When a disaster or emergency strikes, who is in charge—federal, state, local, or tribal authorities? Police, fire, rescue, medical services, public works, environmental response professionals? Who has jurisdiction? How is incident response coordinated?
“The National Response Framework (NRF) presents the guiding principles that enable all response partners to prepare for and provide a unified national response to disasters and emergencies. It establishes a comprehensive, national, all-hazards approach to domestic incident re
- describes how communities, tribes, states, the federal government, private-sectors, and nongovernmental partners work together to coordinate national response;
- describes specific authorities and best practices for managing incidents; and
- builds upon the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which provides a consistent template for managing incidents.” (http://www.dhs.gov/)
“National Incident Management System:
- While most emergency situations are handled locally, when there’s a major incident help may be needed from other jurisdictions, the state and the federal government. NIMS was developed so responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines can work together better to respond to natural disasters and emergencies, including acts of terrorism. NIMS benefits include a unified approach to incident management; standard command and management structures; and emphasis on preparedness, mutual aid and resource management.” (http://www.fema.gov/)
Government Technology’s Emergency Management Magazine, Spring 2008, reports that “only willing partners coming to the table, treated as equals, will prove effective in establishing a national standard for incident response.”
Why are there so many issues in coordinating incident response?
- Miscommunication—“the ideal scenario is that everyone uses the same system and terminology when responding, which allows disparate agencies to come together quickly and avoid miscommunication when confusion ultimately rules—during disasters.”
- Jurisdictional egos—“Jurisdictional egos can become involved, along with personal history and interagency ‘baggage.’…it can be messy at best, especially as leaders emerge, each wanting to highlight their agency’s accomplishments and not be superseded by another.”
- Lack of interagency and cross-jurisdictional training—“We need joint training, planning and exercises with all potential partners if we’re ever going to fix the issue of unified command…[additionally, there is a] lack of practice in how, in larger, cross-jurisdictional responses, the elected officials aren’t used to working in tandem with other jurisdictions during emergencies.
- Subordination is not in the law—“It is not in our nature and governance for one jurisdiction to subordinate itself to another, especially in crisis. As such, the solution will need to be the establishment of mechanisms that allow for joint action via a coordinated response.”
As a citizen, I frankly do not care about responders’ terminology, egos, training, or distaste for subordination—when there is a true crisis, I (like I believe any sane person) wants help to come, come quick, and come effectively. I want lives saved and property safeguarded.
From an enterprise architecture perspective, I acknowledge the challenge that we face in coordinating incident response among a broad spectrum of stakeholders and emergency response experts. However, at the same time, I cannot help but marvel at the current federated system of emergency response. I believe that emergency response needs to mature to one where there is absolute crystal clear chain of command and a solid, unified approach to dealing with disaster. All necessary and appropriate resources need to be brought to bear to help people in disaster and a coordinated response is a must.
Certainly, while there are technical issues in establishing common data standards, mechanisms for information exchange, interoperable systems, and securing these, it seems that the biggest issue is cultural. People and agencies are continuing to function in a siloed mentality despite the clear need for a unified approach to dealing with disasters as well as with the large, complex, and global problems that we face. I believe that this only underscores the need for “enterprise architecture” and that it is becoming more and more obvious that each of us doing our own thing is not going to enable us to solve the great issues of this century.