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New Administration’s Potential Impact on Mutual Aid

April 1, 2009

As with most Americans over the winter months, we watched in earnest as the election of a new president and a shift in party control in Congress brought about a dramatic change. The IAFC’s Mutual Aid programs are funded by a cooperative agreement from the Department of Homeland Security; any shift in focus or priority could have a major impact on the work that has been completed as well as the work in progress.

As referenced in his agenda for Homeland Security, President Obama laid out the following priorities under the category, Protect Americans from Terrorist Attacks and Natural Disasters:

  • Allocate funds based on risk – Allocate our precious homeland security dollars according to risk, not as pork-barrel spending or a form of general revenue sharing. Eliminate waste, fraud and abuse that cost the nation billions of homeland security dollars.
  • Prepare effective emergency-response plans – Further improve coordination between all levels of government, create better evacuation-plan guidelines, ensure prompt federal assistance to emergency zones and increase medical-surge capacity.
  • Support first responders – Increase federal resources and logistical support to local emergency planning efforts.
  • Improve interoperable communications systems – Support efforts to provide greater technical assistance to local and state first esponders and dramatically increase funding for reliable, interoperable communications systems. Appoint a national chief technology officer to ensure that the current noninteroperable plans at the federal, state and local levels are combined, funded, implemented and effective.
  • Work with state and local governments and the private sector – Make the federal government a better partner to states and localities, one that listens to local concerns and considers local priorities. Reach out to the private sector to leverage its expertise and assets to protect our homeland security.

During the fall and winter, there was an increased effort to complete a number of the related projects that had been in the works for some time. One important project was the revision to the National Incident Management System (NIMS). This has been posted in the Federal Register for public comment, and plans are to have the final edits completed and published in the next few months.

The IAFC’s Homeland Security, Hazardous Materials and the Emergency Management Committees have collectively worked to complete the review and submit comments. The IAFC also provided several members to participate in the formal review process.

Over the past several years, there has been an obvious disconnect in the vast numbers of federal agencies, departments and offices that play a role in the doctrines that apply to disasters. There have been many situations in which new or revised policies are rolled out, only to be modified or rescinded because the key authorities affected were not involved in the decision process. We have advised the new administration that this central area must be improved if we are ever to create a truly accepted national system.

In the months to come, this will continue to be our primary focus, along with participating in the process. The areas of resource typing, credentialing, database development and access to the resources, and partnering with other disciplines and the private sector will be the next steps under development to achieve the mission.

Bill Bullock is the staff liaison to the IAFC’s Emergency Management Committee.

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