Sunday, June 18, 2006

New DHS report: US cities are woefully unprepared

Front-paged at ePluribus Media

Well, this is some good news from the reliable folks at the Department of Homeland Security. First, we find out that they employ pedophiles. Then we find out that they think NY and Washington DC aren't really at risk enough to get what they need in terror funds. Then we find out that they can't even keep their HQ safe from people with fake id's. And if that wasn't enough, we find out yesterday that officials may have lied under oath in the Duke Cunningham corruption case.

And now we find out just how great of a job they are doing when it comes to keeping our homeland secure. On Friday, DHS released the results of a six month study (warning-big document), called Nationwide Plan Review: Phase 2 Report. The details of this report are just staggering in how woefully unprepared many cities and states are with respect to their ability to deal with a "major disaster" or catastrophe.

Oh, and the better news? Only 10 states were deemed to have "sufficient plans" to deal with disasters - none of which are located in the Gulf Coast or where our Federal Government is located.

Well, it is good to see that DHS isn't doing the same lying that they were doing when Chertoff said how ready FEMA is for hurricanes, and we find out that the Northeast is not ready for storms and that the US Army Corps of Engineers indicated that the Gulf Coast is not ready for storms.

But that is really small consolation when we have a huge Department that was set up specifically after a major catastrophe here in the US, with all of the money, time and rhetoric spent "promoting" homeland security over the past few years that we find out that the only truthful thing that is coming out of the DHS is that they can't do their damn job.

So how bad is it? Well, as I noted above, only 10 states (Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont) had "sufficient plans" to respond to disasters. And, Department officials (at least ones not named Chertoff...) were less than impressed:

Department undersecretary George Foresman said that despite grants of $18bn to prepare for disasters since the 11 September 2001 attacks, "very little of it has gone to planning, training and exercise".

"The current status of plans and planning gives grounds for significant national concern," the report says.

Additionally, in the Executive Summary of the DHS Report there are fifteen areas for States and Urban Areas that need improvement, and twenty four areas where the Federal Government needs improvement. Some of these areas include the following:

For States and Urban Areas:

1.) The majority of the Nation's current emergency operations plans and planning processes cannot be characterized as fully adequate, feasible, or acceptable to manage catastrophic events as defined in the National Response Plan (NRP).

2.) States and urban areas are not conducting adequate collaborative planning as a part of "steady state" preparedness.

3.) Assumptions in Basic Plans do not adequately address catastrophic events.

4.) Basic Plans do not adequately address continuity of operations and continuity of government.

5.) The most common deficiency among State and urban area Direction and Control Annexes is the absence of a clearly defined command structure.

6.) Many States and urban areas need to improve systems and procedures for communications among all operational components.

7.) All Functional Annexes did not adequately address special needs populations.

8.) States should designate a specific State agency that is responsible for providing oversight and ensuring accountability for including people with disabilities in the shelter operations process.

9.) Timely warnings requiring emergency actions are not adequately disseminated to custodial institutions, appropriate government officials, and the public.

10.) The ability to give the public accurate, timely, and useful information and instructions through the emergency period should be strengthened.

11.) Significant weaknesses in evacuation planning are an area of profound concern.

12.) Capabilities to manage reception and care for large numbers of evacuees are inadequate.

13.) Capabilities to track patients under emergency or disaster conditions and license of out-of-State medical personnel are limited.

14.) Resource management is the "Achilles heel" of emergency planning. Resource Management Annexes do not adequately describe in detail the means, organization, and process by which States and urban areas will find, obtain, allocate, track, and distribute resources to meet operational needs.

15.) Plans should clearly define resource requirements, conduct resource inventories, match available resources to requirements, and identify and resolve shortfalls.

Not too bad, eh? This is inadequate. That is limited. This needs improvement. That isn't coordinated well. This should be strengthened. That is an area of shortfall. This is an area of unpreparedness. That is an area of "profound concern".

However, the states and urban areas are "overprepared" when compared to the Federal Government. I'm not going to list all 24 items that were noted but many of them deal with:

The conclusions for the Federal government are focused on providing the tools to build a shared national homeland security planning system; strengthening collaboration and coordination; improving emergency communications; creating incentives for planning and planning excellence; strengthening regional planning capabilities; and developing a common reference system.

But it goes deeper than this. There were many areas that were studied, including planning, operational and preparedness solutions, communications, mass care (people and animals), catastrophic events and capability for mass evacuations. You would think that, after the criminally negligent planning for evacuations when Katrina and Rita hit last year, that this would be something that would be focused on. ESPECIALLY because, if you can't get people out of harm's way, then a bad situation will be made infinitely worse.

Sadly, most of the states' and urban areas' scores in these areas were either "partially sufficient" or "not sufficient". One of the worst areas was for Health and Medical, where patient tracking and licensing of out-of-state medical personnel for emergencies had a very low level of "sufficient" preparedness.

On an overall basis, to answer the question of Overall Adequacy, Feasibility and Acceptability of the state or local plans, 73% of states and 90% of local areas indicated that their plans are either partially sufficient or not sufficient to respond to a catastrophe. Even worse, 79% of states and 91% of local areas indicated that their plans to deal with a catastrophe are either partially sufficient or not sufficient when it comes to the feasibility of their plans.

When it comes to specific regions of the country, the conclusions are just as bad. I mentioned above how the Gulf Coast states were among those that were worst-prepared. Well, that area also has one of the highest concentration of people with "special needs" (i.e., elderly, disabled, non-english speaking etc.) This makes the lack of a transportation and evacuation plan even more inexcusable. Wasn't this one of the big lessons learned last year when elderly and disabled couldn't physically leave the Gulf Coast?

Studies and results of this nature are really an embarrassment to this nation. To focus so much time and money on "protecting our homeland", as well as all of the blatant abuses and negligence toward our borders, our ports, our airplane cargo holds, our power plants, the advice that FEMA gave a few years ago about domestic catastrophes is nothing short of disgusting and criminal.

What will it take for this country to wake up? This report is a smack in the face to all those who have suffered, directly or indirectly on 9/11, or from hurricanes, tornadoes, or any other similar disaster.

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