I just read an interesting report “Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History ofÂ 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.
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;Â think through whether the public can actually do logistically and financially what is being recommended;Â 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.