Improving the National Response to
before the Committee on Government Reform
Dr. James Jay
House Office Building
Mr. Chairman and other
distinguished Members of the committee,
Thank you for the opportunity to address the
lessons of the national response to Hurricane Katrina, the role of
local communities in preparing for such disasters, and the role of
President Bush was
absolutely correct when he labeled the national response
"inadequate." When national catastrophes occur, the resources of
the nation have to be mobilized to respond immediately. And equally
important, Americans must remain confident that their leaders, at
all levels of government, are in charge and doing the right things
to make all Americans safer. On both counts, the nation fell short
and Americans have a right to understand why and what can be done
In my testimony, first I would like to discuss
the key considerations that should shape the effort to learn from
this tragedy. Second, I will assess the current efforts of
communities across the nation to respond to similar challenges.
Third, I would like to address the role of the federal government
in assisting state and local governments in preparing for
catastrophic disasters. Fourth, and finally, I would like to
recommend actions that Congress should undertake.
The Disaster in Context-Scope and
In evaluating the response to Katrina and the
understanding the lessons to be learned for enhancing national
preparedness, assessments must take into account the scope and
character of the disaster.
is the largest physical disaster this nation has suffered in modern
history. There is no other event which could be used as a standard
for measuring the efficacy of the response. For example, the 9/11
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was narrow in the
geographic scope and centered on a single jurisdiction. Damage to
infrastructure was localized and the immediately affected
population ranged in the tens-of-thousands. In contrast, Katrina
affected an area over 90,000 square miles, disrupted the lives of
millions and destroyed or degraded most of the region's
infrastructure. The scope of the disaster represented an
unprecedented challenge to emergency responders. As one veteran
responder put it, the challenge of getting massive aid into flooded
New Orleans and other devastated areas was a logistical problem
like "landing an army at Normandy with a little less shooting."
Transportation networks, power, and communications, all the things
essential to speeding aid were wiped out.
Some observers remarked that the Gulf Coast
looked like a third-world disaster. And they were right. The storm
surge, wind, and flood washed away everything that makes a modern
city and left a mass of desperation, difficult to get to. Any
assessment of the response must be realistic in its expectations of
how quickly the dire needs of a million people over
tens-of-thousands of square miles of devastated terrain could be
addressed under these impossible conditions.
Character of Catastrophic Disaster
Katrina was also a different kind of disaster.
In "normal" disasters, whether they are terrorist strikes like 9/11
or a natural disaster such as a flood or snow storm, a
tiered-response is employed. Local leaders turn to state
resources when they are exhausted. In turn, states turn to
Washington when their means are exceeded. Both local and state
leaders play a critical role in effectively communicating their
requirements to federal officials and managing the response. In
most disasters local resources handle things in the first hours and
days until national resources can be requested, marshaled, and
rushed to the scene. That usually takes days. With the exception of
a few federal assets such as Coast Guard and Urban Search and
Rescue, teams don't roll in until well after the response is well
Katrina was a "catastrophic" disaster. In catastrophic disasters,
tens-or-hundreds of thousands of lives are immediately at risk.
State and local resources may well be exhausted from the onset and
government leaders unable to determine or communicate their
priority needs. And unlike New York
after 9/11 there were few place communities to turn for immediate
help. Surrounding cities could quickly pitch in, over intact
bridges, roads, and waterways. The small communities around cities
like New Orleans, Biloxi, and Baton Rouge had little extra capacity
before the storm. Now they have their own problems.
National resources have to show-up in hours, not days in
unprecedented amounts, regardless of the difficulties. That's a
very different requirement for mounting a national response to
the limitations of the national response in meeting the challenges
of catastrophic disaster, it is equally important to focus on the
incredible achievements of America's responders. Several hundred
thousand were successfully evacuated before the storm. If they not
been, the death toll would have been unimaginable.
Tens-of-thousands were rescued during and after the storm under
harrowing conditions, including over 33,000 by the Department of
Homeland Security's U.S. Coast Guard. Tens-of-thousands more,
including those at the Superdome and Convention Center, were
evacuated before they succumbed to dehydration, hunger, exposure,
or disease. Today, many hundreds-of-thousands are being safely
quartered by communities around the country.
In comparison to
the devastation reaped by the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the U.S.
capacity to save lives in a similar disaster proved unparalleled.
This just didn't happen. It resulted from the decisions of
government leaders, volunteer groups, private sector initiatives,
and the selfless actions of communities and individuals. All are
vital components of a national response. All these efforts, the
plans that guided them, and how they worked together, must be
Another point I would make in assessing how we
move forward, is that Americans should realize that as a nation
since 9/11 we have invested only a modicum of effort in preparing
for catastrophic disaster.
The overwhelming effort at the federal level,
as well as those in state and local governments has been on
strengthening our ability to respond to "normal"
In part, because
that is they way Congress, states, and cities wanted it-all
insisted that we made enhancing the nation's capacity to respond to
"normal" disasters the highest national priority. The federal
government was required to dole out grants with scant regard to national
priorities. Katrina shows the limitations of that approach. Today,
all the fire stations in New Orleans lie under water, as does much
of the equipment bought with federal dollars. Only a national
system-capable of mustering the whole nation-can respond to
What Does Katrina
The final point I
would make in putting Hurricane Katrina in context is that this
tragedy leaves little question that we
need a greater national capacity to respond to catastrophic
disasters. Katrina provides a standard for the capabilities
that must be on hand, for both catastrophic terrorist attacks and
disasters. After all, there was little difference the effects of
nuclear attack and the aftermath of Katrina other than the absence
of mushroom cloud and radiation.
I would make one caveat to this conclusion -
that in at least one respect Katrina does not give a fair
appreciation for what is needed to respond to catastrophic
disaster. In the area of catastrophic response, few issues require
more attention that public health and safety. Ironically, one area
that has not received "catastrophic stress" in the aftermath of
Katrina is medical response. The lives of
hundreds-of-thousands were saved by the actions of responders
before and after the storm. Next time the nation might not be so
Local Efforts-Thinking About the
Assessing how states and local communities are
preparing to meet the challenges of catastrophic disasters is no
easy task. I have long observed, "if you have seen what one city or
state are doing about emergency preparedness and response, you have
seen what one city or state are doing about emergency preparedness
and response." In part, the diversity is understandable.
Communities have different needs, conditions, and requirements and
they should have the flexibility to shape their preparedness and
emergency response programs to best meet their concerns. There are,
however, some national trends worth pointing out. Four are of
The approach of most communities to disaster
planning is "all-hazards." In other words, they have a single
response system which can be adapted to meet a variety of natural
and manmade disasters. Indeed, I would argue that preponderance of
emergency preparedness efforts at the local, state, and federal
level have focused on building an all-hazards response and have not
been diverted to just preparing for terrorist attacks. I think that
approach is correct and should remain so in the future.
A Federalist Approach
State and local governments assume in
virtually every instance, state and local leaders will remain in
charge and national assets, whether they come from other states,
the private sector, or the federal government, will be in support
of their efforts.
That is the right approach, even for
catastrophic disasters. Even if the federal government thought it
would be prudent to usurp the authority of the state and local
governments in the early hours or days of a disaster, it is
doubtful that such an effort would improve the efficiency of the
response. In fact, the response might be even more confused and
Unity of effort can be achieved and maintained
under the federalist approach, even in catastrophic disasters, as
long as state and local governments are still functioning. The
continuity of state and local government under catastrophic
conditions, however, is an area of concern. Not all cities have
alternate and mobile command posts, or adequate plans for
maintaining continuity of government in the substantial loss of
infrastructure during a catastrophic event.
Most communities only invest a modicum of
effort in assessing their capacity to execute response plans in the
face of catastrophic disaster. In part, that is understandable.
They have limited time and resources. Honing their capacity to meet
every day emergencies, the kind that occurs day in and day out, is
their priority. Additionally, officials are reluctant undertake
exercises that begin with the presumption that at the outset of
crisis they lack the capacity to address the needs of their
citizens or take initiative. Additionally, stockpiling assets for
catastrophic disasters is extremely expensive. In any event, this
might be of little use since these resources themselves might be
destroyed in the catastrophe.
There are, however, common sense measures that
all communities can take. The vital capacity that many communities
lack is the means to assess the adequacy of their emergency
response plans to meet catastrophic disaster before, during, and
immediately after an event and communicate that information
effectively to state and federal officials so that their needs can
be anticipated, rather than having the federal and state government
wait for formal assessments and requests before they marshal
resources to respond.
Lack of Community-Based Planning
Most emergency response planning and
preparedness activities at the state and local level is "top-down"
rather than bottom-up. One indisputable fact should be the
foundation of any public preparedness program: America does
not have a culture of preparedness. There are simple measures
that, if undertaken by individuals and communities, could limit the
threat to people and property in the event of a disaster. Most
Americans are oblivious to them and of the plans that their state
and local officials have in mind for them.
Ironically, research suggests that the most
effective preparedness response plans are those based on
community-input. These plans can only be developed by engaging with
communities, not just "leaders," but individual
The worst lesson that could be learned from
the disaster of Hurricane Katrina is that all the answers to
addressing the needs of American in the face of catastrophic
disaster are to be found in Washington. The federal government does
have a unique and important role to play. Only the federal
government can build a national response system, the kind needed in
a catastrophic disaster to mobilize the resources of the nation in
the face of a disaster that immediately overwhelms local leaders
and puts tens-of-thousands of lives at risk. The federal government
also has the responsibility to build the "plugs" that allow state
and local government to "plug" into the system. This includes (1)
training, (2) education, (3) planning, (4) interoperable
communications, and (5) effective information-sharing. Beyond that,
the federal government should focus federal dollars on building-up
the federal assets needed to respond to catastrophic
and the Congress must better coordinate, integrate, and focus
federal efforts on developing the unique competencies needed to
meet catastrophic disasters. To assist in this effort, Congress
Homeland Security Grant System
The administration needs the authority and
organization to build an effective national response system.
Pass HR 1544 The Faster and Smarter Funding First Responders Act. A
similar measure should be applied to grants by the Department of
Health and Human Services.
Ensure that the Department of Homeland Security must fully
implement Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8.
Insist that the Catastrophic Disaster Annex to the National
Response Plan must be quickly implemented.
including terrorist attacks, can be handled by emergency
responders. Only catastrophic disasters-events that overwhelm the
capacity of state and local governments- require a large-scale
military response. Assigning this mission to the military
makes sense. It would be counterproductive and ruinously expensive
for other federal agencies, local governments, or the private
sector to maintain the excess capacity and resources needed for
immediate catastrophic response. On the other hand, maintaining
this capacity would have real utility for the military. The
Pentagon could use response forces for tasks directly related to
its primary warfighting jobs-such as theater support to civilian
governments during a conflict, counterinsurgency missions, and
postwar occupation-as well as homeland security. Furthermore, using
military forces for catastrophic response would be in accordance
with constitutional principles and would not require changing
existing laws. These
forces would mostly be National Guard soldiers, which are the
troops that have the flexibility to work equally well under state
or federal control. The force needs to be large enough to maintain
some units on active duty at all times for rapid response and
sufficient to support missions at home and abroad. For catastrophic
response, three components would need to be particularly robust:
medical, security, and critical infrastructure response.
- Require the
Defense Department to restructure a significant portion of the
National Guard into an effective response force.
- Demand the
Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review, in coordination
with the Department of Homeland security, be used to determine the
precise number of the forces that are required and how they can be
established by converting the existing Cold War force structure
into units that are appropriate for new missions overseas and at
The Role of the
State Defense Forces
State and local
governments will always need to draw support beyond their core of
professional emergency responders for a catastrophic disaster. While the National
Guard is often the source of this support, it may not be enough. In
addiction, if the National Guard is deployed the state must have a
credible alternative. The Constitution authorizes the states to
form other guards and militias. Some states have these volunteer
groups. They are of varying quality and utility. These volunteer
groups could be useful backup asset for catastrophic disaster. I do
not recommend federal funding for state guards, but I do think the
federal government should set national standards and provide
incentives to states to address the readiness of their volunteer
- Require the
Department of Defense, in cooperation with the Department of
Homeland Security, to draft national performance standards for
state volunteer defense forces.
- Authorize federal
departments to advise and evaluate these forces and allow state
defense personnel to undertake military and homeland security
training and education opportunities at the state's expense.
Through on the Reorganization of the Homeland Security
review chaired by The Heritage Foundation and the Center for
Strategic and International Studies argued that this structure was
not suitable for leading the nation in preparing or responding to
It recommended consolidating preparedness activities under an Under
Secretary and creating a true "one-stop" shop for preparedness
activities for state and local governments, as well as
strengthening FEMA and making it an independent agency of the
department, eliminating a level of bureaucracy and focusing the
agency squarely on its traditional role of planning and
coordinating the national (not just federal) response to disasters.
In July 2005, the new Homeland Security Secretary announced the
results of his "Second Stage Review" of the department's
organization and missions. He proposed reforms that would have
addressed these issues. Hurricane Katrina struck before his reforms
could be fully implemented.
full-implementation of the Chertoff's Second Stage Review.
preparedness activities to be consolidated under an
- Insist FEMA be an
independent operating agency focused on national response.
- Insist FEMA
remain part of the department to ensure that response efforts are
well integrated with all the critical missions supporting
protection of the homeland.
Security Act of 2002 required the DHS to propose a regional
framework but provided no guidance on how to implement the system
or its purpose. It states only that: Not later than one year after
the date of the enactment of this Act, the [DHS] Secretary shall
develop and submit to Congress a plan for consolidating and
co-locating-(1) any regional offices or field offices of agencies
that are transferred to the Department under this Act, if such
officers are located in the same municipality; and
(2) portions of
regional and field offices of other Federal agencies, to the extent
such offices perform functions that are transferred to the
Secretary under this Act. The department failed to meet the time
line and has yet to announce a plan for a regional framework. This
organization could have significantly contributed to improving
coordination for catastrophic disasters.
- Demand Homeland
Security create a regional framework with the primary aims of
enhancing information sharing and other coordination among the
states, the private sector, and the headquarters in
- Require that the
offices be led by political appointees who enjoy sufficient clout
to gain ready access to local leaders. Ideally, these
individuals would include former politicians, police chiefs, and
other people who have some background in both homeland
security issues and their geographic areas of responsibility.
- Require the first
priority of this regional organization should be to support the
flow of information and coordinate training, exercises, and
professional development for state and local governments and the
private sector in responding to catastrophic disaster.
Build a "Culture of
Preparedness" and Personal and Community Responsibility
In comparison to
the devastation reaped by the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the U.S.
capacity to save lives in the aftermath of Katrina proved
unparalleled. This just didn't happen. It resulted from the
decisions of government leaders, volunteer groups, private sector
initiatives, and the selfless actions of communities and
individuals. All are vital components of a national response. Yet
more could have been saved in individuals and communities had met
their basic civic responsibilities. America does not have a culture
of preparedness. The Department of Homeland Security's current
approach to enhancing public preparedness is deeply flawed. Instead
of trying to run an ineffective advertising campaign from
Washington, the department needs to refocus its programs to
empower state and local governments to create effective "bottom-up"
preparedness from individuals and communities. Initiatives like
Ready.gov and National Preparedness Month are redundant with
programs run by the American Red Cross and will never be as
effective programs run by communities with the participation
and leadership of local citizens.
While the federal
government's role in public preparedness should not be large, it
should be effective and well-integrated with all the other
preparedness, mitigation, and outreach activities. This can best be
done by consolidating all of the Homeland Security Department's
tasks under one place in the department, as recommended in "DHS
2.0: Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security."
- Insist that the
department help state and local communities develop a culture of
preparedness by helping them to establish training programs
for state and local leaders. The Community Emergency Response Team
(CERT) program was an attempt to do this.
There is no
adequate national program to educate and exercise state and local
leaders in how to prepare for catastrophic disasters. The DHS lacks an institution to serve as a
focus for professional development of its leaders and a forum for
educating other leaders in other agencies and other countries,
similar to the Defense Department's War Colleges and National
- Require a
Homeland Security University.
- Require the
University, in cooperation with the Departments of Defense and
Homeland Security to create an exportable education program for
governors and mayors of major metropolitan areas and their staffs
for dealing with catastrophic disaster.
- Require TOPOFF
exercises only once every four years, in the second year of a
presidential term. This will allow more time to incorporate lessons
learned and shift more resources into more frequent regional
- Insist on a joint
NORTHCOM/FEMA exercise program.
Build a Knowledge
Network for Evaluating Response Plans
Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) in
Oklahoma City, the Department of Homeland Security has developed an
effective knowledge network that provides lessons learned and
assess technology needs for state and local governments. This
system could be expanded to provide technologies for allowing state
and local governments to conduct self-assessments of response plans
including metrics, measurement, operations analysis, and best
Where Do We Go
These measures are steps that can be taken
right now to shift the federal government toward building the right
national response system for the nation. I urge the Congress to
make them a priority. I look forward to discussing these other
recommendations during the course of the hearing.
Once again, thank you, Mr. Chairman and the
rest of the Committee for holding this hearing and for inviting me
to participate. I look forward to answering any questions you might