New National Preparedness Presidential Policy Focuses on Capabilities

The federal government is aiming to move preparedness activities away from overly burdensome requirements to a more streamlined approach with the release of a new policy. President Barack Obama signed a new presidential policy directive on national preparedness on March 30, which is the result of a comprehensive review of national preparedness policy and replaces Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8.

Brian Kamoie, senior director for preparedness policy on the White House National Security Staff, told a group of stakeholders at the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute on April 8 that many incidents were examined during the directive’s development, including the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 as well as Hurricane Katrina. The federal government included 24 national associations representing a range of stakeholders and disciplines in the review of the national preparedness policy.

The directive seeks to move away from burdensome requirements and instead build the key capabilities the nation needs to confront any challenge. “Capabilities defined by specific and measurable objectives are the cornerstone of preparedness,” Kamoie said. “Rather than rigid approaches that apply only in certain scenarios if specific assumptions come true, a focus on capabilities will enable integrated, flexible and agile all-hazards efforts tailored to what we know are unique circumstances of any given threat, hazard or actual event.”

As an example, he said, building flexible capabilities such as search and rescue and medical surge enable emergency staff to respond to a wide range of incidents regardless of what caused the emergency.

Stakeholders emphasized that the directive should not focus on one-size-fits-all standards because communities have different needs based on their risks. “This focus on capabilities will also drive the evolution of our planning efforts, which will seek to identify how we can most effectively mix and match our capabilities where needed to be the most agile and flexible in our approach,” Kamoie said.

The stakeholders also wanted the guidance and plans to be streamlined, Kamoie said, adding that at the local government level, the person who is tasked with developing plans, documents and grant application packages also must respond to daily events like fires or heart attacks. “So we want to move away from overly burdensome requirements,” he said.

All-of-Nation Approach

A key principle of the preparedness directive, Kamoie said, is focusing on an all-of-nation approach, which can already be seen in FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate’s whole community planning effort. “This approach relies on understanding and meeting the true needs of the entire affected community, engaging all aspects of that community — the private, the nonprofit, the public sectors — in both defining those needs and devising ways to meet them,” he said, “and strengthening the assets, institutions and social processes that work well in communities on a daily basis to improve resilience and emergency management outcomes.”

Kamoie cited three action items the directive calls for: First, is the establishment of an overarching preparedness goal that identifies the core capabilities necessary for the spectrum of preparedness, including prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. Second, is the development of a national preparedness system, which will “guide activities that will enable the nation to meet the national preparedness goal, the specific planning, organization, equipment, training and exercises needed to build and maintain domestic capabilities.” He added that the capabilities will be defined in terms of risk and objectives. Third, a national preparedness report will be compiled annually.

The White House is also pursuing “more rigorous assessment systems,” Kamoie said. The systems will aid in measuring and tracking progress over time. “We simply need to do better in articulating our current level of preparedness and demonstrating what innovations have worked,” he said.

The U.S. also aims to learn from studying the response to the recent tsunami and magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan. And when asked about how well prepared the nation is for a nuclear event, Kamoie said efforts have been ongoing — National Level Exercise 2010 included radiological emergencies and planning guidance was released in June 2009 for improvised nuclear devices — but that is another area where the U.S. will learn from the events in Japan.


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