EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — July 12, 2006

Learning from Disaster
The Role of Federalism and the Importance of Grassroots Response

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
The Heritage Foundation

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is based on the Heritage Foundation article "Learning from Disaster: The Role of Federalism and the Importance of Grassroots Response"

As you may know, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute - a think tank - whose mission is "to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

It is our privilege today to welcome Dr. James Carafano, Senior Research Fellow with the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

Dr. Carafano is one of The Heritage Foundation's leading scholars in defense affairs, military operations and strategy, and homeland security. An accomplished historian and teacher, Dr. Carafano was an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. and served as Director of Military Studies at the Army's Center of Military History. He also taught at Mount Saint Mary College in New York and served as a fleet professor at the U.S. Naval War College. He is a visiting professor at the National Defense University and Georgetown University.

Please visit the Background Page for today's session, for further information about Dr. Carafano's extensive background, as well as links to his publications including the article we are discussing today, and other Heritage Foundation articles related to catastrophic disasters.

Welcome Jim and thank you for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Jim Carafano: Thanks. In the aftermath of the widespread devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the unsteady response to conditions in New Orleans, some argued to give the federal government a much more intrusive role in meeting future catastrophic emergencies. While improvements in the federal response are necessary, turning responsibility for everything over to Washington is a terrible idea.

Homeland security and disaster management are national, not just federal, missions. The right response to domestic emergencies requires effective action from state and local governments, private-sector and voluntary associations, and communities and individuals, as well as support from federal officials. The best way to ensure cooperation and to meet shared responsibilities is not to put big government in charge.

Many of the best efforts to save lives and safeguard property during Katrina highlight the vital role that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), private-sector initiatives, and individual civic deeds play during extreme emergencies. In fact, they argue that rather than being supplanted by federal oversight, grassroots responses should be the cornerstone of the national effort. The federal government can best facilitate establishing an effective national response to catastrophic disaster by meeting its own responsibilities, creating a national response system that promotes collaborative effort, and supporting "train the trainer" programs that help communities to build strong grassroots response.

The precedent for this approach is embodied in the U.S. Constitution, where the principles of limited government and federalism give citizens and local communities the greatest role in shaping their lives. In matters relating to their communities, local jurisdictions have the preponderance of authority and autonomy. This just makes sense: The people closest to the problem are the ones best equipped to find the best solution. America’s system for disaster response reflects these principles. The core assumption is that incidents are typically managed best at the lowest possible geographic, organizational, and jurisdictional levels. Several reasons justify this approach, including the uniqueness of each community, knowledge of local resources, necessary quick response times, and facilitating preparedness before a disaster hits.

A federalist approach to disaster response for a nation like the United States, with its vast population, wide geographical area, diverse regional conditions, and traditions of strong state and local governments and volunteerism, is the only practical choice. Any national planning documents for homeland security adhere to the conviction that the federal government should reinforce—not replace—state, local, and nongovernmental efforts.

The National Response Plan (NRP) provides the framework for delineating responsibilities during a domestic emergency, and also indicates how federal agencies interact with state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector, and it identifies when federal authorities assume control of the national response. When the scale of an incident exceeds the capacity of state and local actors to respond, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other U.S. government agencies mobilize to provide assistance. However, even in this case, state bodies retain much authority over the response—and that is the way it should be. As long as state and local governments remain viable and operate within federal law, their sovereign authority to look after their citizens should not be questioned.

The worst reaction to the aftermath of Katrina would be to adopt a more heavy-handed federalized approach, which would undercut the very kinds of responses that proved the most effective—the work of churches, community groups, corporations, and national volunteer networks that even helped non-local communities effectively respond. This is not to say that Washington’s response does not need to be improved significantly. The federal government has a unique and important role to play. Only the federal government can build a national response system of the kind needed in a catastrophic disaster (like Katrina) to mobilize the resources of the nation in the face of a disaster that immediately overwhelms local leaders and puts tens of thousands of lives at risk.

The federal government is also responsible for building the "plugs" that allow state and local government to "plug" into the system. This includes training, education, planning, interoperable communications, and effective information sharing. As part of the federal effort, more can be done to improve Washington’s support for building grassroots responses. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should:

1) Create regional outreach offices. The country needs a national homeland security system that mobilizes public safety officials and state and local governments as effective partners in emergency response. For more effective coordination among these different levels of government and the private sector, the DHS should create regional field offices as required by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. For a primer on how such offices should be set up, see http://www.heritage.org/Research/HomelandDefense/SR06.cfm

2) Train the trainers. The DHS can help state and local communities develop a culture of preparedness by helping them to establish training programs for state and local leaders, who in turn can work to help develop strong community-centered programs.

For its part, Congress should:

1) Reform the grant formulas. The current system is in danger of turning homeland security grants into "pork barrel funding." Grants should be based on risk, vulnerability, and national priorities, not on past funding or state population. Congress should repeal or substantially reduce the congressionally mandated state minimums, allowing available funds to be used to build a national response system that supports state and local efforts and encourages communities to look after their own needs rather than wait on Washington.

2) Require the DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services to establish joint working groups. These groups should promote the development of community-centric planning, help state and local officials provide the necessary means and infrastructure for the American public to volunteer to assume a direct and influential role in community-based disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation planning efforts, and develop standards to measure the success of community disaster planning efforts.

Federal, state, and local governments need to work together to encourage, not supplant, community-centered programs. As with many other homeland security missions, applying—rather than trying to circumvent—the principles of federalism usually produces the best results. Thanks for joining us today. Amy I’ll turn it back over to you.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Jim. Now, to proceed to your questions and comments.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Chris Utzinger: How do you see FEMA's role in DHS?

Jim Carafano: FEMA should be an independent agency within DHS. It should be separate from the Undersecretary of Preparedness. I have no problem with the FEMA director being a disaster advisor to the president much as the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman is military advisor and reports to secretary and President. I want to bring your attention to this paper. The Truth About FEMA: Analysis and Proposals by James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., and Richard Weitz, Ph.D.
December 7, 2005 (Backgrounder #1901) [http://www.heritage.org/Research/HomelandDefense/bg1901.cfm ]

Jim Rush: Dr. Carafano: Do you advocate the Federal Government take the role of building and maintaining Wholesale-Level inventories of emergency medicines, infectious waste disposal units and medical supplies and equipment required in large scale disasters?

Jim Carafano: I think we need a mix. I have no problem with some stockpiling at the federal level, but think a lot can be done through the private sector with more efficient contracting.

Amy Sebring: It appears you have become familiar with the research literature on disasters. Are there any particular gaps in research that you have identified where you would recommend additional research?

Jim Carafano: Too little has been done on the private sector and community role, and too much attention on government response. Just wanted to add I like the research done at the Disaster Research Center of the University of Delaware.

Lori Wieber: What are your feelings regarding the role of mutual aid? Do you feel that efforts such as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) should be encouraged?

Jim Carafano: On the EMACs, yes I think they are good, but I think there is more to that can be done on building regional cooperation beyond EMACs. We are working on a paper on that now and hope to have it out in a few weeks.

Fernando De Guzman: Besides IS 700, what other training is available on the NRP that you are aware of, Dr. Carafano?

Jim Carafano: I think the online courseware from DHS is the vehicle most people are using.

Lois McCoy: Is there any thought being given to changing the names of the Disaster Plans currently being revised by DHS? For example the NRP in reality only addresses federal department recovery resources--not response.

Jim Carafano: The short answer is no. DHS has some revisions to the NRP and NIMS ongoing and I think we may see new versions of the documents next year that try to incorporate Katrina lessons learned—well, re-learned.

Lloyd Bokman: Jim, I agree that the primary authority should remain at the local level and I agree that there should be a national system with standards to meet. How do you deal with this fundamental contradiction of a national way of doing things and a local authority's natural tendency to do it their way because it works better for them? There could be some major interoperability issues here, especially when calling in mutual aid or federal or state assistance.

Jim Carafano: Needs to be a better interface at the regional level. That's why we've called for regional coordinating offices.

Michael Jallo: Do you see a role for the federal government in Hurricane/Tornado insurance, ala it’s role in National Flood Insurance Program?

Jim Carafano: We are doing some research on that right now. I think what we may find is that businesses are underinsuring themselves for business continuity and disaster recovery, and that there is the potential to do most of this in the private sector.

Enrico Robinson: In response to Amy's question in regards to gaps in research, you mentioned too little has been done on the private sector and community role. In your opinion, how do we get the community more involved? Who should organize?

Jim Carafano: Enrico, I think there is some excellent work by Roz Lasker at the NYU medical center that has some very good proposals.

Amy Sebring: I would just like to mention that you can find the work by Roz Lasker that Dr. Carafano mentions in the footnotes to his article. [http://www.cacsh.org/pdf/RedefiningReadinessStudy.pdf ]

Sam Clovis: Dr. Carafano, when you say regional, do you mean interstate or sub-state? This is an area of considerable interest at DHS. They are pushing for sub-state regionalization without much thought given to the complexity of intergovernmental relations. Any thoughts on regionalization? On the community involvement piece, I have been asked by DHS to do some thinking on that.

Jim Carafano: I think DHS needs to focus at the multi-state level and the states need to work cross-border and inside the state. I think federalism works and we have to stay within that.

Lloyd Bokman: As a follow up to my previous question, if regional offices and cooperation are the answer to the question of local authority vs. national, how much authority does the region have vs. say a state or a city or county? Don't we still have the same problem except that we have now shifted it from the national to the regional level?

Jim Carafano: I think the answer is creating the collaborative forums for states to address these issues. Problems can't be solved by messing with sovereignty.

Amy Sebring: On the regional office issue, since there has been no movement on that since DHS started that I can see, would not a feasible alternative be to put DHS Preparedness staff in the FEMA Regional offices? At least in the interim?

Jim Carafano: That might be a way to get things started.

Sam Clovis: Another shortfall seems to be a lack of involvement by elected officials (state and local). My research indicates they are the ones held accountable but with the least voice in national preparedness schemes. Any comments?

Jim Carafano: That is a very good point. Not enough thought has been given to the professional development of elected leaders and their political staffs.

Lori Wieber: There seems to be few if any ongoing mechanisms for citizens to be involved in planning. Do you have any specific recommendations for enhancing participation?

Jim Carafano: I think it has be done as part of community-based projects, and projects not just based on disaster response, but projects that the communities think are important. Then you grow and nurture interest in working on disaster preparedness issues after you have secured the trust and confidence of the community.

Sam Clovis: Concepts of federalism seem to be determined by what level of government is doing the conceptualizing. The national government seems to overpower the state and local governments and the state and locals can't get themselves organized to fight back. Don't you think the current approach is substantially business as usual--coercive federalism?

Jim Carafano: Yes I do, and it needs to change because it’s not healthy and it’s not building sustainable programs.

Terry Storer: With the passage of the Collins amendment, (creating a new Emergency Management Authority as an autonomous agency in DHS,) do you foresee a shift in emergency management?

Jim Carafano: No I don't think it will fly. The Senate and House are not of one mind on what to do with FEMA, there is not even agreement with the House Homeland Security Committee, and there is real opposition to doing anything major from DHS.

Amy Sebring: Have you given any thought to any specific preparedness metrics? We have recently devoted a Forum session to the Nationwide Plan Review, and question whether this review alone can adequately measure preparedness. In fact, it may do worse and misrepresent it.

Jim Carafano: I think the standards effort is moving in the right direction at DHS and in efforts to strengthen NFPA 1600 and broaden acceptance for the NFPA standard.

Amy Sebring: I would like to ask this group a question if I may. With the federal emphasis on catastrophic planning, do state and local planners get the feeling that we are being asked to overstate our capabilities? Does anyone have any thoughts on that? I have seen this in the Public Health planning area also.

Sam Clovis: Yes. The problem is that state and local governments have all the capabilities they have--by definition. They purchase those capabilities based on the expressed preferences of their constituents. They also deal with all-hazards based on local history or again what is preferred. Terrorism or catastrophic events rank near the bottom of their worries. The national government is principally focused, as they should be, on terrorism and capital H homeland security. The national government, however, has a tin ear when it comes to hearing these choruses from state and local government.

Jim Carafano: I agree. I think it’s a problem. I also think self assessments are unhealthy.

Lloyd Bokman: I don't know if it is overstating our capabilities as much as recognizing our shortfalls and how we are going to make them up, i.e. internal development, mutual aid, private sector or state & federal aid. It's hard to admit that we can't handle everything that may come our way.

Jim Rush: My main concern is that the Federal Government does not state what they will and will not provide throughout a large scale disaster. If we start with what is needed (Requirements) and then subtract what the Federal Government WILL provide, then the States and Cities can better define and plan for the difference.

Jim Carafano: Jim I was going to make the exact same comment. As well that the federal government is the only player that does not follow the ICS model.

Sam Clovis: What about a grant program which is essentially bad pork? Do you see Congress streamlining oversight?

Jim Carafano: NO. I think they need to scale back the .75 minimum for the state grants and we need to get over the notion that federal grants can solve the need to build local capacity.

Sam Clovis: One of the economic phenomenon occurring is that a lot of jurisdictions have stopped asking for money because the process is so onerous. Do you think DHS will get that message anytime soon?

Jim Carafano: I think the real problem is Congress who is always all too willing to throw money at the problem. Fortunately the House appropriators are fed-up and tired of wasting money on sub-optimal programs that produce marginal results. But, there is always pressure to bring home the bacon.

Jim Rush: I agree with Dr. C in that Local capacities and capabilities should be the foundation of disaster preparedness. The major problem as I see it is resources. Cities and States are financially challenged now. Imagine a State trying to raise the money to build the capabilities to stand self sufficient in a Pandemic. I worry a lot.

Jim Carafano: A good community plan is better than tons of resources.


Amy Sebring: Let's wrap it up for today. Thank you very much Jim for an excellent job, and thanks to Laura Keith who assisted us with the preparation. Please stand by a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements:

Again, the formatted transcript will be available later today. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page to subscribe.

We are pleased to welcome a new Partner today -- King County (WA) Office of Emergency Management, http://www.metrokc.gov/prepare, POC: Jaime Quick, Communications Specialist

If your organization is interested in becoming a Partner, please see the link on our homepage.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. For first-timers, we hope you enjoyed the program and will come again. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Dr. Carafano for a fine job.