A Doomsday Priority; Preparedness for National Emergency Is Critical

Article excerpt


"Doomsday plans" developed by the Department of Homeland Security have made for catchy newspaper headlines in recent weeks. However, rather than debating the merits of notional scenarios where, for example, terrorists attack a storage tank of chlorine gas, killing thousands and costing millions of dollars, the discussion should instead turn to how the department can best carry out its overall preparedness mission. This mission is most effectively accomplished by creating a new preparedness directorate at the department that consolidates existing preparedness capabilities from the department and beyond.

Secretary Michael Chertoff cited the preparedness mission as a top priority during his vision speech at The George Washington University last month. His desire for a "risk-based approach" is a laudable goal, but one that will require a recalibration for the bureaucracy he controls. He clearly understands this, putting the bureaucracy on notice during his speech: "Old categories, old jurisdictions, old turf will not define our objectives or the measure of our achievements. Because bureaucratic structures and categories exist to serve our mission, not to drive it." The harmonization of preparedness programs department-wide resonates well with such mission-oriented thinking.

Former Secretary Tom Ridge took the right step when he consolidated many of the existing preparedness grant programs and state and local efforts into the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness last year. Now the new secretary should continue the consolidation of preparedness efforts by merging the department's infrastructure protection and emergency preparedness efforts with the current preparedness efforts assigned to OSLGCP. These moves, together with the transfer of emergency medical services from the Department of Transportation, should comprise a new preparedness directorate, led by an under-secretary.

"Critical infrastructure protection" is a relatively recent addition to the nation's lexicon. Safeguarding the nation's critical facilities, such as power plants and transportation systems, is an important mission of the department. However, given that infrastructure protection is separated from other preparedness efforts at the department by bureaucratic stovepipes, the secretary should eliminate the current infrastructure protection directorate and merge it into a new preparedness directorate. And since the administration's plan for the Director of National Intelligence will likely require an overhaul of this directorate anyway, the secretary should be proactive and demonstrate the merits of a preparedness directorate now. …