New GAO Report Says U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack; Nor Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe

New GAO Report Says U.S. Not Fully Prepared For Nuclear Terrorist Attack; Nor Large-Scale Natural Catastrophe

Hope Yen, writing on The Associated Press’s (AP) website this afternoon (Dec. 19, 2014) notes that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just issued a new report concluding that “the U.S. government isn’t fully prepared to handle a nuclear terrorist attack; or, a large-scale national catastrophe, lacks effective coordination, and in some cases — is years away from ensuring adequate emergency shelter and medical treatment.”

Ms. Yen writes that “the report by the GAO — and obtained by the AP prior to its release, found that “the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, didn’t always keep track of disaster efforts by agencies, hampering the nation’s preparedness –even after super-storm Sandy in 2012.” The report added, “FEMA is not always aware of the full range of information available to the agency.” Ms. Yen adds that “the report relied on internal documents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees FEMA, including previously undisclosed details from a 2013 disaster plan that highlights needed improvements — in the event of an attack from an improvised explosive device.”

The GAO concludes that it would take an additional “one to five years to develop a strategy to determine whether people were exposed to unsafe levels of radiation; and, an additional five to ten years to plan for a fully needed medical surge capacity. Guidance was also lacking as to communication among first responders and making shelters and other basic needs available.”

“Investigators said FEMA, which leads an Interagency Group in creating a disaster response plan — needs to set clear deadlines, and estimated costs to ensure that agencies fulfill the goals.”

“The report makes clear, that there are some areas of our country’s preparedness that needs strengthening up,” said Senator Bob Casey, who Co-Chairs the U.S. Senate Caucus on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism.

With respect to a natural catastrophe, the report recommends that “FEMA take a bigger responsibility in leading a coordinated response, setting clear minimum standards for agencies and collecting regular status reports. The GAO concluded that the Energy Department did not effectively coordinate with state agencies; and the private sector during Super-Storm Sandy, which was blamed for at least 182 deaths and $65B in damage.”

The report also cited a lack of coordination among federal agencies — in whether to send law enforcement personnel to the affected region.

Jim Crumpacker of DHS, said the agency would work to put into place GAO recommendations by June 2015; but, noted it [DHS] did not have the legal authority to compel other agencies to take action. “FEMA will continue to coordinate and collaborate with other federal departments and agencies,” Crumpacker wrote in response included in the GAO report. The report noted that 39 of the 102 corrective actions identified by federal agencies after Super-Storm Sandy remain undone, including emergency coordination with states, boosting training in the use of electronic medical records, ensuring adequate transportation of injured victims.

I don’t think anyone should be surprised by the GAO’s conclusions. Mr. Crumpacker’s observation that DHS does not have the legal authority to compel other agencies to take action is a huge issue; and, one that is not easily solved. About the only real way something like this can really work; and, make the kind of progress that is needed/desired, the Vice President of the United States would have to take a personal interest in overseeing this effort. Otherwise, Mr. Crumpacker is right; and, this effort will become and administrative exercise and result in lots of meetings and spinning of wheels; but, little else. V/R, RCP

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