Last week I posted the question To what extent does FEMA assess the capabilities of all of the states and territories prior to a disaster? And how adequate are their assessments?
A few days later I got this useful explanation from Joel Palmer, Acting Branch Chief
Preparedness and Analysis Branch, National Preparedness Division
FEMA Region IX. It is as follows:
You raised the question of what FEMA does to assess the capabilities of jurisdictions, and the main thing on the preparedness side is the THIRA and SPR (threat and hazard identification and risk assessment, state preparedness report). These are linked assessments with the THIRA serving as a risk and resource requirement assessment and the SPR serving as a capability assessment. THIRA has been a requirement for grantees under either EMPG or HSGP (including SHSGP, UASI, and THSGP) for the last five years and SPR has been a requirement on states and territories since PKEMRA. In their current forms the two assessments link and provide a good self-assessment of jurisdictional capability, with the caveat that the data is more complete for states and territories than for tribes and urban areas as the SPR requirement only covers the former.
The THIRA is a four step process, outlined in CPG-201, that has jurisdictions 1) identify their threats and hazards of concern; 2) provide details and context for the most significant threats and hazards; 3) develop Core Capability targets based on the impacts of those threats and hazards and the jurisdictionally-identified desired outcomes for each Core Capability; and 4) estimate some of the resources required to meet the targets. The next piece, the SPR, has jurisdictions rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 for each of their targets, assessing where they may have gaps across the capability elements of planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises. There are additional contextual questions and details, but that’s the broad overview. (NOTE – details of both assessments and the contextual pieces can be found at https://www.fema.gov/national-preparedness-system.
The regions and FEMA HQ use the assessments in a number of different ways. The most publicly visible is the annual National Preparedness Report, which looks across the nation at the 32 Core Capabilities, identified areas of progress, areas for focus, and other trends and key information. That report is submitted to the White House in the spring of each year as required in Presidential Policy directive 8 – National Preparedness. Another primary way HQ uses the data is to build pre-event assessments by looking at specific hazards (e.g. – a Caribbean hurricane) through the jurisdictional lens by seeing which events they included in their assessments would be applicable, what the primary Core Capabilities of interest for that hazard are, and what details the jurisdiction included in their assessment. That report can then be used to help decision-makers anticipate the requests for assistance that are more likely to come from the jurisdiction. A final way we’ve used the assessments at the regional level is to compare the jurisdictional hazards and assessments to regional planning and identify any differences that might exist. For example – many of the joint region-jurisdiction plans use scenarios that are larger and more catastrophic than the jurisdictional THIRA does. This is reasonable, since the THIRA is supposed to assess the jurisdictional capability and capacity and a catastrophic event that results in the jurisdiction needing extensive outside assistance wouldn’t be a good way to judge internal resources.
As I said, these are self-assessments and that’s a concern that has been identified by Congress and is being addressed by HQ. In coordination with the regions and jurisdictions a large portion of 2017 was spent reviewing potential changes to the methodology, testing out proposals with the jurisdictions, and getting feedback. All of this was done with the goal of moving towards a more objective assessment but without generating a massive additional workload on jurisdictions. One good aspect of the current assessments is that the methodology has been stable long enough that we’re able to see some trends emerging, which can be used at all levels to identify where investments have supported increased capability and where further focus might be needed.
Unfortunately, as the current disasters have illustrated, no assessment is perfect. My hope is that the updates to the processes that we’ve already been discussing, informed by the after action analysis from the 2017 hurricane season and other recent events will help us improve the assessments both in terms of what the jurisdictions are asked to provide and what we do with the data once collected, including continuing efforts to align efforts across program lines (e.g. – including mitigation hazard analysis data when assessing jurisdictional and national preparedness).
Thanks again for the asking the question, and I hope this explanation of the existing processes can help inform the conversation on what we should be doing and could be doing better.
Acting Branch Chief
Preparedness and Analysis Branch
National Preparedness Division
FEMA Region IX