State Department:

Evacuation Planning and Preparations for Overseas Posts Can Be Improved

GAO-08-23: Published: Oct 19, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 2007.

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Since 1988, the Department of State (State) has ordered over 270 evacuations from overseas posts due to civil strife, terrorist incidents, natural disasters, conventional war threats, and disease outbreaks. To prepare for evacuation, overseas posts rely on a variety of guidance, plans, and training, such as Emergency Action Plans (EAP). GAO was asked to assess State's (1) guidance and plans to prepare for evacuation, (2) training and exercises to prepare post staff for crisis, and (3) efforts to collect, analyze, and incorporate evacuation lessons learned into guidance and training. GAO examined State and Department of Defense (DOD) documents, spoke with State and DOD officials, conducted a survey of 243 overseas posts, and completed 22 structured interviews with State personnel.

Using its guidance and training, State has carried out numerous evacuations in the recent past--notably the safe evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens and family members from Lebanon. However, GAO found areas where State can improve its guidance, plans, and training to prepare for and manage evacuations of post staff, dependents, and American citizens. For example, posts do not find State's primary guidance particularly useful in preparing for evacuation. In addition, while State requires posts to update EAPs annually, almost 40 percent of posts surveyed have not updated their plans in 18 months or longer. Post-produced estimates of American citizens in a country are best guesses and more than three-quarters of posts said their last estimate was, at best, only somewhat accurate. We also found weaknesses in a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between State and DOD that could limit these agencies' ability to effectively work together during a large-scale evacuation. While State provides crisis management training to post staff, GAO found gaps in training related to preparing for evacuations. Over one-quarter of posts reported that Emergency Action Committee (EAC) members have not received training necessary to meet their emergency responsibilities. In addition, officials from several posts reported that newer staff have not received training for their EAC roles. Although posts reported that crisis management exercises are an important training tool, post staff said exercises should be more practical and reflect scenarios more likely to occur at post. State's evacuation preparations are constrained by the lack of a systematic process to collect, analyze, and incorporate evacuation lessons learned. Almost 60 percent of posts evacuated in the past 5 years said they did not produce an evacuation "after action" report, as required. Further, State has no entity to ensure posts are producing after action reports and no formal review process to analyze and incorporate lessons learned from these reports into guidance and training. Although State has developed some documents on evacuation lessons learned and distributed them to all U.S. overseas posts, the documents are sometimes vague and can be overlooked by posts due to the volume of material they receive. Limited institutional memory of prior evacuations at posts reinforces the need for a process to collect, analyze, and disseminate lessons learned from evacuations to all post staff.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since the GAO recommendation in 2008, State officials have reviewed the Memorandum of Agreement between State and DOD to ensure it expedites practical communication and coordination between the two departments before a large scale evacuation. State officials noted the Memorandum of Agreement provides the proper framework for cooperation between State and DOD, and more detailed guidelines are issued through memos and directives between the two agencies. According to State, State and DOD have improved ongoing coordination. DOD has personnel embedded in the Crisis Management Support Operations Room, and State has representatives embedded in DOD's combatant commands. State's Consular Affairs partners with DOD?s individual combatant commands to encourage their partnership with consular sections as part of their large-scale evacuation planning, including contingency plans for evacuating private U.S. citizens and other eligible groups.

    Recommendation: To help improve State planning, preparations for, and management of large-scale evacuations of post staff, dependents, and American citizens from overseas posts when State requires DOD assistance, Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense should review the memorandum of agreement between State and DOD (and its amendments) to ensure it expedites practical communication and coordination between the two departments before and during a large-scale evacuation, particularly in areas regarding logistical capabilities and limitations of each department (such as capabilities to contract and track passenger aircraft and ships).

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the GAO recommendation, posts now play a greater role in designing Crisis Management Exercises (CMEs), and posts have tailored CMEs to address scenarios that are likely to occur at posts. In preparation for a CME, the office of Crisis Management Training sends a cable requesting input for scenarios to be included in the exercise. Trainers are in contact with posts to ensure that the exercises are designed to reflect post's assessment of the most likely threats they might face. Crisis Management Training officials then send the completed CME draft to the post requesting review and comment.

    Recommendation: To help improve State planning, preparations for, and management of evacuations of post staff, dependents, and American citizens from overseas posts, the Secretary of State should strengthen crisis management exercises by having posts play a greater role in designing them and incorporating the most likely threats to occur at the post into exercise scenarios.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State's Foreign Service Institute Office of Crisis Management Training (CMT) has developed a full career-tracked program of crisis preparedness training for State personnel going out to posts, beginning with an introduction to State Department crisis preparedness doctrine for entry level courses, through more specialized training for mid-level tradecraft courses, to the Deputy Chief of Mission and Ambassadorial Seminars. This career-tracked crisis preparedness training sequentially reinforces and builds on each level of training. CMT continually reviews crisis management training and updates curriculum to include lessons learned and new tools and features available to members of the Emergency Action Committee.

    Recommendation: To help improve State planning, preparations for, and management of evacuations of post staff, dependents, and American citizens from overseas posts, the Secretary of State should review post and Foreign Service Institute crisis management training for Emergency Action Committee (EAC) members to meet assigned emergency responsibilities, including planning and preparing for possible evacuation, and identify areas for improving training, particularly for less experienced EAC members.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the GAO recommendation, posts are required to annually update the F-77 report and are now required to include a discussion of processes and data sources to produce the estimates. The annual State cable that provides instructions for completing the F-77 report asserts: "Posts must use the Source and Methodology field to identify particular data sources or processes used to estimate the number of U.S. citizens present in their consular districts."

    Recommendation: To help improve State planning, preparations for, and management of evacuations of post staff, dependents, and American citizens from overseas posts, the Secretary of State should direct posts to complete narrative sections in the F-77 report documenting the processes and data sources used to produce their estimates, as well as lessons learned on generating estimates for that particular country.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, the State Office of Crisis Management Support (CMS) is the designated entity within State that (1) ensures Emergency Action Plans are updated annually, (2) ensures after action reports are generated that include lessons learned, and (3) collects reports to assess State's performance and recommend modifications to guidance and training. CMS reviews posts' Emergency Action Plans annually to make sure that the plan was updated. CMS also collects after action reports from posts following a crisis or evacuation. In some cases, CMS organizes conference calls with the relevant parties and prepares the after action reports on behalf of the posts. CMS also solicits feedback from Washington offices and agencies that participated in a crisis response, integrates lessons learned into the next task force or monitoring group, and shares the information with other entities within State, including the Foreign Service Institute. The Foreign Service Institute integrates lessons learned into Crisis Management Training courses.

    Recommendation: To help improve State planning, preparations for, and management of evacuations of post staff, dependents, and American citizens from overseas posts, the Secretary of State should designate an entity within State to (1) ensure that Emergency Action Plans are prepared annually, (2) ensure that posts generate standardized evacuation after action reports with lessons learned, and (3) systematically collect and analyze these reports to assess State's performance and recommend modifications to State guidance, plans, training, and exercises, if necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since the GAO recommendation in 2008, State officials have reviewed the Memorandum of Agreement between State and DOD to ensure it expedites practical communication and coordination between the two departments before a large scale evacuation. State officials noted the Memorandum of Agreement provides the proper framework for cooperation between State and DOD, and more detailed guidelines are issued through memos and directives between the two agencies. According to State, State and DOD have improved ongoing coordination. DOD has personnel embedded in the Crisis Management Support Operations Room, and State has representatives embedded in DOD's combatant commands. State's Consular Affairs partners with DOD?s individual combatant commands to encourage their partnership with consular sections as part of their large-scale evacuation planning, including contingency plans for evacuating private U.S. citizens and other eligible groups.

    Recommendation: To help improve State planning, preparations for, and management of large-scale evacuations of post staff, dependents, and American citizens from overseas posts when State requires DOD assistance, Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense should review the memorandum of agreement between State and DOD (and its amendments) to ensure it expedites practical communication and coordination between the two departments before and during a large-scale evacuation, particularly in areas regarding logistical capabilities and limitations of each department (such as capabilities to contract and track passenger aircraft and ships).

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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