Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) made three main recommendations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC). The recommendations related specifically to the implementation of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (PKEMRA) provisions for emergency communications planning and federal coordination for state and local efforts.
The GAO said federal coordination could be improved. It made three recommendations specific to the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center (ECPC). The report said the secretary of homeland security should clearly document the ECPC’s strategic goals, establish a mechanism to track progress by the ECPC’s member agencies in implementing the ECPC’s recommendations, and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the ECPC’s member agencies.
PKEMRA established the ECPC, comprising 14 member agencies, to improve coordination and information sharing among federal emergency communications programs. GAO previously identified key features and issues to consider when implementing collaborative mechanisms, including interagency groups like the ECPC. GAO found that the ECPC’s collaborative efforts were consistent with most of these features, such as those related to leadership and resources, but were not fully consistent with others.
For example, one of the key features calls for interagency groups to clearly define goals and track progress, yet the ECPC has not done so. As a result, the ECPC’s member agencies might not understand the ECPC’s goals or have a chance to ensure that the goals align with their own agencies’ purposes and goals. Furthermore, the ECPC puts forth recommendations that could improve emergency communications. But the recommendations are implemented at the discretion of the ECPC’s member agencies and are not tracked. Without a mechanism to track the ECPC’s recommendations, it is unclear the extent to which the recommendations are being implemented and the ECPC is missing an opportunity to monitor its progress.
OEC has taken a number of steps aimed at ensuring that state and local agencies have the plans, resources and training they need to support reliable emergency communications. PKEMRA also directed DHS to develop the national emergency communications plan (NECP). The NECP includes goals for improving emergency communications and encourages states to align their plans with these emergency communications goals.
Almost all of the statewide interoperability coordinators (SWIC) responding to GAO’s survey reported that to better plan for emergency communications during disasters, their states have taken several steps since PKEMRA. The states developed comprehensive strategic plans for emergency communications that align with the NECP; established SWIC positions to support state emergency communications initiatives, such as developing high-level policy and coordinating training and exercises; and implemented governance structures to manage the systems of people, organizations and technologies that need to collaborate to effectively plan for emergencies.
GAO did not independently verify state responses. Most SWICs reported not having a comprehensive emergency communications plans in place prior to PKEMRA’s 2006 enactment. In particular, prior to the enactment of PKEMRA, only a few states had comprehensive emergency communications plans in place, but now all but one has such a plan. Most of the SWICs also reported that their statewide plans cover key elements, such as governance, standard operating procedures, and training and exercises, considered by DHS as the essential foundation for achieving the NECP goals.
GAO is making recommendations to DHS aimed at improving the ECPC’s collaborative efforts, including defining its goals and tracking its recommendations. DHS concurred with the recommendations.