Speaking at the Center For National Policy recently, Timothy Manning, FEMA Deputy Administrator for Protection & National Preparedness, said that the current statistics on citizen readiness “very concerning and frankly kind of frightening,” and he spoke about some of the agency’s efforts to strengthen the nation’s resilience to disasters.
At the Center’s event, “Disasters & Resilience,” Manning was questioned by the moderator Stephen Flynn, the Center’s new President, and one of the leading experts on the subject. The full text can be found here. It’s worth reading for those interested in preparedness policy.
In response to a question from Flynn about making preparedness and resilience part of the national culture, Manning acknowledged the challenge:
…the numbers are very concerning and frankly kind ofÂ frightening I think. We did a survey last year as part of our community preparednessÂ programs, where we found the same numbers weâ€™ve seen for a great number of years. SoÂ what weâ€™ve been doing, weâ€™ve been trying to engage the public for about 50 years inÂ roughly the same way, all through the civil defense era, the Cold War, and to traditionalÂ emergency management now. And itâ€™s really about PSAs and talking to the public aboutÂ â€“ some variation on have a plan, get involved. Itâ€™s really been about the same messageÂ and engaging the same way. And weâ€™ve always seen the response engagement of theÂ public in about 50 percent, hasnâ€™t really moved. Slides a little bit here and there.
But whatâ€™s most concerning is that when you actually deconstruct that numberÂ and you ask, â€œhave you actually done this, have you done this, have you done this,â€ theÂ things that we mean when we say â€œare you prepared,â€ the numberâ€™s actually in the 30s.Â Itâ€™s actually about 37 or 40 percent. Most people, as like 67 percent of respondents, say that they plan on relying onÂ government, that they wonâ€™t take any actions and they plan on relying on government inÂ the first couple of days.
Itâ€™s very concerning. And weâ€™re just discussing that the best response is the oneÂ we donâ€™t have to mount. What we need to do is build our communities, build ourÂ societies to a point where they are prepared. But I think, like weâ€™re trying to do acrossÂ the whole spectrum of homeland security preparedness, we have to recognize ourÂ communities and we have to plan for the community, not just plan for easy. So we haveÂ â€“ we say preparedness means this. Maybe we need to be a little bit more sophisticatedÂ than that. Maybe what we need to say is these are the things you can do to be prepared.Â But work at a more â€“ work through our actual communities.
One interesting community-based initiative that Manning mentioned is an effort to build the preparedness of Los Angeles firefighters and their families to develop them as leaders (along the lines of the CERT program) in a potential disaster response.
FEMA’s Timothy Manning and Center for National Policy President Stephen Flynn
There were a number of preparedness and resilience related topics covered during the discussion. But I wanted to highlight one point that Manning addressed on whether the agency was embracing an “all hazards” philosophy:
All-hazard â€“ the old â€“ theÂ traditional doctrinal approach to emergency management has been one of preparing forÂ all hazards and that was really the catch phrase, â€œall hazards emergency management.â€Â And what that really meant was a maximization of resources, a realization that where theÂ majority of the work, the preparedness and response work, happens is at the communityÂ level. Itâ€™s not at the federal level. The federal governmentâ€™s job is mainly to step in andÂ assist governors in assisting their local communities in a response. And when you get toÂ the community level, the largest of the communities, in cities like New York and LosÂ Angeles, notwithstanding those resources just arenâ€™t there to do the level of detailÂ planning required for each particular eventuality.
What we also know is that there is so much variation in any particular hazard thatÂ that doesnâ€™t really bring a lot of value to the table sometimes. I think a good example isÂ in the pandemic flu preparedness work that weâ€™ve done over the past couple of years. ItÂ was really predicated on avian influenza and then influenza virus migrating from Asia, inÂ East Asia.
When H1N1 popped up in North America, it was a novel virus really originatingÂ here, much of the detailed work we did was not as usable as it could have been had weÂ taken a broader approach. The all-hazard preparedness is a way to think about that.Â Where it gets or it can get difficult or it can get tricky is that there are obviouslyÂ very specific things that are required for some specific hazards. There is those largeÂ percentages, that 50 to 60 percent of the work that you need to do to prepare for aÂ hurricane is also the same you need to do in response to an earthquake or an accident or aÂ terrorist attack. But there are those â€“ the balance of things are very different.
The response, the capability, the equipment, the training you need to respond to aÂ nuclear, a ND, a nuclear detonation is different than the response, the capability, theÂ training, the equipment you need to respond to a radiological accident.Â So we have to keep that in mind. So while we can focus a great deal of our effortsÂ on those few things that have value across the whole spectrum of accidents, the normalÂ daily public safety to natural disasters or intentional terrorist attacks, we cannot lose sightÂ of those things that are specific to the individual hazards or a particular attack tactic.
There are large numbers of things that we need to individually focus on as well.Â But if I may, I think that another important piece to this, though, itâ€™s not just beenÂ an all-hazard preparedness in the way that weâ€™ve been doing it for a long time. That thereÂ is a â€“ there can sometimes be a tendency to say that all-hazard emergency management isÂ simply a back to the future, a slide back to the way we had done in the 1990s. But thatÂ loses sight of what weâ€™ve learned. And the recent shift towards thinking of things in theÂ terms of resilience is really another way to think of all-hazard emergency management,Â where itâ€™s less about what are the discrete preparedness things we need to do to be able toÂ respond to this set of disasters, but what are those things that we can do in ourÂ communities that offer second and third order effects. They get us where we want to be.
I agree with Manning that the old ‘all hazards’ framework is not adequate for the range of present threats — for policy makers, responders and the public. From a citizen perspective on what we need to know to be prepared and informed, there are definitely commonalities between hazards. However the differences, as Manning points out, can be important. In fact, I have argued on the blog that when it comes to what the public should be aware of there are sometimes commonalities that cut across hazards (ie. pandemic/bioterror attack) rather than all hazards and some threats may need to be redefined to reflect their real impact (ie. should a ‘dirty bomb’ or chemical attack be considered a WMD along with a nuclear and biological attack?).
But modifying the all hazards approach also raises the stakes for the government to inform the public of what more they need to know about various threats (which by and large has not been done). And, I would contend that the more Americans have been told beforehand will only increase their resilience and ability to bounce back quickly from disasters (particularly terrorism).