May 8, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a report last week on the nation's progress in emergency preparedness, highlighting successes in all-hazards planning and gaps in cybersecurity efforts and disaster recovery.
The report is the first in a series of annual reports designed to gauge key capabilities and help national officials set priorities and fill gaps.
Dated Mar 30 but posted on the FEMA Web site on May 3, the 75-page report includes input from FEMA's federal agency partners, data from state preparedness reports, and its own assessments of data for 31 core capacities. It contains 70 key findings, including eight that address broad national trends.
The report is part of Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD8), an order issued on Mar 30, 2011, aimed at defining and enhancing the nation's preparedness for a range of threats, from natural disasters to influenza pandemics. The directive includes a requirement that the Secretary of Homeland Security submit an annual national preparedness report update to help with administration budget setting.
Other PPD8 steps have included establishing a national preparedness goal, which was completed in October, and a description of a national preparedness system. As part of the directive, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in January issued guidance to help hospitals and health systems prepare for medical surges.
One of the key findings is that the nation's overall preparedness capabilities have improved significantly since the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, especially in the areas of all-hazards planning, operations coordination, intelligence and information sharing, environmental response, search and rescue operations, operational communications, and public health and medical services.
Gaps remain in protecting against cybersecurity attacks, especially at the state level, and helping communities recover after disasters, such as providing long-term housing and restoring services.
The report said national preparedness investments have helped strengthen several areas, but federal grants aimed at enhancing cybersecurity enhancements have been minimal, and less than 1% of the Department of Homeland Security's nondisaster preparedness assistance between 2006 and 2010 fiscal years have been earmarked for boosting recovery capabilities.
States have developed fatality management plans, though not all are adequate and practical, the FEMA report found. Jurisdictions are still relying heavily on the federal government for fatality management during disasters, it said.
Resources for mass care services are in place for response to catastrophic events, FEMA reported, though distribution still poses challenges. Another gap identified in the report is challenges reunifying families after a disaster.
The report cited improvements in the nation's medical countermeasure efforts but said recent reductions in public health funding have hampered the capability to manage incidents.
In the infrastructure section, the report noted that utilities have mutual-aid programs in place to restore utilities after a disaster, but sustained loss of electrical power could impair response and recovery efforts. It noted that only 12% of mass care shelters are equipped with on-site generators, and only 6% have self-sufficient power.
States and the nation in general have made progress on areas they identified as priorities, but more efforts are needed to integrate people with disabilities and other needs into preparedness activities across all community partners and mission areas, FEMA noted. However, it added that several states and communities have made good headway with innovative programs to integrate people with disabilities and other populations into disaster planning.
Public and private sectors are more frequently using risk analysis to guide their preparedness activities and decision, the FEMA group found.
Despite all the gains, an overarching challenge is measuring progress of preparedness activities, according to the report.
FEMA's first preparedness report serves as a baseline for evaluating future progress on core capacities included in the PPD8's national preparedness goals, the agency said.
May 3 FEMA National Preparedness Report
May 3 FEMA news release on the report
FEMA PPD8 Web site
Jan 25 CIDRAP News story "HHS issues medical surge guidance for healthcare systems"