In Case of Emergency, Read This Blog

In Case Of Emergency, Read Blog

A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

DHS Historical Report Underscores “Frequent Policy And Organizational Change” In U.S. Citizen Preparedness Efforts

September 14th, 2009 · 3 Comments

I just read an interesting report “Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History of National Preparedness Efforts” which was originally issued by the Department of Homeland Security in September, 2006. I had not seen the study which offers a good, compact 35-page summary of previous public preparedness initiatives. As the Obama Administration starts revamping current citizen readiness programs, this historical context is particularly useful in highlighting things that tripped up other efforts. The report’s introduction summarizes:

“An analysis of the history of civil defense and homeland security programs in the United States clearly indicates that to be considered successful, national preparedness programs must be long in their reach yet cost effective. They must also be appropriately tailored to the Nation’s diverse communities, be carefully planned, capable of quickly providing pertinent information to the populace about imminent threats, and able to convey risk without creating unnecessary alarm.”

The report doesn’t explicitly say so, but by those criteria it clearly indicates the nation has never had really had a fully “successful” national preparedness program. It does underscore a point often discussed on this blog that designing and executing a “successful” one is not an easy undertaking.

Fallout Shelter

The study recounts that other Administrations dealt with many of the same challenges/balances that officials now face when it comes to civilian preparedness, including the need to: back up good words/intentions with serious governmental/societal commitment; think through whether the public can actually do logistically and financially what is being recommended; communicate scary subjects without unnecessarily scaring people; ; figure out how best the federal government can support and complement local leadership; and settle philosophical differences among policymakers before presenting anything to the citizenry.

In its conclusion, the report notes: “The history of civil defense and homeland security in the United States has been one of frequent policy and organizational change.” I would argue that to get it right there will need to be some more policy and organizational changes (though I believe it is more a matter of focus than anything else). Nevertheless, given the history described in the study, any new initiatives must be carefully considered and implemented.

Correction: When I originally posted this, I called the study a “FEMA report”. As Bill Cumming has pointed out to me (see Comment below), it actually was produced in 2006 by the Department of Homeland Security’s Preparedness Directorate.

These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • Technorati

Tags: Preparedness Reports

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 William R. Cumming // Sep 15, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Unfortuantely FEMA which lost its status as an independent agency on March 1, 2003 had nothing to do with this report. It was produced by the then independent Preparedness Directorate in DHS which removed preparedness from FEMA under Secretary Michael Chertoff’s 2SR reorganization made effective in October 2005. Approved by Congress in the DHS appropriation act for FY 2006 it was reversed by passage and signing into law PKEMA (Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006) Title VI of the DHS approps act for FY 2007. This recombined Preparedness into FEMA (a name readopted by PKEMA) effective April 1, 2007. Parts of the Preparedness Directorate were left behind however in a new National Protection & Programs Directorate now headed by Rand Beers as a Under Secretary DHS.
    The report is of some use but highly inaccurate in its discussion of the federal civil defense program which existed under Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress as amended until its repeal and limited partial incorporation into the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act by; Public Law 103-337! It is unfortunate that this contractor produced document was never circulated for review among the academic or civil service community. It to some degree reflects the inaccurate portrayal of the civil defense effort as reflected in recent books by Professor Stanly Perrow, retired, and Dee Garrison! A better take on the implications of civil defense is reflected in an astute study led by AMANDA DORY while on detail to CSIS entitled “Civil Security” published in 2002 which attempts to articulate a doctrine and the importance of that doctrine known by the term “resilience.”
    Hoping this comment is of some assistance. By the way George Foresman was the first and last Under Secretary for Preparedness from December 2005 until his resignation on March 31, 2007.

  • 2 admin // Sep 15, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Thanks for the correction.
    I agree that Amanda Dory’s “Civil Security” study is excellent. For those interested, here is a link to it:

  • 3 For Current Effort To Increase Citizen Role In Homeland Security & Nation’s Resilience, 2003 “Civil Security” Report Offers Useful Guidance // Oct 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    [...] I posted DHS’s 2006 “Civil Defense And Homeland Security” report last month, Bill Cumming reminded me about another study, Amanda Dory’s “Civil [...]

Leave a Comment