GAO suggests homeland security regional planning

GAO Report: "Homeland Security: Effective Regional Coordination Can Enhance Emergency Preparedness"

Federal government officials can foster successful regional collaboration on homeland security by requiring the existence of regional planning structures before releasing funds, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Federal, state and local officials have developed many approaches to regional collaboration in the past three years, but the common factor leading to success or failure has been the presence of a central organization with a comprehensive strategic plan and measurable goals. That organization must include representatives from all districts and disciplines within the region, according GAO analysts in their analysis of federal programs and the plans of six metropolitan areas nationwide.

The Homeland Security Department's Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants are one method used by the federal government to encourage regional approaches, but officials should also look to support and combine other regional entities, according to the report.

For example, on transportation issues, federal law requires the formation of metropolitan planning organizations, and many major metropolitan areas are using those groups in larger response planning. Specifically, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, officials at the Regional Emergency Managers Group are working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and in Los Angeles, emergency management officials are using the Terrorism Early Warning Group that local law enforcement established in 1996.

Officials governmentwide are still learning to cooperate across traditional boundaries. The National Capital Region (NCR) was formed following Sept. 11, 2001, to put regional cooperation in the Washington, D.C., area on a fast track. But even there, the plans and goals are still under development. NCR officials are beginning to use regional working groups, including the Emergency Preparedness Council and the Chief Administrative Officers Committee, to bring together all of the parties necessary to set goals for the region.

With those goals in place under the region's UASI governance structure, officials are developing a central database and other mechanisms to ensure that funding is used effectively and efficiently across the region, according to the report.

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