Report: Defense unprepared for domestic disaster

Tuesday - 9/28/2010, 9:40am EDT

Frank Keating, vice-chair, RAND panel

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By Olivia Branco
Federal News Radio

Local authorities are already trained and capable of responding to disasters like fires, mudslides and tornados. But there are other types of attacks that are possible that may not be as easy to respond to.

A recent Congressionally-mandated panel, in conjunction with the RAND Corporation, discussed this and made recommendations to amend gaps in disaster preparedness.

Vice chairman of the panel and former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating joined Amy Morris on The Federal Drive and told her that the issues with the lack of plan stem from what he called a "barrier of ignorance".

"Most assets that would respond to an event are state and local assets: police, fire, doctors, first responders."

The main concept of the recommendations from the panel are:

  • to ensure training of officials and employees on authorities for response
  • develop and detail a continuity of government plan for emergencies and disasters
  • direct state emergency management agencies to share all state and local response plans with federal agencies and with states in their region

"We found that many of these things are just not being done," Keating said. "Just because people know how to respond to a tornado, to a mud slide, to a fire, to a gas explosion but a nuclear event, a biological event, what does that look like? How do you respond to it? If we anticipate something that the Department of Defense tells us could happen in the U.S. we need to train to that response. We need to train to that response, we need to make sure we have the legal authorities and the knowledge base so that if something like that happens we know what to do and who's in charge."

Keating also mentioned how even for the same disaster, local and state governments can react differently.

"If you remember what happened after Hurricane Katrina, the response in New Orleans and Louisiana was simply not the same in terms of its excellence, in terms of its efficiency as for example the response was to the same storm system in Alabama and Mississippi."

Keating was in office as governor of Oklahoma during the Oklahoma City bombings.

"Individual governors some are very, very adapt at responding to tragedy. I think the general consensus (during the Oklahoma City bombings) is that it was handled with some considerable skill. Not by me, but by the excellent people around me."

"We have states who really haven't thought about this. It's the continuity of government: what happens if a chemical, biological or radiological event takes out your capital. What happens then? Who's in charge? How do we coordinate disaster response?"

Overall Keating said the over 40 recommendations made by the panel are not necessarily difficult or expensive, they just require more communication.

"We made a lot of hard recommendations, not particularly expensive, just coordination, communication, protocols to share assets and information," Keating said. "And we think by putting the public spotlight on this we'll be able to get reactions and responses from the governors, mayors and obviously from the President and Defense Department but there are taskings here for everybody. If we're to be prepared for what could happen and is anticipated happening by our intellegence agencies we need to make sure we have people in place, protocols in place, knowledge and experience, qualified talented people everybody knows what they're supposed to do. Right now, we're not there."

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