DHS Report Faults Disaster Readiness

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 17, 2006

The nation's states and major cities remain unprepared for catastrophe nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, having failed to develop warning systems, evacuation plans or information for the public, according to a comprehensive report issued yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security.

The department called for a "fundamental modernization" of disaster plans for the first time since the end of the Cold War, citing President Bush's post-Hurricane Katrina declaration that detailed emergency planning must become "a national security priority." The report said the plans must be improved so they can be coordinated and tied to federal funding.

"The current status of plans and planning gives grounds for significant national concern," the 174-page Nationwide Plan Review states. "The threats and hazards we face are already sufficiently difficult. We should not have to fight our own plans and planning processes to prepare for or to perform our missions."

The report was ordered by Bush during a Sept. 15 visit to New Orleans. The department conducted a two-month review of plans by 50 states, the District, five U.S. territories and 75 urban areas, confirming systematic failures at all levels of government uncovered by the flawed response to Hurricane Katrina.

The majority of state and local plans are not adequate, according to the report. They fail to set clear chains of command, provide for public warnings, communicate internally in a crisis, or care for people with special needs, such as the poor, disabled, elderly or non-English speaking.

The District and New York City fared about average; 31 percent of Washington's plans and 29 percent of New York's were rated sufficient. But the broader national capital region -- defined as 12 jurisdictions, Maryland and Virginia -- did less well, meeting just 13 percent of requirements. Its catastrophic planning capability was deemed "not sufficient."

Ten states were rated as having overall acceptable catastrophe plans: Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont.

Nationwide, emergency operations plans were found inadequate in three-fourths of the states and 90 percent of urban areas. Mass evacuation plans remain inadequate and "are an area of profound concern," the report stated. They are inadequate in nine out of 10 cases.

The management of supplies and resources, a critical failure in Katrina efforts last year, is a "universal weakness" and national "Achilles heel," the report said.

Nearly two-thirds of states and cities lacked basic "concept of operations" plans, failing to provide for instances when key managers, records, facilities or equipment are put out of action.

Plans to communicate to "custodial institutions" such as schools, nursing homes, hospitals and prisons are lacking, and fewer than one-third of state and local plans have information to help the public prepare for an emergency.

Despite sending $18 billion in Homeland Security grants to spur local preparedness since 9/11, "very little of it has gone to planning, training and exercise," Undersecretary for Preparedness George Foresman told the Associated Press.

States and urban areas dedicated $647 million out of $4.1 billion in federal homeland security grants to planning in the last two years. The share increased to 15 percent from about 10 percent.

Among 39 conclusions, the report said emergency plans should form the basis for funding and accountability reviews, be linked to readiness ratings, and be part of an annual report to the president.


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