FEMA Testimony on Recovery

Written testimony of FEMA Office of Response and Recovery Associate Administrator Joseph Nimmich for a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management hearing titled “FEMA Reauthorization: Recovering Quicker and Smarter” (9/18/2013)

The part I found most interesting were the comments in the section headed “Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy and FEMA’s After Action Report. Once again, I think these points are teaching points identified rather than lessons learned — it remains to be seen if they have been learned!  Many of these points have been made before, in after-actions reports from H. Katrina, H. Andrew and many others..

Some excerpts:

The Hurricane Sandy After-Action Report identifies the Agency’s strengths and more importantly provides recommendations to improve FEMA’s response and recovery efforts. The report identifies four central themes for improvement:

* Ensuring unity of effort across the federal response. The severity of the storm underscored several areas for improvement related to FEMA’s ability to coordinate federal operations, including integrating senior leader communications into response and recovery operations; coordinating resources through the Emergency and Recovery Support Functions (ESF and RSF respectively); operational decision-making.

    Next steps include developing appropriate training, exercises, and outreach programs to foster greater coordination and communication among ESFs and RSFs, making the mission assignment process as efficient and transparent as possible, and improving efficiencies in the way FEMA provides support to large-scale events. Additional recommendations address implementation of the Agency’s Lessons Learned/Continuous Improvement Program (LL/CIP).

    In support of this effort, FEMA/National Exercise Division recently supported the National Security Staff in their conduct of a Principals’ Level Exercise (PLE) for Cabinet members to review their roles, responsibilities, and authorities within the National Response Framework (NRF), the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), and the National Continuity Policy (NCP). Conducted prior to the start of the 2013 hurricane season, the exercise examined issues identified during previous incidents including interagency coordination during the 2012 hurricane season and, in particular, Hurricane Sandy. ***

* Being survivor-centric: Leadership at FEMA adopted a “cut the red tape” posture to better serve survivors and communities, but opportunities remain, including meeting survivors’ needs during initial interactions with FEMA; ensuring all survivors have equal access to services; and reducing the complexity of the public assistance program.

 * Fostering unity of effort across the whole community: Sandy highlighted the need for FEMA to improve coordination with tribal governments and clarify how the agency interacts with local governments in disasters affecting large urban areas.

    Recommendations include anticipating cities’ resource requirements and understanding their capabilities, coordinating directly with local jurisdictions when it supports a forward-leaning response, promoting better integration between states and large urban governments, including encouraging local and tribal participation in the Unified Coordination Group where appropriate, and preparing response teams to handle incidents where state, local and tribal jurisdictions require clarification of the roles and responsibilities or have differing priorities during an incident.

* Developing an agile, professional, emergency management workforce: In response to Sandy, FEMA completed one of the largest personnel deployments in its history. FEMA is committed to supporting disaster survivors and their communities through the most effective and efficient means possible. In support of this commitment, FEMA has sought to expand, improve and diversify its disaster workforce. One example of a successful improvement is the DHS Surge Capacity Force (SCF), which is comprised of volunteer employees from various DHS components that are activated during catastrophic or large scale events when required. Currently the SCF has 3,901 volunteers, all of whom receive basic FEMA disaster assistance training prior to deployment. Sandy marked the historic inaugural activation of the SCF, with more than 1,100 SCF volunteers deploying in support of response and recovery efforts. The contributions of the SCF volunteers and other FEMA personnel in the areas of Community Relations and IA resulted in more than 182,000 survivors receiving more than $1.42 billion in assistance as of September 5, 2013.

    Further, beginning in April 2013, FEMA undertook a one-year pilot project to restructure its Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMATs) to provide increased capability by representing more FEMA programs and interagency representatives and by leveraging the hiring flexibilities provided by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. These three pilot teams will have 32 full-time, excepted service FEMA employees. These teams completed a rigorous 12 week training program and are prepared to deploy now. These teams will represent 13 different FEMA offices with the potential for including up to nine representatives from ESFs and interagency partners. ESF partners have begun assigning personnel to these teams. ***

    FEMA is continuing implementation of the FEMA Qualification System, improving plans and processes to support the logistical and administrative needs of a large deployed workforce, and improving continuity of operations and devolution plans to account for large-scale deployments.

FEMA has established a senior-level Continuous Improvement Working Group to track implementation of the recommendations and next steps included in the report. Thirty percent of the report’s recommendations have been implemented already, with 90 percent expected to be completed by year’s end.

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