Monday, December 04, 2006

The State of State and Local Preparedness: RAND Survey

RAND recently released a report titled, "Combating Terrorism: How Prepared Are State and Local Response Organizations?"

The report covers a range of issues confronting state and local response agencies. And although it presents data that are 3 years old, a lot of the issues are still relevant. The report indicates that the researchers were not able to summarize their findings and state whether our preparedness is generally "better" or "worse," but they were able to identify some specific areas of potential improvement in preparedness.

In information-sharing, there is some improvement in the way the FBI and state/local law enforcement are working together, but the guidelines for sharing information are still not consistent or clear:

Threat information appears to be reaching the right organizations, but given the central role law enforcement plays in receiving and sharing threat information, it is of some concern that only half of the U.S. law enforcement agencies in 2003 had received guidance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about what information to collect and pass on. Further, very few law enforcement agencies had applied for security clearances; rather, they relied primarily on the FBI and other sources for threat information.

Current trends suggest that law enforcement also may play an increasingly important role in investigating terrorist-related incidents (Davis et al, 2004). These trends underscore the importance of improving coordination between the FBI and law enforcement.
By contrast, the amount of information-sharing and preparedness activity with the private sector is seriously lagging:
There is limited interaction with the private sector, either in sharing threat information or in participation in joint preparedness activities (e.g., planning, training).
This could be a serious gap, in that most of the nation's critical infrastructure is owned and controlled by private entities.
[V]ery few organizations indicated that they would contact the private sector to share threat information.

Only about one-third of the local and state OEMs and one-fifth of the other organizations said they had formal agreements with private companies, businesses, or labor unions to share information or resources in the event of an emergency or disaster.
Not sharing information with the private sector is not the only problem. There has also been a general lack of preparation activities with the private sector:
Utilities (e.g., water, power companies) and transportation organizations (public and private) are important components of the U.S. critical infrastructure. Only about 20 percent of law enforcement agencies and paid/combination fire departments had participated in joint preparedness activities for terrorism response with these entities following 9/11, and only about one-half of state offices of emergency management (OEMs) and one-third of local OEMs had done so.
Another serious area of concern is the coordination of public health officials with other first responders. This could become a serious issue in the case of a major bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, or pandemic incident.
During a public health emergency or a bioterrorist attack, law enforcement and other emergency response organizations might be called on to enforce quarantines, manage crowds, or participate in joint investigations with public health officials. Many have expressed concern about the lack of integration between the public health and medical communities and other local emergency responders to address preparedness for bioterrorism or other acts of domestic terrorism (Hamburg, 2001).

We found that following 9/11, only one-quarter of law enforcement agencies and one-third of paid/combination fire departments had participated in joint preparedness activities with local public health agencies.
One special area of concern was the preparedness of volunteer fire departments, who receive less preparedness training than their colleagues in paid/combination fire departments:
[V]olunteer fire departments reported lower levels of involvement in terrorism-specific preparedness activities. However, given that the majority of fire departments in the United States are volunteer rather than paid/combination departments, their limited participation in joint preparedness activities and training should raise some concerns; this suggests that attention will need to be given to finding ways to ensure increased participation in the future.
Also, while many local responders have participated in training exercises with their local counterparts, fewer have done so with state or federal agencies. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this seems like a potentially dangerous oversight:
We asked survey respondents whether their organizations had participated in joint preparedness activities for terrorism response since 9/11 and, if so, with whom. Many local organizations had participated in such activities with other response organizations within their locality; fewer had participated with state or federal agencies.
Coordination with the National Guard and military is also an area of concern for many local agencies.
Although expectations of the military were high, only one-quarter of local organizations (with the exception of paid/combination fire departments) had conducted joint preparedness activities for terrorism response with their state’s National Guard or the federal military (e.g., local bases) following 9/11, whereas most state organizations had done so.
And although the researchers themselves were not able to make a general judgment on the nation's preparedness, the study subjects did give themselves a grade:
In general, only a little more than half of the local organizations and local public health agencies rated their overall preparedness to respond to their top-ranked incident type as being somewhat adequate or better ...
So, to summarize: Collaborate. Share Information with a wide network of local stakeholders. Identify threats. Prepare for a variety of likely scenarios. Coordinate. Train. Evaluate your preparations. Repeat.

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