The 2018 National Preparedness Report was released last week. For the past few years, I’ve provided my own critical review of these annual reports (see 2017’s report here). For those not familiar with the National Preparedness Report (NPR), it is mandated by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA). The information is compiled by FEMA from the State Preparedness Reports (SPR), including the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) data submitted by states, territories, and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) – funded regions. The data presented is for the year prior. The SPRs and NPR examine the condition of our preparedness relative to the 32 Core Capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal.
Overall, the NPR provides little information, certainly nothing that is really shocking if you pay attention to the top issues in emergency management. Disappointingly, the report only covers those Core Capabilities identified for sustainment or improvement, with no more than a graphic summary of the other Core Capabilities.
Core Capabilities to Sustain
Operational Coordination was identified as the sole Core Capability to sustain in this year’s report. I’ve got some issues with this right off. First of all, they summarize their methodology for selecting Core Capabilities to sustain: ‘To be a capability to sustain, the Nation must show proficiency in executing that core capability, but there must also be indications of a potentially growing gap between the future demand for, and the performance of, that capability.’ To me, what this boils down to is ‘you do it well, but you are going to have to do it better’. I think most EM professionals could add to this list significantly, with Core Capabilities such as Planning; Public Information and Warning; Public Health, Healthcare, and EMS; Situational Assessment; and others. Distilling it down to only Operational Coordination shows to me, a severe lack of understanding in where we presently are and the demands that will be put on our systems in the future.
Further, the review provided in the report relative to Operational Coordination is pretty soft. Part of it is self-congratulatory, highlighting advances in the Core Capability made last year, with the rest of the section identifying challenges but proving little analysis. Statements such as ‘Local governments reported challenges with incident command and coordination during the 2017 hurricane season’ are put out there, yet their single paragraph on corrective actions for the section boils down to the statement of ‘we’re looking at it’. Not acceptable.
Core Capabilities to Improve
The 2018 report identifies four Core Capabilities to improve:
- Infrastructure Systems
- Economic Recovery
These fall under the category of NO KIDDING. The writeups within the NPR for each of these superficially identifies the need, but doesn’t have much depth of analysis. I find it interesting that the Core Capability to sustain has a paragraph on corrective actions, yet the Core Capabilities to Improve doesn’t. They do, instead, identify key findings, which outline some efforts to address the problems, but are very soft and offer little detail. Some of these include programs which have been in place for quite some time which are clearly having limited impact on addressing the issues.
What really jumped out at me is the data provided on page 9, which charts the distribution of FEMA Preparedness grants by Core Capability for the past year. The scale of their chart doesn’t allow for any exact amounts, but we can make some estimates. Let’s look at four of these in particular:
- Infrastructure Systems – scantly a few million dollars
- Housing – None
- Economic Recovery – Less than Infrastructure Systems
- Cybersecurity – ~$25 million
With over $2.3 billion in preparedness funding provided in 2017 by FEMA, it’s no wonder these are Core Capabilities that need to be improved when so few funds were invested at the state/territory/UASI level. The sad thing is that this isn’t news. These Core Capabilities have been identified as needing improvement for years, and I’ll concede they are all challenging, but the lack of substantial movement should anger all emergency managers.
I will agree that Housing and Cybersecurity require a significant and consolidated national effort to address. That doesn’t mean they are solely a federal responsibility, but there is clear need for significant assistance at the federal level to implement improvements, provide guidance to states and locals, and support local implementations. That said, we can’t continue to say that these areas are priorities when little funding or activity is demonstrated to support improvement efforts. While certain areas may certainly take years to make acceptable improvements, we are seeing a dangerous pattern relative to these four Core Capabilities, which continue to wallow at the bottom of the list for so many years.
The Path Forward
The report concludes with a two-paragraph section titled ‘The Path Forward’, which simply speaks to refining the THIRA and SPR methodology, while saying nothing of how the nation needs to address the identified shortcomings. Clearly this is not acceptable.
As for my own conclusion, while I saw last year’s NPR as an improvement from years previous, I see this one as a severe backslide. It provides little useful information and shows negligible change in the state of our preparedness over the past year. The recommendations provided, at least of those that do exist, are translucent at best, and this report leaves the reader with more questions and frustration. We need more substance beginning with root cause analysis and including substantial, tangible, actionable recommendations. While I suppose it’s not the fault of the report itself that little improvement is being made in these Core Capabilities, the content of the report shows a lack of priority to address these needs.
I’m actually surprised that a separate executive summary of this report was published, as the report itself holds so little substance, that it could serve as the executive summary. Having been involved in the completion of THIRAs and SPRs, I know there is information generated that is simply not being analyzed for the NPR. Particularly with each participating jurisdiction completing a POETE analysis of each Core Capability, I would like to see a more substantial NPR which does some examination of the capability elements in aggregate for each Core Capability, perhaps identifying trends and areas of focus to better support preparedness.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts. Was there anything you thought to be useful in the National Preparedness Report?
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP