Chemical Weapons:

FEMA and Army Must Be Proactive in Preparing States for Emergencies

GAO-01-850: Published: Aug 13, 2001. Publicly Released: Aug 13, 2001.

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Millions of people who live and work near eight Army storage facilities containing 30,000 tons of chemical agents are at risk of exposure from a chemical accident. In 1988, the Army established the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) to assist 10 states with communities near these eight storage facilities. The Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) share the federal government's responsibility for the program's funding and execution. Since its inception, the program has received more than $761 million in funding. One third of this amount has been spent to procure critical items. Because each community has its own site-specific requirements, funding has varied greatly. For example, since the states first received program funding in 1989, Illinois received as little as $6 million, and Alabama received as much as $108 million. GAO found that many of the states have made considerable progress in preparing to respond to chemical emergencies. Three of the 10 states in the CSEPP are fully prepared to respond to an emergency and four others are making progress and are close to being fully prepared. This is a considerable improvement since 1997, when no state was fully prepared. However, three states are still considerably behind in their efforts and will require additional technical assistance to become fully prepared to respond to a chemical accident.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army and the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency should adopt a more proactive approach to improve working relations with Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program states and communities. Better relations would help assure the states and their communities that all the necessary actions will be taken to fully prepare them and keep them prepared to respond to a chemical accident. Specific actions should (1) provide technical assistance, guidance, and leadership to the three states with long-standing issues to resolve their concerns, especially Alabama and its issues with sheltering-in-place, evacuation, and the collective protection of facilities, (2) provide all states and their communities with training and assistance in preparing budget and life-cycle cost estimates and guidance and plans on reentry, and (3) establish specific measures of compliance with the benchmarks to more evenly assess performance and to currently identify requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army concurred with GAO's recommendations and said that it would exercise greater initiative in assisting the off-post communities in the development of response capabilities. The Army said that it has provided instruction to state and local officials on the Army budgeting process and on identifying requirements as early as possible, and had provided guidance for developing site specific plans for reentry and restoration. The Army said that it and FEMA follow similar processes for evaluating the readiness of on-post and off-post communities and their response integration and interoperability. The Army also said that it would continue to provide assistance to the states and counties as requested by FEMA until completion of the chemical stockpile demilitarization program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army and the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency should adopt a more proactive approach to improve working relations with Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program states and communities. Better relations would help assure the states and their communities that all the necessary actions will be taken to fully prepare them and keep them prepared to respond to a chemical accident. Specific actions should (1) provide technical assistance, guidance, and leadership to the three states with long-standing issues to resolve their concerns, especially Alabama and its issues with sheltering-in-place, evacuation, and the collective protection of facilities, (2) provide all states and their communities with training and assistance in preparing budget and life-cycle cost estimates and guidance and plans on reentry, and (3) establish specific measures of compliance with the benchmarks to more evenly assess performance and to currently identify requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA generally concurred with GAO's recommendations. The agency said that it has recently taken initiatives to capture and share lessons learned and best practices among CSEPP communities by establishing a series of planning workgroups, a national Public Affairs Integrated Product Team, and a CSEPP planners' website. FEMA said that it has taken steps to uniformly measure program performance of different states that focus on outcomes addressing public safety, and its performance reporting requirements form the basis for a performance-based management system for CSEPP.

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