Developing Tools to Strengthen Local Civilian and Military Disaster Preparedness
To help military installations and their civilian counterparts strengthen local-level disaster preparedness planning, the RAND Corporation was asked to create a risk-informed planning support tool that will allow local military installations and civilian entities to conduct "capabilities-based planning" for local major disasters.
As a first phase in this effort, researchers reviewed current military and civilian policies and programs related to domestic emergency preparedness. They interviewed local military and civilian planners at five selected sites to help understand how local preparedness planning operates and identify the needs of local planners.
Based on those findings, researchers developed the framework for both a local capabilities-based planning tool and local networking tools that will leverage existing models and tools whenever desirable, automate linkages for planning activities across disaster phases, and apply to all U.S. communities. The tools will be easy to use and require minimal technical expertise; the first tool will be designed in a Microsoft® Excel® framework and the second will be web-based, both of which are familiar to many planners. There will be no barriers to gaining access to the tools, so the final versions can be widely distributed and will be portable and able to run on nearly any computing platform. RAND is now completing, and has field-tested in a number of settings, the proof-of-concept prototype tools and hopes to make them and users' guides for each one available on its website for further review and testing. Results of that effort will be documented soon.
How Can We Overcome the Gap Between Government Performance and Public Expectations During National Disasters?
Admiral Thad Allen is a senior fellow at RAND, who joined RAND after retiring as the U.S. Coast Guard's 23rd Commandant. Prior to RAND, he was the National Incident Commander for the unified response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, where he had oversight over all response efforts to cease the flow of oil and mitigate the effects. In 2005, he was Principal Federal Official for the government's response and recovery operations after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He holds an M.P.A. from The George Washington University and an M.S. in management from the Sloan School of Management at MIT.
What have we learned from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill?
The two events had very different causes and the legal basis for the responses were also different. But both underscore an increasing expectation by the American public for greater unity of effort and leadership in crisis.
What limits the federal government's response efforts?
Each government agency and department operates under a separate set of authorizing statutes and annual appropriations that establish boundaries. In a crisis, cabinet secretaries and agency heads try to optimize performance within these boundaries. Integrating these activities is critical to creating unity of effort and requires a more formal planning and coordination process for non-defense operations. Absent a clear structure and procedures, there is a hesitancy to subordinate one cabinet officer to another and the function falls to the various White House advisors, offices, councils, and/or staffs. This has been a maturing process since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
What about growing public expectations?
We live in a world driven by a 24-hour news cycle, social networking sites, and "cloud computing" and have become accustomed to instantaneous service in on-line shopping or socializing via Facebook. At the same time, many citizens are wary of an intrusive government that would collect the kinds of information on them that would allow for more efficient service delivery like they have come to expect from their consumer experiences. So while there is a demand for greater transparency and responsiveness during major events like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, there are also demands for smaller, less intrusive government. Managing that apparent ambivalence is a challenge for leadership during crises.
What else has an impact?
There are a lot more players now, including nongovernmental organizations, not-for-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, philanthropic organizations whose endowments exceed small country and state GDPs, and groups who aggregate to produce social or economic behaviors on the Internet. If not properly coordinated or integrated, these well-intentioned actors can operate at cross-purposes. We will never have a major incident in this country that will not involve public participation, and we should plan for it.
How can we overcome these challenges?
Government must learn to shorten the induction of technology, such as cloud computing, where it can improve performance. The intelligence community has done this in data-mining large, unstructured data sets to understand terrorist patterns and private-sector companies like Amazon do this routinely when they recommend a book based on your previous patterns of buying.
Of course, governments will always have constraints in terms of individual privacy and freedom. Our traditional hesitancy to trust the government with personal information and a governmental structure founded on "checks and balances" means the government can never approach the private-sector level of efficiency.
Still, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to the speed and effectiveness of cloud computing. We need to understand how to apply this type of capability to manmade and natural disasters and other complex problems. At the same time, government leaders and organizations must adapt to and leverage collaborations, partnerships, and networks to unify effort and improve performance. Trying to operate as if this new world does not exist will only serve to exacerbate the gap between government performance and public expectations.
Melinda Moore is a public health physician and senior natural scientist at RAND, who leads and conducts technical and policy research in health security, military health, global health, emergency preparedness, environmental health, and evaluation. She recently co-led research to develop prototype tools for local capabilities-based emergency planning and networking among emergency response partners in the United States. She earned her M.D. and M.P.H. from Harvard University.
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Michael Wermuth is a senior professional adjunct at RAND, who served as Director of Homeland Security at RAND, addressing critical infrastructure protection, emergency preparedness and management, risk management, border control, and intelligence. He recently led RAND's support to the congressionally-mandated Advisory Panel to Assess Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities After Certain Incidents. He earned his J.D. from the University of Alabama School of Law.
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