Dawn Pisturino's Blog

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DHS, FEMA, and the National Incident Management System

9/11

Introduction

After the end of the Cold War, America faced new challenges as the world’s leading military power. The failure of the old Soviet Union left a leadership vacuum which created new opportunities for terrorist organizations, petty dictators, and rogue countries to asset their influence and power. The end result was the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001 by an Islamic group known as Al Qaeda.

Amid all the post-attack horror and shock, two questions stood out: what did the U.S. government know — and why wasn’t the threat taken more seriously? Congress created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States on November 27, 2002 to answer those questions and to address the need for a more comprehensive national preparedness system.

A Discussion of the Origins of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Al Qaeda was organized by Osama bin Laden in 1988 after the Soviet Union abandoned Afghanistan. After the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and several attacks on foreign soil, the CIA concluded in 1995 that there would be increasing terrorist attacks against and in the United States but attributed these attacks to loosely-affiliated individuals with special training who could disappear underground. It wasn’t until 1996-1997 that the CIA became aware of Bin Laden’s terrorist organization. In spite of this knowledge, officials failed to share the complete information about Bid Laden and his activities in their updated reports.

Between 1998 and 2001, more information was compiled about Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but the CIA failed to comprehend the importance or urgency of the information. Even when select individuals tried to point out the threat and devised plans of action, those plans were usually shot down by Washington, D.C. bureaucrats as too expensive, too unrealistic, or too inadequate.

Part of the problem was the expectation that a major terrorist attack would be achieved through chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons. And since Al Qaeda possessed none of these, the threat it posed was minimized. The few small-scale attacks the group had achieved overseas, such as the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000, were not considered important enough to beef up national security. And the idea of using airplanes for suicide bombings was not considered a credible scenario for most Washington bureaucrats — including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

It’s no surprise, then, that the American people were horrified to learn that a small group of radical Islamic terrorists — armed only with simple box cutters — were able to hijack American commercial jets and slam into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The federal government was compelled to act.

The Department of Homeland Security was created by President George W. Bush with Executive Order 13228 on October 8, 2001 in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The mission of the new department was “to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks.” It was specifically mandated “to coordinate the executive branch’s efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.”

President Bush’s order covers the five basic elements of emergency management: preparedness, prevention (mitigation), protection, response, and recovery in coordination with federal, state, and local agencies, private businesses, and non-profit organizations. But one of the most important features of the order is the gathering and dissemination of information relating to homeland security with “state and local governments and private entities.” The order establishes the Homeland Security Council, with members representing the most important departments in the federal government.

An Examination of the Relationship between the DHS and FEMA

With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, President Bush focused the nation’s attention on terrorism and potential terrorist threats and attacks. Executive Order 13228 orders the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to “assist in the implementation of national security emergency preparedness policy by coordinating with the other federal departments and agencies and with state and local governments, and by providing periodic reports to the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council on implementation of national security emergency preparedness policy.”

Section 503 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 transfers accountability and responsibility of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — including its Director — to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as part of the department’s overall goal of building a comprehensive National Incident Management System (NIMS). “NIMS was [ultimately] created to integrate effective practices in emergency preparedness and response into a comprehensive national framework for incident management. NIMS enables responders at all levels to work together more effectively and efficiently to manage domestic incidents no matter what the cause, size, or complexity, including catastrophic acts of terrorism and disasters.” By making NIMS “a requirement for many federal grant programs,” the federal government has been able to promote a formalized, centralized, and coordinated national response plan which “provides a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government” in the event of disaster. “NIMS provides the template for the management of incidents, while the NRF [National Response Framework] provides the structure and mechanisms for national-level policy for incident management.”

Section 507 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 outlines the role and functions of FEMA and mandates that the agency follow a comprehensive emergency management program (NIMS) which includes mitigation, planning, preparedness, response, and recovery. The act designates FEMA as the leading agency for implementing the national emergency response plan.

FEMA successfully responded to the Midwest Floods of 1993, the Northridge, California earthquake, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Seattle earthquake, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. But, once FEMA was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security, its effectiveness declined. The agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina under President George W. Bush, for example, was considered a failure.

FEMA’s failure has been attributed to loss of autonomy and access to the White House, loss of power and status, redistribution of funds and personnel to projects given higher priority (such as terrorism), excess bureaucracy in the upper levels of the Department of Homeland Security, and a lack of coordination with state and local governments. Congress passed several reform bills to help resolve these issues.

Discussion of HSPD-5 and HSPD-8

Although the Homeland Security Act of 2002 ordered the development and implementation of a comprehensive national response plan, it was Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5 (February 28, 2003) which formally called for the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a national incident management system and national response plan that would improve coordination between departments, states, and local governments in the event of a major incident.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive-8 (December 17, 2003) proposed policies that would strengthen domestic preparedness to deal with major disasters (including terrorist attacks). Once again, coordination responsibility fell onto the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security with the goal of keeping the country ready at all times. This directive was aimed particularly at first responders by providing training programs and offering incentive rewards to the states.

With the Department of Homeland Security in control of devising and implementing a well-coordinated national response plan, it is ironic that the department failed so miserably in the face of Hurricane Katrina.

Conclusion

With the continued threats facing America, it is more important then ever for the country to avoid complacency and stay alert in order to recognize, prevent, and respond effectively to potential and actual disasters. We must learn from both our successes and our failures as we move forward into the future.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University, 2019

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Please contact author for sources.

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The Hoover Dam – What if it Broke?

hoover_dam_1

The Hoover Dam – What if it Broke?

I.

At any given time, Lake Mead – which is held back by the Hoover Dam — can supply water to 29 million households in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Turbines and generators at Hoover Dam turn water energy into electrical energy. A failure at Hoover Dam would cut off both water and power to all of these seven states, and especially, to all the communities located in the Colorado River Basin.

A breach in the Hoover Dam wall would cause 10 trillion gallons of water from Lake Mead to form a tsunami wave that would travel down the Colorado River, destroying Davis Dam, Parker Dam, and several bridges, and wiping out Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, and Lake Havasu. Communities located on the Colorado River would be flooded.

There would be an immediate loss of hydroelectric power, irrigation water, and drinking water that millions of people in all seven states depend on. The economic losses would be devastating.

Bullhead City, Arizona is one of the cities located on the Colorado River. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would immediately notify Bullhead City and Mohave County [in Arizona] of the impending catastrophe. The Mohave County Disaster Plan for uncontrolled releases from dams would be activated, involving the Mohave County Department of Risk and Emergency Management and multiple other departments in Bullhead City and Mohave County. The Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona State Parks Department, and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area [in Nevada] would also be involved.

It would require expert and efficient coordination and excellent communication capabilities to evacuate 30,000 people (the ones in Bullhead City, Arizona living closest to the river) in 90 minutes, before the water held back by Hoover Dam and then Davis Dam, hit Bullhead City. In spite of all evacuation plans to move people to Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona, people would greet the news of a Hoover Dam failure with disbelief and then panic. Highway 95 is the only main route through Bullhead City. It would be jammed with traffic. People on higher ground might be safe from flooding, but they would be trapped by lack of alternate roads out of the city. Law enforcement would be essential to keeping the traffic moving.

It is my estimate that if 10,000 people managed to get out of town in 90 minutes, 10,000 residents would be trapped on higher ground, and 20,000 fatalities would result from drowning and injuries. Thirty miles of Highway 95 would be flooded by water. At least 16,000 homes and businesses would be flooded or destroyed. The local hospital, which sits on a hill, could only be accessed by helicopter. The sewer systems would be flooded, contaminating the environment. Remaining residents would be without power and water. They would have to walk through the hills to highway 68 or be flown out by helicopter. The American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations would have to set up emergency shelters in Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona within two hours to help the survivors.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors would ask the Governor of Arizona to declare an emergency situation. He, in turn, would ask the President of the United States to declare Bullhead City [and all other cities along the Colorado River] a disaster area. Bullhead City and Mohave County would be overwhelmed. FEMA would be mobilized.

II.

If an unknown terrorist group launched a nuclear device at Hoover Dam and caused a rupture in the concrete wall, the scenario would be the same as described above. In addition to physical and environmental damage and loss of human life, the air and water would be contaminated with radiation and debris. The 10,000 people who managed to stay behind on dry land would have to be rescued and evacuated over 24 hours due to exposure to radiation.

Emergency shelters would need to be set up within two hours by the American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations in Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona to supply food, water, and other basic needs to survivors. But over the next day, wind currents would bring the radiation over the mountains and into Golden Valley and Kingman. Local law enforcement would pass out gas masks and be on patrol to control panic, looting, and general disorder while State and County emergency workers evacuated the area.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors would ask the Governor of Arizona to declare an emergency situation. He, in turn, would ask the President of the United States to declare the area a disaster zone. FEMA would be mobilized to the area.

Conclusion: When President Trump talks about our deteriorating infrastructure, We the People need to take it more seriously. There are a number of dams across the country which need much-needed repairs and reinforcement. Waiting for a disaster to occur is unacceptable. When he talks about preventing terrorists from entering the country, he knows what he’s talking about. Our deteriorating infrastructure is vulnerable to attack.

Dawn Pisturino

September 2019 and April 23, 2020

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Contact author for sources.

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