A New National Response Framework

Yesterday FEMA announced the release of an updated National Response Framework (the fourth edition).  The most notable changes in this version of the NRF are the inclusion of Community Lifelines and a change to Emergency Support Function (ESF) #14.  Previously, ESF #14 was Long-Term Community Recovery.  With efforts to further engage and coordinate with the private sector in disaster response, ESF #14 has been changed to Cross-Sector Business and Infrastructure.

So what of Long-Term Community Recovery?  The National Disaster Recovery Framework (2016) outlines Recovery Support Functions (RSFs), which, at the federal level, are organized as coordinating structures along with the ESFs.  There are six RSFs, which generally align with the Core Capabilities for the Recovery Mission Area.  For anyone who has worked with FEMA in disaster recovery operations, you know these can be massive organizations, so why create an even large organization?  This structure should support the ESFs in focusing on immediate needs, while the RSFs can address long-term recovery.  When the Federal disaster response organization is initially set up for a disaster, the ESFs are immediately put to work to support state and local emergency needs.  In this phase, the RSFs are able to organize, gather data, and plan for eventually being the lead players as response transitions to recovery.  Recovery is very much a data-driven operation.  As this transition occurs, with the RSFs taking over, many of the ESF resources can be demobilized or tasked to the RSFs.

What does this mean for states and locals?  Fundamentally, nothing.  States simply need to have an appropriate interface with the new ESF #14.  Do states and locals need to mirror this organization?  No, and in fact most of the time when I see an organization centered around ESFs, I tend to cringe.  The ESF/RSF system works for the federal government because of the multitude of federal agencies that have responsibility or involvement in any given function.  Fundamentally, ESFs/RSFs are task forces.  Recall the ICS definition of a task force, being a combination of resources of varying kind and type.

Certainly, most local governments, aside from perhaps the largest of cities, simply don’t have this measure of complexity and bureaucracy.  It can work for some state governments, but for many it may not make sense.  Let’s consider ESF #1 – Transportation.  How many state agencies do you have that have responsibility and assets related to transportation?  In some states, like New York, there are many, ranging from State DOT, NYS Parks, the Thruway Authority, and the multitude of other bridge, road, and transit authorities in the State. Smaller states may only have a State DOT.  One agency doesn’t make a task force.  There are other options for how you organize your emergency operations plan and your EOC that can make more sense and be far more effective.  Essentially what I’m saying is to not mirror the way the feds organize because you think you have to.  All plans must be customized to YOUR needs.

On to the integration of community lifelines.  The goal of the new ESF #14 is to not only engage the private sector, but also coordinate cross-sector operations for stabilizing community lifelines.  I’m interested to see how this plays out, since the community lifelines are already addressed by other ESFs, so I suspect that once the new framework is tested, there may be some supplemental materials that come out to balance this.  That said, the integration of community lifelines is a good thing and I’m glad to see this gaining more traction and truly being integrated rather than existing as a good idea that’s never actually tasked.  Integration of community lifelines is something that every state and local government can at least track, if not take action on, depending on their capability and resources.  The updated NRF added some additional context to community lifelines, with information that supports integrating this concept into planning, response, and recovery.  I happen to appreciate this community lifeline focused timeline that is in the NRF.

While the focus of the NRF is on how the federal government will response, it is intended to be reflective of a whole community response.  It doesn’t necessarily provide guidance (nor should it) on planning, but it certainly serves as a reference.  Since it seems the feds are going all in on the community lifeline concept, I urge state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to examine how they can integrate them into your operations.  That all starts with planning.  It may begin as a function of situational awareness, but then what actions should a jurisdiction take when lifelines are impacted?  Even if a jurisdiction doesn’t have the capabilities to address the root cause, they still need to address the affects.

What thoughts do you have on the NRF update?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

4 thoughts on “A New National Response Framework

  1. I want to like the community lifelines but my concern is that they are being cast as an addition, not a replacement. In particular, I can foresee them being an added reporting burden when state EOCs demand that already-overloaded local EOCs report lifeline status in addition to all of the other SITREP elements they’re already rolling up for state consumption.

  2. Clayton,
    Understandable thoughts… Specific to the National Response Framework, they are something new, but there was little to nothing there in regard to situation tracking and reporting anyhow, so new – yes; but they put this in place of an existing vacuum.

    Will it last? Early on I didn’t think the concept would last. Then FEMA issued some significant guidance on it a few months ago. That gave me confidence. Now that it’s in the NRF, we know it’s here to stay, for at least a few years. At least as long as someone determines there is a better system or finds significant gaps in this one. Given the lack of attention to any kind of situation reporting, I think it’s probably safe for a while.

    As for a reporting burden… It’s on the states to figure out the best way to implement, if they want to at all. There is no requirement for states or locals to use the lifeline system, but it’s an emerging best practice that I think should at least be considered. If states are smart, they won’t just simply tack this on to their reporting template for county/local governments. It should be truly integrated, perhaps even replacing some of the other content areas of the existing SitReps. I think it provides better consistency if used, and absolutely can replace common points found in a lot of SitReps I’ve had experience with (i.e. roads closed). The other important part of implementation will be inclusion of the Essential Elements of Information (EEI) for each lifeline, which will help provide good and consistent metrics for each.

    I’m curious to see where we will be in a year with these, though. As with many ‘good ideas’ in EM, there needs to be a trial phase to shake them out. Lifelines seem to work for FEMA, but not necessarily everything that works for them will work for states and locals.


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