New national response plan focuses on partnerships

The Homeland Security Department has made emergency response planning easier with today’s release of a new national incident response plan, officials said. The plan replaces an amended version of the original three-year-old National Response Plan (NRP).

Officials say that the new strategy, the National Response Framework (NRF), provides a guide for how the country would conduct an all-hazards response. Based on lessons learned from versions of NRP and response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the new document is broader in scope and extends its focus on partnerships with state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector, DHS added.

The new framework facilitates communication among local, state and federal authorities by being simpler, clearer and focused on the incident management system, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said at a press conference today.

“It’s much clearer and it’s much shorter,” he said.

Officials also said the framework better accounts for the private sector’s role in planning and response. A majority of the country’s critical infrastructure is privately owned, and DHS was criticized for not involving companies enough in its initial response to the hurricanes.

Criticism from first responders; nongovernmental organizations; industry; and state, local and federal officials who struggled to coordinate their responses to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 led DHS to amend NRP and eventually create the new framework.

The framework, which received almost 5,700 comments since it was first posted in September, is accompanied by "annexes” meant to further guide incident response.

For example, the Cyber Incident Annex details how federal agencies and state, tribal, local, and private-sector entities should respond to an incident caused by a cyberattack or disasters that threaten information technology infrastructure.

The 23 annexes and the framework will be posted on the Web site of DHS’ NRF Resource Center.

Department officials also said NRF will better incorporate National Incident Management System (NIMS) procedures — the government’s unified approach to incident management and standard command and management structures. NIMS documents will also be available at the NRF Resource Center.

DHS also adjusted terms in the new framework to be more consistent with NIMS.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn.), Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Disaster Response Subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.) called the plan a good start.

“The success of the plan will depend on the operational plans FEMA develops as well as successful exercising, training, and implementation of the plan.” Lieberman said. “So, we still have a long way to go before we are fully prepared.”

DHS said it also clarified roles and responsibilities in the framework with these definitions:

Principal Federal Official: An official the DHS secretary selects during a response to a catastrophe to serve in the field as the secretary’s representative.

Federal Coordinating Officer: An official in charge of ensuring overall integration of federal emergency management, resource allocation and coordination with state, local and tribal officials when the Federal Emergency Management Agency heads the response as required under the Stafford Act regulations.

Senior Law Enforcement Official: Appointed by the attorney general to coordinate federal enforcement, public safety and security operations.

Joint Task Force Commander: An official who heads military forces if they are deployed. National Guard forces remain under control of the state governor, unless federalized.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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