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GAO Post-Katrina Report

GAO Post-Katrina Report

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GAO-09-59R Actions to Implement the Post-Katrina Act
United States Government Accountability Office Washington, DC 20548
November 21, 2008Congressional Requesters:Subject:
Actions Taken to Implement the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006
On August 29, 2005, and in the ensuing days, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilmadevastated the Gulf Coast region of the United States. Hurricane Katrina aloneaffected more than a half million people located within approximately 90,000 squaremiles spanning Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, ultimately resulted in over 1,600deaths, and has spawned one of the largest natural disaster relief and recoveryoperations in U.S. history. Almost 3 years prior to the hurricanes, the Homeland Security Act of 2002
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createdthe Department of Homeland Security (DHS) largely in response to the September 11,2001, terrorist attacks. The Homeland Security Act merged 22 disparate agencies andorganizations into the new department, including the Federal EmergencyManagement Agency (FEMA). The Homeland Security Act generally charged DHSwith securing the homeland against terrorist attacks and carrying out the functions of all transferred entities, including acting as a focal point regarding natural and man-made crises and emergency planning. Among its responsibilities, DHS was to build acomprehensive national incident management system comprising all levels of government and consolidate existing federal government emergency response plansinto a single, coordinated national response plan.Hurricane Katrina severely tested disaster management at the federal, state, and locallevels and revealed weaknesses in the basic elements of preparing for, responding to,and recovering from any catastrophic disaster. Beginning in February 2006, reportsby the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for andResponse to Hurricane Katrina, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the White House Homeland Security Council, the DHS InspectorGeneral, DHS, and FEMA all identified a variety of failures and some strengths in the preparations for, response to, and initial recovery from Hurricane Katrina. We alsohave an extensive body of work on emergency management and catastrophicdisasters, including Hurricane Katrina, which is listed at the end of this document.
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Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135 (2002).
 
The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (Post-Katrina Act) wasenacted to address various shortcomings identified in the preparation for andresponse to Hurricane Katrina.
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The act enhances FEMA’s responsibilities and itsautonomy within DHS. FEMA is to lead and support the nation in a risk-based,comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection,response, recovery, and mitigation. Under the act, the FEMA Administrator reportsdirectly to the Secretary of Homeland Security; FEMA is now a distinct entity withinDHS; and the Secretary of Homeland Security can no longer substantially orsignificantly reduce the authorities, responsibilities, or functions of FEMA or thecapability to perform them unless authorized by subsequent legislation. The actfurther directs the transfer to FEMA of many functions of DHS’s former PreparednessDirectorate. The statute codified the existing regional structure, which includes 10regional offices within FEMA and specifies their responsibilities. It also contains a provision establishing in FEMA a National Integration Center, which is responsiblefor the ongoing management and maintenance of the National Incident ManagementSystem and the National Response Plan—now known as the National ResponseFramework (NRF). In addition, the act includes several provisions to strengthen themanagement and capability of FEMA’s workforce. For example, the statute calls for astrategic human capital plan to shape and improve FEMA’s workforce, authorizesrecruitment and retention bonuses, and establishes requirements for a Surge CapacityForce.The Post-Katrina Act extends beyond changes to FEMA’s organizational andmanagement structure and includes legislative reforms in other emergencymanagement areas that were considered shortcomings during Hurricane Katrina. Forexample, the Post-Katrina Act includes an emergency communications title thatrequires, among other things, the development of a National EmergencyCommunications Plan, as well as the establishment of working groups within eachFEMA region dedicated to emergency communications coordination. The act alsoaddresses catastrophic planning and preparedness; for example, it charges FEMA’sNational Integration Center with revising the NRF’s catastrophic incident annex, andit makes state catastrophic planning a component of one grant program. In addition,the act addresses evacuation plans and exercises and the needs of individuals withdisabilities. A September 11, 2007, hearing before the House Subcommittee on EconomicDevelopment, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management raised some concernsabout the way in which DHS and FEMA were implementing several key directives of the Post-Katrina Act. Given the importance of proper implementation of the act andthe need for a unified, coordinated national incident-management system capable of  preparing for and responding to natural and man-made disasters, includingcatastrophic disasters, your committees requested that we perform a review of theimplementation of the act’s requirements.
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The Post-Katrina Act was enacted as Title VI of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007, Pub. L. No. 109-295, 120 Stat. 1355 (2006).
 
The provisions of the Post-Katrina Act becameeffective upon enactment, October 4, 2006, with the exception of certain organizational changesrelated to FEMA, most of which took effect on March 31, 2007.
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GAO-09-59R Actions to Implement the Post-Katrina Act
 
This letter describes the actions FEMA and DHS have taken in response to the act’s provisions, areas where FEMA and DHS must still take action, and any challenges toimplementation that FEMA and DHS officials identified during our discussions withthem. In general, we found that FEMA and DHS have made some progress in theirefforts to implement the act since it was enacted in October 2006. For most of the provisions we examined, FEMA and DHS had at least preliminary efforts underway toaddress them. However, we have identified a number of areas that still require action,and it is clear that FEMA and DHS have work remaining to implement the provisionsof the act. This letter provides information, at a high level, on the status of implementation efforts for the entire act. We have not made an assessment of thequality or likely outcomes of any of the actions that have been taken. Additionalfocused evaluation in selected areas, and, in some cases more time for efforts tomature, will be required in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions taken toimplement the law on enhancing the nation’s ability to prepare for, respond to, andrecover from disasters.
Scope, Methodology, and Limitations
To conduct this work, we analyzed the text of the Post-Katrina Act and identified wellover 300 discrete provisions within the legislation that call for DHS or FEMA actionto implement requirements or exercise authorities—or to be prepared to do so underthe appropriate conditions. We reviewed agency documents and discussed the act’simplementation with numerous senior-level program officials at FEMA and DHS toidentify actions FEMA and DHS have taken in response to the act’s provisions. Todetermine the status of the Post-Katrina Act’s implementation, we compared theactions described in agency documents and reported by knowledgeable officials withthe discrete provisions we had identified as requiring agency action to implement. Wealso identified areas to be addressed, where no or little action had been taken. Inaddition, when agency officials reported challenges to us in implementing a particularsection, we included that information as well.To structure our findings, we analyzed the provisions appearing under each sectionheading of the Post-Katrina Act and grouped the various sections, as follows:
 
Roles and Responsibilities—Enclosure II: Implementing OrganizationalStructures, Roles, and Authorities to Prepare for, Respond to, and Recoverfrom Disasters
 
Emergency Communications—Enclosure III: Supporting and EnhancingEmergency Communications
 
Disaster Assistance Activities—Enclosure IV: Providing Assistance to Disaster- Affected Areas and Populations
 
Disaster Planning and Preparation—Enclosure V: Implementing theComponents of the National Preparedness System and Other Preparedness Activities
 
Regional Preparedness—Enclosure VI: Supporting Regional Preparedness andCooperation
 
Logistics—Enclosure VII: Improving Timely Delivery of Goods and Services inDisaster Events
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GAO-09-59R Actions to Implement the Post-Katrina Act

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