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Research Questions

  1. What plans and policies currently guide U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) efforts in regard to Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA)?
  2. How does DoD provide support to FEMA, and are there potential capability gaps that DoD could fill?
  3. How can DoD improve its support to FEMA?

Disaster preparedness and response is a national priority, in which the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) plays a supporting — but potentially crucial — role. In the ten years since Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken steps to strengthen its ability to plan and coordinate the U.S. government's response to disasters, while the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has worked to improve its support to FEMA. This research reviews and analyzes how DoD and FEMA work together to plan and execute disaster response activities, and recommends areas for improvement. The study team (1) analyzed FEMA plans and DoD policies for Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA); (2) analyzed how DoD provides DSCA support to FEMA, including key stakeholder perceptions, in order to identify potential capability gaps that DoD could fill; and (3) developed recommendations for how DoD can improve its support — in terms of planning, coordination, and providing requested capabilities — to FEMA.

Key Findings

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) All-Hazards Plans (AHPs)

  • Each of FEMA's ten regions is responsible for writing AHPs that guide response efforts in the wake of disasters, including large-scale catastrophes. Several regions have also written incident specific plans, which offer specific, tailored guidance for the most likely, high-level threats each region faces.
  • Some of these plans are comprehensive and complete, while others are missing some sections or information, and some are incomplete or missing a lot of information.
  • Clear expectations for potential types and numbers of resources are critical for DoD to be able to fully support FEMA in the wake of a disaster, particularly a large-scale catastrophe.

Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) Support Provided by DoD to FEMA

  • DoD support to FEMA regional planning is working well in some areas, including DoD integration with FEMA planning, logistics support planning, and DoD participation in FEMA exercises.
  • Challenges include conflicting perceptions within DoD of the relative priority of DSCA, sourcing of DoD forces for DSCA missions, conflicting objectives of DSCA exercises between DoD and FEMA, the dual-status commander construct, and lack of visibility into installation- and unit-level immediate response plans.


  • The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) should update its 2012 guidance on Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA).
  • DoD should issue guidance requiring commanders implementing Immediate Response Authority to maximize communication, and requiring services to consolidate and provide information from Installation Emergency Management programs of domestic installations under their authority.
  • DoD should consider advocating for an increase in the relative priority of the DSCA mission for complex catastrophes.
  • DoD should institutionalize DSCA liaison personnel integration with FEMA planning.
  • DoD should direct the services to increase the personnel authorizations for regions with greater risks, as well as making them joint organizations.
  • DoD should consider apportioning additional forces against U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) plans for complex catastrophes.
  • DoD should consider accelerating development of the Joint Staff's Joint Capability Support to National Emergencies (JCStoNE) system to improve DoD's ability to provide forces.
  • DoD and FEMA should test the principle of unity of effort in a multi-state complex catastrophe through smaller-scale or tabletop exercises. DoD and FEMA officials should coordinate on exercise design earlier to ensure both agencies' objectives are accomplished.
  • DoD should work with FEMA to help develop and document its approach to identifying shortfalls and requirements more accurately to ensure rapid, effective DSCA.
  • USNORTHCOM and U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) should work to sustain and improve logistics support planning coordination with FEMA, particularly to de-conflict federal military, National Guard, and FEMA use of resources.
  • USNORTHCOM and USPACOM should continue to provide staff planning assistance to FEMA regions.
  • USNORTHCOM should complete the Regional Support Plans under Concept of Operations Plan (CONPLAN) 3500-14 and routinize its review in the Chairman's Readiness System.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Review of FEMA All-Hazards Plans and Identification of Potential Capability Gaps

  • Chapter Three

    Review of Policies, Plans, and Procedures for Defense Support of Civil Authorities

  • Chapter Four

    Recommendations for Improving DoD Support to FEMA

  • Appendix A

    Overview of the National Response System

  • Appendix B

    Overview of Policy and Other Guidance

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security. It was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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