Emergency Preparedness and Response:

Some Issues and Challenges Associated with Major Emergency Incidents

GAO-06-467T: Published: Feb 23, 2006. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 2006.

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This testimony discusses the challenges of effective emergency preparedness for, response to, and recovery from major emergencies, including catastrophic incidents. Effective emergency preparedness and response for major events requires the coordinated planning and actions of multiple players from multiple first responder disciplines, jurisdictions, and levels of government as well as nongovernmental entities. Effective emergency preparedness and response requires putting aside parochialism and working together prior to and after an emergency incident. September 11, 2001 fundamentally changed the context of emergency management preparedness in the United States, including federal involvement in preparedness and response. The biggest challenge in emergency preparedness is getting effective cooperation in planning, exercises, and capability assessment and building across first responder disciplines and intergovernmental lines. DHS has developed several policy documents designed to define the federal government's role in supporting state and local first responders in emergencies, implement a uniform incident command structure across the nation, and identify performance standards that can be used in assessing state and local first responder capabilities. Realistic exercises are a key component of testing and assessing emergency plans and first responder capabilities, and the Hurricane PAM planning exercise demonstrated their value. With regard to the status of emergency preparedness across the nation, we know relatively little about how states and localities (1) finance their efforts in this area, (2) have used their federal funds, and (3) are assessing the effectiveness with which they spend those funds. Katrina has raised a host of questions about the nation's readiness to respond effectively to catastrophic emergencies. Effective emergency preparedness is a task that is never done, but requires continuing commitment and leadership because circumstances change and continuing trade-offs because we will never have the funds to do everything we might like to do.

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