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Published by disasterwatchdog
Testimony on Disaster Communications submitted by Disaster Accountability Project to FEMA National Advisory Council for July 29-30, 2009 meeting in Grand Forks, ND.
Testimony on Disaster Communications submitted by Disaster Accountability Project to FEMA National Advisory Council for July 29-30, 2009 meeting in Grand Forks, ND.

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Published by: disasterwatchdog on Aug 28, 2009
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c/o CULI • 35 Elizabeth Street, Room K-202 • Hartford, CT 06105314-761-7631 • info@disasteraccountability.org
 NAC Comment[Docket ID: FEMA–2007–0008]Ben SmilowitzExecutive Director, Disaster Accountability ProjectJuly 20, 2009Dear Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, Chair, National Advisory Council,The Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) thanks you and your colleagues for holdingthis meeting of the National Advisory Council. We respectfully submit the followingcomments on Disaster Communications Policy to FEMA for the National AdvisoryCouncil Meeting.The delivery of public information about post-disaster mass care services is notaccommodated for in the National Response Framework and Emergency SupportFunctions. Action must be taken by FEMA to facilitate the delivery of post-disaster Mass Care service information to ensure survivors receive information they need aboutthe location of shelters, hospitals and points of distribution if local information-deliverycapacity is compromised or limited.The National Response Framework’s (NRF) stated goal is to establish a comprehensive,national, all-hazards approach to domestic incident response. However, the NRF lacksguidelines on how to communicate post-disaster service information directly to survivorsof disaster. While informing the public about available post-disaster services maytraditionally be a function performed by state and local governments, recent disastershave demonstrated that local governments may not have the capacity and/or ability toensure critical information is relayed to the public once it is provided to the media. Thelack of vital, timely, post-disaster information results in suffering that can be avoided.While the NRF provides guidance on communications and mass care through EmergencySupport Functions (ESF) #2 and #6 respectively, neither of these sections addresscommunicating emergency information to the public.ESF #2 focuses on restoring communications infrastructure and establishinginteroperability of communications between Federal, State and Local agencies while ESF#6 coordinates the delivery of Federal mass care.
It is likely Emergency SupportFunction #15 is meant to fill this role, but it falls short.
ESF 15: Missed Opportunity
ESF #15 “ensures that sufficient Federal assets are deployed to the field during incidentsrequiring a coordinated Federal response to provide accurate, coordinated, timely, andaccessible information to affected audiences, including governments, media, the privatesector, and the local populace, including the special needs population.”
With this overallgoal in mind, the Standard Operating Procedure for ESF #15 seeks to establish“procedures and protocols for Emergency Support Function 15.”
 The SOP is designed as a template “to formulate external affairs incident action plans and procedures that will help save lives and protect the health and safety of the public,responders, and recovery workers. It will also be used as a framework to guide messagingto protect property, mitigate damages and impacts to individuals, communities, and theenvironment, and facilitate recovery information for individuals, families, businesses,governments, and the media.”
To meet these objectives, the ESF #15 SOP establishedseven external affairs components: Joint Information Center; Community Relations;Congressional Affairs; International Affairs; State, Local and Tribal Affairs; PrivateSector; and Planning and Products.Guidelines for disseminating post-disaster service information could fall under one of thefollowing ESF #15 components: Private Sector, Joint Information Center, or CommunityRelations. Despite the apparent overlap, post-disaster service information has yet to beaddressed.
Joint Information Center
A Joint Information Center (JIC) under ESF #15 SOP disseminates information throughthe media.
However, ESF #15 does not have a process or instructions for whatinformation should be relayed to the public.
ESF #15 should include specific guidancefor media on what information should be relayed, and how it should be relayed, tothe public in the aftermath of a disaster.
Alternatively, the role of the JIC could bechanged to serve as the single voice of response by placing other components of ESF #15within the framework of a JIC. Without a coordinated voice, the role of disseminating post-disaster service information may slip through the cracks.
Community Relations Component
Community Relations component uses community-based organizations (CBO) to contactareas most affected by a disaster.
While effective in some scenarios, informationreceived on the ground is still second-hand. Moreover, this component appears to focus
Emergency Support Function #15 – External Affairs Annex ESF #15-1 (January 2008)
Emergency Support Function 15 Standard Operating Procedures p. 1 (July 2006)
Emergency Support Function 15 Standard Operating Procedures p. 3 (July 2006)
Annex F to Emergency Support Function 15 External Affairs
Annex E to Emergency Support Function 15 External Affairs
on providing information on DHS-FEMA’s role in a particular disaster and address falseexpectations about available disaster assistance.Currently, ESF #15’s emphasis on disseminating post-disaster mass care informationthrough secondary sources instead of providing direct information to the public can leadto delays, or to people not getting the information they need.
To help resolve these problems, FEMA should focus on providing the best information, with the greatestamount of speed, through direct communication to those who need it most, not just themedia, community organizations, or indirect mediums. By communicating with the public directly, survivors can receive life-saving information as soon as it is available.RECOMMENDATIONS ON PROVIDING POST-DISASTER MASS CAREINFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC
Establish clear guidelines and procedures for the dissemination of post-disastermass care service information to the public by developing a system to sendinformation directly from ESF #6 to ESF # 15 agencies, as well as the IncidentCommand center.
Post-disaster mass care service information such as locations of shelters, hospitals, and points of distribution must be compiled before being disseminated to the public.Therefore, some coordination must exist between officials under ESF #6 Mass Care andESF #15 External Affairs. Simply having a Red Cross representative in the IncidentCommand Center is not enough. Moreover, FEMA still has not clearly defined theAmerican Red Cross' role during a disaster.
In addition, the National Shelter System is auseful tool, but how can it be utilized in the immediate aftermath of a disaster?
Vital emergency information should be disseminated directly to the public
. This can be achieved through activities listed in the
 Basic Guidance for Public InformationOfficers
However, the role of a PIO is not defined in ESF #15.In addition, ESF #15 staff and/or the position of the PIO must be allowed to communicatewith the public directly. Considering the difficulty of ensuring that private broadcasters provide timely, complete information and disseminate all emergency information(quickly and accurately), one possibility is increasing the use of/creating radio stationsdesigned to provide post-disaster emergency information (like existing traffic andweather stations). Radio stations that communicate directly with the public would allowfor more efficient and accurate information dissemination. Before and after disasters the
See Summary of Hotline Calls received by the Disaster Accountability Projecthttp://blog.disasteraccountability.com/2008/09/17/hurricane-ike-hotline-calls-gaps-summary-91708-1045am-central/
For more on mass care and voluntary organizations see GAO 08-1175T “FEMA Should Update the RedCross Role in Catastrophic Events and More Fully Assess Voluntary Organizations’ Mass CareCapabilities.”
 Basic Guidance for Public Information Officers
. National Incident Management System. FEMA517/November 2007

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