Assessment Report on FEMA’s Emergency Support Function Roles and Responsibilities

A newly released report from the Office of the Inspector General at DHS, reviews all of the Emergency Support Functions (ESFs).  While generally positive, ESF #14 did come in for some criticism. In my view the OIG did not dig deeply enough; I think the recovery process is fraught with deficiencies. From the report summary:

FEMA generally has fulfilled its Emergency Support Function roles and responsibilities. Specifically, the agency manages mission assignments, executes contracts, and procures goods and services for its Emergency Support Function activities. However, the agency can improve its coordination with stakeholders and its operational readiness.

FEMA should be coordinating with stakeholders for all Emergency Support Functions. For example, there was little evidence that support agencies are regularly included in planning meetings for an Emergency Support Function mission, even though agency officials said that such coordination would be beneficial. The agency must coordinate these activities with all relevant federal departments and agencies, state and local officials, and private sector entities to effectively execute the Emergency Support Function mission.

FEMA also should be fully prepared to provide community assistance after a disaster. Specifically, it is not conducting long-term recovery exercises, and one Emergency Support Function does not have clearly defined procedures to identify and deploy needed recovery services to disaster affected communities.

The report contains 11 recommendations that, when implemented, should improve FEMA’s efforts to meet its Emergency Support Function roles and responsibilities.

On Dec. 10, CQ Homeland Security commented on some of the content; their comments on the recovery aspect are as follows:

“FEMA also should be fully prepared to provide community assistance after a disaster,” it said.

For example, the report found that for post-disaster funding, FEMA has 36 full-time public assistance grant program employees, with 1,200 disaster assistance employees ready to supplement them in an emergency. However, the inspector general noted that as of February, 43 percent of the emergency staff were deployed to previous disasters, 15 percent were available and 42 percent were listed as “unavailable.” FEMA has said those numbers are inaccurate, though, as about 50 percent of the reserve staff typically make themselves available when an emergency hits.

And, while the report noted that FEMA already holds many hearings with its partners in response, the inspector general found that a few communications gaps still exist. For example, when it comes to communications restoration, “FEMA needs to consistently hold meetings with stakeholders and complete required reports from the regions to ensure continued coordination with stakeholders and to assess emergency communications capabilities and needs,” the report said.

This additional information does not make me any more optimistic about recovery. In my opinion ESF #14 is not well-conceived, so I do not find details about implementation satisfying. Recovery is far more comprehensive and complex than ESF 14 suggests.  Additionally, the final version of the National Disaster Recovery Framework still has not been issued.

1 thought on “Assessment Report on FEMA’s Emergency Support Function Roles and Responsibilities

  1. Apparently FEMA has over 200 preapproved mission assignments for use in disasters and emergencies. It would be of great interest to the interested public to have those made available for public comment. Also hoping that standardized overhead rates could be charged to FEMA and the DRF for all mission assignments. And FEMA and DHS and the President need a prearranged trigger and system to make sure that mission assigned agencies both accept and complete those assignments. In Katrina several agencies refused mission assignments as did the ARC and this has not yet been discussed in the Katrina literature anywhere. Time to grow up and if memory serves this issue was identified by the NAPA team that prepared “Coping With Catastrophe” issued February 1993. I notice that a Senate hearing on castrophic preparedness by DHS and FEMA scheduled for last Tuesday was cancelled. When rescheduled hoping the Committee members and staff reread and have at hand the 1993 NAPA report and its recommendations. Director James Lee Witt skillfully adopted some of the NAPA recommendations and convinced the Congress and the President to reject others. Still a very very important baseline document that ultimately reached the conclusion that Presidents get the FEMA they want. And deserve?

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