Emergency preparedness deadlines loom

NIMS Integration Center

In a letter to governors last month, Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge urged government leaders to prepare for participation in the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Federal, state and local officials are required to be part of NIMS by the end of 2007.

According to the timeline in Ridge's letter, state and local officials should evaluate which parts of NIMS need improvement in fiscal 2006. If they have not met the fiscal 2007 deadline, DHS officials can deny federal emergency preparedness funding for those agencies, said Gil Jamieson, acting director of the NIMS Integration Center.

He testified Sept. 29 before

the House Select Committee

on Homeland Security's Emergency Preparedness and Response Subcommittee.

Officials at all levels of government have cited NIMS as a critical factor in their ability to respond during tests of homeland security preparedness. At a hearing last month, Michael Freeman, chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs' Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee, described NIMS as "an efficient and effective way to bring resources together to respond to large-scale incidents."

At the core of NIMS is the Incident Command System, which was developed in the 1990s to manage multiple jurisdictions battling wildfires. "ICS clearly works on a large scale," Freeman said, adding that it also is useful for managing small, daily incidents.

NIMS benefits health care workers by covering critical gaps in incident management, said Dr. Joseph Barbera, co-director of the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at George Washington University.

Community health employees discovered the system's benefits during exercises nationwide, including DHS' TopOff 2 drill in the Chicago area last year, said Barbera, who served as an observer for the Department of Health and Human Services.

DHS officials developed NIMS as a framework for baseline capabilities across all levels of government. The system ensures that when an attack or natural disaster occurs, public safety officials can quickly establish a coordinated response.

"It's a balance between flexibility and standardization," said Michelle McQueeney, a program specialist at the NIMS Integration Center's Standards and Resources Branch. She spoke at the recent annual conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in Chicago.

NIMS helps with standards, training and other issues that fall within several broad categories, such as command and management.

In each of those areas, officials at the NIMS Integration Center will assist with and expand programs in other parts of DHS, such as the Safecom program and other agency initiatives, McQueeney said. Safecom officials are developing standards for making communications systems interoperable.

Technology plays a role in all of those areas, but funding is also a consideration, said Jim Dillon, CIO for the state of

New York. States are beginning to pull out of the economic difficulties that have caused massive spending cuts in the past few years, and officials at local governments are struggling to prioritize spending on everything from emergency response to education, he said.

McQueeney said officials at the integration center, created in June, are helping agency officials with many tasks, such as justifying emergency preparedness funding to budget officials. They also are trying to offset some costs through centralized resources such as online training.

Center officials will work, when necessary, on integrating systems. Building a national credential database from state databases will be required for NIMS.

***

Ridge issues schedule

Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge set deadlines for federal, state and local government officials to participate in the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a system for coordinating responses to terrorist attacks or other crises. Fiscal 2005 will be a start-up year, and in fiscal 2006, improvements will be made. After fiscal 2007, officials of state and local governments will not receive federal emergency preparedness grants until they can fully participate in NIMS.

In fiscal 2005, state and local government officials must, at a minimum, begin:

Incorporating NIMS into training programs and exercises.

Ensuring that federal preparedness grants

support NIMS at state and local levels.

Incorporating NIMS into emergency operations plans.

Promoting intrastate mutual aid agreements.

Coordinating and providing technical assistance to local entities for NIMS.

Institutionalizing the use of the Incident Command System.

Source: NIMS Integration Center

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