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White House / WHITE HOUSE

Obama Issues Preparedness Goals

(White House photo by Pete Souza)

photo of Marc Ambinder
October 7, 2011

In April, in a presidential policy directive, President Obama asked his government to prioritize the natural and human-made threats facing the country, draw up a plan to prevent or mitigate them if possible, and to respond to them quickly and efficiently if necessary.

Later Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which coordinates this national preparedness strategy, will release what it calls the Goal – a list of major identified threats and the type of actions the government can take to meet them. A full copy can be found here, on FEMA's website.

The Goal, obtained by National Journal, relies heavily on cooperation among state, local and federal governments, and boosts the roles and responsibilities of the private sector. It also envisions a change in the way the public views disasters: Americans have to prepare to be resilient.

 

The general strategy is being unveiled Friday by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate at the National Emergency Management Association Conference in Austin. The policy directive and national Goal will influence all emergency response plans that involve federal assets, and will guide the administration’s disaster-related budget requests for years to come.

FEMA identified several major hazards that could pose a significant risk in the years ahead. Many are obvious natural disasters: wildfires, floods and hurricanes. The lengthy risk assessment, which is classified, also found an increased risk from technological and infrastructure failures, from a flu pandemic, from dam collapses, as well as cyber terrorism.

Though the government has many plans and directives to respond to emergencies, coordination and resource allocation remain largely ad hoc, something that several presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have struggled with.

The Goal gives the Department of Homeland Security, which still is vexed by questions about its mission, more direction, a road map to its own future, as it is the federal agency in charge of emergency preparedness.

As of today, the Goal is a just 28-page document, written in dry, bureaucratic language, with several classified annexes.  Translating it into action will require heavy lifting from Congress, which may find its own priorities different from the executive agencies that must flesh out the strategy. Translating it into action will require heavy lifting from Congress, which may find its own priorities un-addressed as executive agencies behind to add flesh to the strategy.

Obama’s advisers say they have a “whole of government” approach to disasters, want to spend money more efficiently and with less of a direct emphasis on combating terrorism without strategic planning. The document breaks down mission areas, like responding to a disaster, into categories, like public warning, information sharing, operational coordination and community resilience. That last concept is a hobby horse of Fugate’s.

 

 

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