As with past years, FEMA gifts us the annual National Preparedness Report for the prior year around the holidays. Some reminders: 1) You can find my reviews of the reports of prior years here. 2) To get copies of the reports of prior years, FEMA archives these in the unrestricted side of the Homeland Security Digital Library. 3) Each report is derived from data from the year prior, so this December 2022 report actually covers the calendar year of 2021.
Compared to last year’s report, this year’s follows much of the same format, with sections on risk, capabilities, and management opportunities. They appropriately moved some of the content in this year’s report to appendices, which helps each of the sections get more to the point.
Last year’s report was on a kick of catastrophic risk, committing what I think was an excessive amount of content to data on large-scale disasters. While we should certainly plan for the worst, most areas do a mediocre job at best with preparing for, mitigating against, responding to, and recovering from mid-sized disasters. If they can’t manage all aspects of these, it’s not even realistic for them to be able to manage the largest that nature, terrorists, or accidents can throw at us. This year’s report has a much better focus on risk, threat, and hazards; with some reflection on THIRA/SPR data from 2021, grounded realities of climate change, and some time given to cybersecurity and infrastructure. In line with the FEMA strategic plan (and continuing from last year’s report), this year’s report also discusses equity, social vulnerability, and risk exposure; with reference to social vulnerability measures (of which I’m a big fan).
Last year’s report covered risk associated with healthcare systems and the economy, which didn’t get much of a mention in this year’s report, which I think is unfortunate. The reality of surge and the shortage of hospital beds has been brought to the forefront over the past few years, with little to nothing being done to address it. Similarly, we’ve also had the fragility of organizations revealed over the past few years, yet have not seen as much of a push for continuity of operations as we should have seen. While thankfully this year’s report doesn’t have the focus on COVID that last year’s did, it seems people want to move on without addressing the glaring lessons learned.
In all, this year’s report spends about half the page volume on risk compared to last year’s report. While this year’s report provides better information, I still think there were some missed opportunities.
Looking into the assessment of capabilities, the first noted issue is that the capability targets for 2021 were the same as those for 2020. While consistency is important for long-term measurement, the lack of any alteration indicates to me that those who establish the capability targets are lacking some critical awareness of the emergency management landscape. While I don’t necessarily dispute the targets included, I think many of them could use some better refinement and specificity. The lack of inclusion of the cross-cutting Planning Core Capability (which is the foundation of all preparedness) is mind-blowing, as is the lack of the Recovery Mission Area’s Housing Core Capability (considered by many to be our greatest area of fragility). I’d really like to see the data substantiating the THIRA/SPR submissions that indicate such a high achievement of Unified Operations. Reflecting back on the necessity for long-term measurement, this year’s report offers none at all. This limits our ability to perceive preparedness gains or losses over time. As with last year’s report, which similarly did not provide this information, I feel this report has failed to meet its primary goal. It’s nothing more than a snapshot in time of very limited metrics – certainly not a comprehensive review of the state of the nation’s preparedness.
One particular graphic, identified as Figure 11 on page 24 of the report, is extremely telling. The chart identifies the non-disaster grant investments for FY21 across various grant programs. The grant distribution seems to not at all align with the established capability targets, which is good in some cases (we still need to invest in plans) but bad in other cases (fatality management is an established capability target that had minimal investment). By far, the greatest expenses are related to planning, as I feel they should be, yet the ground truth is that there are still a lot of horrible plans being generated. We have significant gaps in certain capabilities such as the aforementioned Fatality Management, along with Public Health/Healthcare/EMS, Housing, and Economic Recovery yet we see minimal investment in these. Lastly, for this section I’ll note that last year’s report highlighted some specific capabilities and provided some narrative and data on each, which, while it needed refinement, was a good direction for this report to go into. This year’s report dropped that depth of information completely.
The final section is Management Opportunities. The three opportunities identified in this section are:
- Building Community-Wide Resilience to Climate Change Impacts
- Reduce Physical and Technological Risks to Critical Infrastructure
- Increase Equity in Individual and Community Preparedness
I don’t argue at all with these three items, but the content, as usual, is lacking. What we should see here is a strategic approach to addressing these priority issues. Of course, to best do so, it would need to align with grant funding priorities and other efforts… which is something we’re just not seeing. They do provide some references and data within their analysis, but they do more for making a case for why these are priority issues and thumping their chest for what they have accomplished rather than laying a national roadmap for accomplishing these priorities. Reviewing last year’s management opportunities, I don’t recall many external products that really worked towards addressing these, nor does this year’s report reflect on any progress of these. Without doing so, this section is nothing but well-intentioned yet intangible statements.
My last statement pretty much sums up the entirety of the report… nothing but well intentioned yet intangible statements. This continues on a trend of previous National Preparedness Reports providing a few good data points but certainly NOT reporting on our nation’s preparedness in any meaningful, much less comprehensive, manner. I stand by my statements from last year that we, the emergency management community, should not be accepting this type of reporting. FEMA receives THIRA and SPR data from states, UASIs, and territories; all of which have years of legacy data. Similarly, FEMA receives regular reports on the grants they provide to jurisdictions, all with metrics that should tie back to a common foundation – the National Preparedness Goal’s Core Capabilities. Yet they fail every year to connect these dots and provide tangible, grounded reports with actionable recommendations. This effort, investment, and the FEMA Administrator’s endorsement is both disappointing and concerning. I continue to feel these reports do not meet the intent of the PPD8 requirements.
Happy New Year one and all!
© 2023 Tim Riecker, CEDP