National Capital Region can't assess its emergency preparedness, GAO says

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The Office of National Capital Region Coordination has been floundering in determining the effectiveness of its emergency preparedness measures, and isn't getting much help from its parent agency, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, says the Government Accountability Office.

Without being able to measure preparedness capabilities, NCRC can't effectively determine if there's a preparedness gap, or how to close it, GAO says in a Jan. 25 report (.pdf).

Terrorism is one concern, but natural disaster preparedness in the metro-Washington, D.C., area also is an issue. The report cites as examples responses to a Jan. 26, 2011, snowstorm and the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake, considered by many as inadequate, which demonstrated limited coordination of public alerts and warnings and lack of real-time situational awareness across the region.

The failures occurred despite more than $560 million in federal grant funding since fiscal 2003 through the Urban Area Security Initiative program, the capital region's primary source of federal homeland security funding.

FEMA's NCRC officials, the GAO says, "are not assisting regional officials in (1) developing performance measures to better assess the implementation of their strategic plan and (2) identifying federal funding available to prioritize preparedness investments." They see themselves more as coordinators for other federal agencies than as supporters of regional efforts, auditors say.

FEMA also hasn't established a process for comprehensive tracking of available homeland security and emergency management federal funding, the report says, and regional officials don't have the same access to information as FEMA. Those officials said they could manage resources better if they had that information.

GAO recommends the FEMA administrator require the NCRC director to:

  • Help regional officials in Washington, D.C., and surrounding jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland develop measures to better assess implementation of the NCR strategic plan.
  • Collect and maintain information for NCR jurisdictions for the Homeland Security Department and other federal grant funding.

For more:
-download the report, GAO-13-116R (.pdf)

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