Comments on the age-old question: “Who’s in Charge in a Catastrophic Disasters”

Coast Guard Commandant Thad W. Allen, from htt...

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Who Is in Charge of What During Major Catastrophes Still Unanswered . National Defense Magazine, November 2011.

When a natural or manmade disaster strikes the United States, which federal agency is in charge of the response? The answer is all of them and none of them, former Commandant of the Coast Guard retired Adm. Thad Allen suggested recently.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5, released in 2003, said that the Department of Homeland Security secretary takes command of a non-defense related catastrophe. A presidential policy directive released in April this year reiterated this.

“Tell that to [Health and Human Services] in a pandemic,” Allen said at the National Defense Industrial Association homeland security conference. Since his retirement in 2010, Allen has emerged as a leading voice in the disaster response community.

2 thoughts on “Comments on the age-old question: “Who’s in Charge in a Catastrophic Disasters”

  1. This highlights the simplistic bureaucratic thinking that seems to dominate our preparedness apparata. Interestingly, FEMA may be the one agency that is at least thinking in a way that can lead us out of this swamp: Adminstrator Fugate’s Whole-Community thrust – if taken to a logical conclusion – could lead to a more nuanced approach. One example of our current muddled thinking: ignoring the different “time constants” of different sectors. In many cases, public health’s response phase begins when many of the other systems are already in recovery. Thus, public health is really kicking in when EM is ratcheting down. Yet, in most communities, EM tries to maintain a command and control relationship with PH, when a handoff seems more appropriate.

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