I listened to part of the Senate hearing yesterday, details and testimony can be found here. It was not exactly reassuring to hear the recently retired Inspector General of DHS enumerate the problems and issues known for years and complain about the slow pace of change and remediation. More details about the hearing were provided by GovExec.com, March 18th, in their article titled: Senators question U.S. preparedness in wake of Japan’s crisis.
Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday questioned which federal agency and individual within the federal government would take the lead in responding to a catastrophe like the one gripping Japan.
“Is it really clear who’s responsible for what if, God forbid, we had the kind of multiple catastrophes that Japan is experiencing right now?” the committee’s ranking member, Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, at a hearing.
There was no clear answer, as FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said that the response would depend on several factors, such as where the disaster occurred and whether local first responders survived. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would lead efforts after a disaster at a nuclear-power plant, Fugate said. FEMA, on the other hand, would be responsible for coordinating evacuations around the plant.
Overall, Fugate said, FEMA has made “significant progress” in preparing to deal with a catastrophe, but “we have much work to be done.”
But FEMA does not yet have an adequate system to assess what kind of capabilities exist in states and cities across the country to handle disasters, said William Jenkins, the Government Accountability Office’s director of homeland-security and justice issues.
I realize only a week has gone by since the start of the disasters in Japan, but it would be nice to see some signs of concern and action from Congress and FEMA about dealing with a catastrophic disaster. Yesterday was not one.