Secretary of Homeland Security had one year to develop and submit to Congress a plan to consolidate and collocate the field offices under DHS control and any other federal field offices and regional operations that fell within DHS's responsibilities. Secretary Tom Ridge's initial plan fell on deaf ears in the legislative and executive branches.

Hurricane Katrina showed the cost of this inaction. It is time for Congress to set out the missions, organization, authorities, and resources for DHS field offices and put a comprehensive regional plan into effect.

This report, written by a task force of scholars organized by The Heritage Foundation and The George Wash­ington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute, focuses on regional preparedness. Regional preparedness is crucial to building a national response system that allows local communities, states, and the federal government to work together to make sure that the right resources get to the right place at the right time to do the right thing during a catastrophic disaster. Significant local capabilities already exist, including those of domestic military, state, and local first responders, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations. The challenge is to access and inte­grate these capabilities to improve preparedness in the near term.

We present three major recommendations:

DHS should create regional offices to increase preparedness. Its primary goal should be enhanced regional coordination of the preparedness activities of state and local governments, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and federal agencies. The regional offices should not have policymak­ing or grant-making responsibilities. Instead, the offices should work in partnership with state, local, and private organizations in their regions to identify critical gaps in preparedness and critical infrastruc­ture protection, communicate these needs to the staff of DHS's homeland security grant programs, and monitor the adequacy of appropriations in addressing these needs.

Regional offices should complement a more robust and effective incident command system at the federal level that is designed to integrate effectively with regional responders.

The field offices should drive the improvement of professional development within homeland security, similar to the Defense Department's Goldwater-Nichols reforms and including education, assignment, and accreditation requirements.

Together, these recommendations emphasize the importance of regional preparedness based on partnership and cooperation across governments and sectors.

Empowering America:
A Proposal for Enhancing Regional Preparedness

Homeland Security Policy Institute Task Force

In the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Congress required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to pro­pose a framework for regional operations. The Secretary of Homeland Security had one year to develop and submit to Congress a plan to consolidate and collocate the field offices under DHS control and any other federal field offices and regional operations that fell within DHS's responsibilities. Secretary Tom Ridge's initial plan fell on deaf ears in the legislative and executive branches.

Hurricane Katrina showed the cost of this inaction. Both the White House report Katrina: Lessons Learned and a report of the House of Representatives Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina conclude that regional field offices are a crucial but missing piece of our homeland security sys­tem. It is time for Congress to set out the missions, organization, authorities, and resources for DHS field offices and put a comprehensive regional plan into effect.

This report, written by a task force of scholars organized by The Heritage Foundation and The George Wash­ington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute, focuses on regional preparedness. The task force agreed to focus on preparedness as a first step in building regional capabilities. We do not address incident management and operational response-important aspects of regional organization-in this paper.

Regional preparedness is crucial to building a national response system that allows local communities, states, and the federal government to work together to make sure that the right resources get to the right place at the right time to do the right thing during a catastrophic disaster. The involvement of state and local officials and private-sec­tor entities in a regional preparedness system engages them as true partners in homeland security. Regional pre­paredness works in the best interests of the states by providing state leaders with a single point of contact in the federal government for their preparedness needs. Likewise, federal preparedness officials who are steeped in the pro­cess of regional planning, training, and education will be well-versed in the specific needs of their regions.

Regional field offices should help build state and local preparedness capabilities; facilitate regional cooperation among governments, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); and plan and exercise with federal entities that will support the regional response to disasters, with a focus on response to catastrophic threats. Significant local capabilities already exist, including those of domestic military, state, and local first responders, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations. The challenge is to access and integrate these capabilities to improve preparedness quickly.

We present conclusions in four areas: roles and missions, organization, authorities, and resources. Roles and mis­sions concerns the organization and conduct of operations for the most critical preparedness and coordination tasks. Organization considers the structure and functions of the regional offices, as well as their place in the large DHS structure. Authorities addresses the adequacy of the legal authorities and policies governing regional offices' activities. Resources analyzes the allocation of resources and the ability to respond effectively and efficiently to critical missions.

Together, these recommendations emphasize the importance of regional preparedness based on partnership and cooperation across governments and sectors.

I. Roles and Missions

Findings

  • Federalism is a strength, not a constraint. Any regional framework must be consistent with constitu­tional principles. Aiding states in response to catastrophic events is among the federal government's roles. State and local governments have the constitutional responsibility to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. State leadership makes sense because state and local officials know the needs of their communities best and are well-placed to provide immediate, on-the-ground response fol­lowing disasters. Furthermore, federal, state, and local governments working as partners with NGOs and the private sector can accomplish more than each individually and leverage assets beyond those of just the government.
  • Retain an all-hazards approach. Any regional structure needs to be part of an outcomes-based, requirements-driven system. An all-hazards, risk-based approach to emergency management-a single response system that meets a range of potential disasters, including natural, accidental, and deliberate disasters-is the best one. Many of the instruments and policies required to prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorist acts are the same as those needed to address natural disasters.
  • Develop shared situational awareness of available capabilities and resources. While Hurricane Katrina exposed shortcomings in capabilities and resources at all levels, the principal lesson of Katrina is that all levels of government failed to leverage the considerable capabilities and resources that already existed rapidly and effectively as part of a coordinated approach. They are bound to fail again when the next catastrophic disaster strikes. Currently, potential responders have no shared understanding of what capabilities and assets are available for use in a crisis-from federal, state, and local government assets to resources from the private sector and NGOs. There still is not even any system in place to accept assets and suitable goods from the private sector and NGOs during a crisis.
  • Focus on planning, not plans. To respond effectively to a crisis, planning-more than any other fac­tor-must occur in advance. Planning drives requirements, programming, budgeting, training exer­cises, and rapid decentralized execution. Ultimately, however, it is necessary to keep plans flexible in order to adapt to the current circumstances on the ground. In a time of crisis, plans provide responders with a starting point for action.
  • Critical infrastructure protection must be part of planning. Protecting critical infrastructure is a national responsibility shared by all levels of government and the private sector. Ownership, location, and types of critical infrastructure vary greatly. The private sector, NGOs, state and local govern­ments, and the federal government must work together to ensure critical infrastructure protection and resiliency.
  • Focus on catastrophic disasters. The United States currently has a tiered disaster response system. Local leaders request state resources when they have exhausted their own. In turn, state leaders ask the federal government for aid when their means are exceeded. Catastrophic disasters are of a different mag­nitude. State and local resources are usually destroyed or exhausted immediately, and state and local government officials may have difficulty determining and communicating their needs. In these situa­tions, federal resources are needed immediately and in massive amounts despite likely difficulties that may impede communication and delivery.

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