IAFC's Schwartz and NGA’s Ghilarducci Testify on Emergency Preparedness

On September 19, Chief Jim Schwartz, chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs' (IAFC) Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee, and Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response & Communications. Ghilarducci represented the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council (GHSAC).

The hearing, Assessing the Nation's State of Preparedness: A Federal, State, and Local Perspective, examined the nation's ongoing level of homeland security preparedness from the state and local perspectives and on the basis of implementing lessons learned from disasters of the past year. 

Both speakers acknowledged an improvement in the nation's level of preparedness since 9/11/01 as evidenced in responses to events such as the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, Superstorm Sandy, and the Patriots' Day bombing in Boston. Schwartz, also chief of the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department, attributed the improvement in preparedness "in large part to the collaboration between the federal government and local first-response agencies." He explained: "Jurisdictions across the nation are developing capabilities to fill gaps in their preparedness systems and studying these events to learn lessons that can be applied in their communities."
Ghilarducci credited the progress to a "whole community" approach and a "decade's worth of federal investment and engagement at the state and local levels."

Both told the Senate committee members, however, that there still was more to be accomplished. Schwartz pointed to areas where federal, state, and local collaboration is essential, such as public-safety communications, information sharing, intrastate mutual aid, and additional regionalization for more economic and operational efficiency.

The Fire Service Perspective

Schwartz proposed the following immediate actions to the committee members from the perspective of the emergency response system:

  • Sustain and bolster the baseline emergency response capability of local fire and EMS departments.
  • Develop a mechanism grant recipients can use to share best practices and lessons learned to create greater efficiency.
  • Ensure that fusion centers provide local first responders with clear, helpful, and actionable information.  
  • Aggressively develop and dispense medical countermeasures to first responders and their families.
  • Ensure that local response agencies are equal partners with state and federal agencies in the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) process and the National Preparedness Grant Program.
  • Include firefighting as a core capability function in the Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-8 (PPD-8) (at http://www.dhs.gov/presidential-policy-directive-8-national-preparedness).

Schwartz concluded: "It is important to remember that any national disaster begins locally and ends locally. However, one of the greatest lessons the nation has learned in the past 12 years is that it requires the development of a comprehensive national system to improve preparedness." His complete testimony is at http://www.iafc.org/files/1GR/gr_testimonySchwartzHomeSec130919.pdf.

The Governors' Perspective

Ghilarducci identified what he considered "significant, emerging challenges" that could threaten the progress made in the preparedness arena, among them the following:

  • "A growing number of homeland security threats and hazards facing states and communities such as those related to cybersecurity.
  • "A suite of federal preparedness grant programs whose structure no longer aligns with the current economic or security environment.
  • "A newly established doctrine on national preparedness which has shown early promise but needs time and fine-tuning to be truly effective in the long term."

He proposed that the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency solicit input and feedback on National Preparedness System (NPS) guidance and programs from state associations and councils, such as the GHSAC; that the state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) stakeholders be given a "reasonable amount of time" to offer meaningful feedback; and that DHS offer technical assistance and collaborate "consistently" with the SLTT community. 

Ghilarducci also said the key objective of the NPS that both national-level priorities and the reciprocal needs of states, local communities, and surrounding regions be considered when decisions regarding incident management and resource allocation are made would be best accomplished if "schedules and deadlines on deliverables are synchronized and better aligned with state activities." He cited the need for improved coordination between FEMA's regional offices and these entities to facilitate mutual-aid agreements between states and the FEMA regions.

He concluded: "Governors and the GHSAC stand ready to serve as partners with the federal government and local communities to improve the NPS, reform preparedness grant programs to improve efficiency, and build capabilities to address threats across all domains including cyberspace."

His full testimony is at http://www.nga.org/cms/home/federal-relations/nga-testimony/2013--nga-testimony/col2-content/testimony--a-state-perspective-o.html.

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