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Change FEMA’s Business Model

Whether we face more disasters in the future, those that occur will likely be more severe and costly than we have experienced in the past. The answer does not lie in a different bureaucracy, but in a significant increase in operational capability at FEMA.

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Various proposals to reestablish FEMA as an independent agency are well-intentioned, harkening back to the late 1990s when it was politically supported, professionally staffed, and well led. FEMA’s failure was primarily a lack of capacity at the regional and national levels. The old preparedness model, maintaining a skeleton disaster capability and ramping up once disaster strikes, is no longer adequate.

Whether we face more disasters in the future, those that occur will likely be more severe and costly than we have experienced in the past. The answer does not lie in a different bureaucracy, but in a significant increase in operational capability: a modern and transparent logistics capability; a national response plan that works; and sufficient resources to deliver on its responsibilities to communities and states based on joint plans that have been developed from the bottom up and frequently tested.

Federalizing or militarizing disaster response is not the answer. The system must be federally supported, but community-based. A stronger regional structure and robust command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence or C4I structure should improve coordination between the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and their key elements, including FEMA, the National Guard, and Northern Command.

  • Invest in FEMA ƒƒ before disaster strikes. Project Impact should be reinstated, and with it better advance planning and mitigation before the next natural or man-made disaster. To do this, FEMA requires more full-time personnel so that it can plan, mitigate, and respond—all at the same time—alongside a larger budget that cannot be raided for other purposes besides national preparedness. FEMA should be granted greater independence, but remain within DHS.
  • Develop an integrated regional command and control system. Build a strong homeland security planning, communication, coordination, and information-sharing capability to mirror the legacy military C4I capability from the Cold War. FEMA’s regional headquarters and the Coast Guard’s network of joint operations centers can serve as the backbone.
  • Build an inclusive ƒƒand transparent logistics system that effectively employs the private sector. FEMA should take advantage of the superior capabilities of the private sector to create a more effective system of response and recovery. This includes better situational awareness, creating a common response picture that is readily accessible to federal, state, and local authorities to help monitor a post-disaster response and track the status of specific requests for assistance.

To read more ideas about how to improve our homeland security, please see:

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