Mid-Atlantic Officials Cite Progress, Continuing Challenges

Senior Mid-Atlantic homeland-security and emergency-management officials met at the Dupont Hotel in Wilmington, Delaware, early last month to discuss a number of mutual problems, new and continuing challenges, and a number of individual and collective steps forward taken during the past year. The states participating in the 4-5 May conference were Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia; the District of Columbia also participated.

The high-level meeting featured a panel of nationally recognized operational experts in the homeland-security and emergency-management fields, each of whom made his or her individual presentation, then entertained questions from the audience. The meeting was conducted as part of a regional workshop, hosted by the All Hazards Consortium (AHC) – a 501(C)(3) non-profit, established by the mid-Atlantic states, to focus on creating awareness of and the resources needed to cope with multi-state issues. During this year’s workshop, the states participating discussed a number of key topics including (but not limited to) Communications Interoperability, Catastrophic Event Planning, Information Sharing, and Critical Infrastructure Protection.

Among those attending and participating in the workshop were decision-making leaders from state and federal government agencies, newly appointed administration officials, and senior executives from the private sector, academia, and non-profit organizations. Representatives of businesses involved in the homeland-security and emergency-management fields also participated.

Over the past two years the Consortium has hosted several regional workshops focused on, among other shared concerns, such important topics as: Information Sharing/Fusion Centers; Public Safety Communications & Interoperability; Catastrophic Evacuation Planning & Preparedness; Critical Infrastructure Protection; and Geographic Information Systems. Each workshop has produced a consensus “White Paper” outlining the common needs of and recommendations from the participating states.

The opening remarks – by AHC Executive Director Tom Moran and Robert Crouch, president of the Consortium’s Board of Directors (and Assistant for Commonwealth Preparedness to the Governor of Virginia) – preceded the keynote speech by W. Ross Ashley, chairman of the Grant Programs Directorate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), one of the most important and best-known agencies in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Ashley focused much of his presentation on the $10.8 billion available in FEMA’s annual grants budget, noting the several distinctions between preparedness grants and disaster grants. In all, 52 programs (19 of them in the preparedness field) are funded by the FEMA grants; the primary goal in managing and distributing the funds available, he said, is to achieve an across-the-board consistency in the allocation process.

Ashley also pointed out that issues such as the number of communities/events being protected, the amount of information being shared, and the impact of the money being spent all have to be considered on a continuing basis.  Noting that one of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s most important priorities is to reduce the cost burden on individual states, he suggested that the merits of establishing corporate partnerships be carefully considered by companies in the homeland-security field.  Corporate partnerships, he pointed out, will: (a) assist individual states in the writing of grant applications; (b) provide the products and services needed to help improve homeland security at all levels of government; and (c) help provide the funds needed to meet match requirements (hard match/soft match).  He noted, though, that Napolitano is not always 100 percent in favor of match requirements.

Ashley also pointed out that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, although primarily an economic rescue package for the nation as a whole, specifies that $150 million be spent on U.S. seaports, $150 million on transportation programs, and $210 million on firehouse construction.  He suggested that there should be more flexibility in funding priorities, and that the states should be permitted to designate their own more pressing needs (while also meeting national priorities).  An early announcement from DHS on firehouse construction was expected in the near future, Ashley said. He also noted that the current three-year FEMA outlook anticipates a possibly smaller but more effective agency focused more on measuring results than on where – i.e., in what states and cities – the funding provided by Congress is being spent.

States of Preparedness: The Voices of Experience The members of the Regional Homeland Security Advisors Panel participating in the forum expanded on Ashley’s remarks, and provided some additional perspectives of their own.  Robert A. Briggs of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), for example, said that one reason why grant matching has become a problem is that state budgets do not always specifically include funding for matches; a “soft match” is usually better, he suggested, but “no match” is not an option.  (A soft match is a promise that funds will be available for an awarded grant.  A hard match requires that a certain percentage of the grant award must be provided by the grant recipient to receive the funds.)

Briggs also noted that Delaware has been successful in establishing an effective public-private team to deal with domestic-preparedness matters, particularly in the area of transportation. He also mentioned that the DEMA office is working hard, and steadily, to improve the continuity of all processes across the board.

Kathleen McDonald, deputy director of the District of Columbia’s Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency, said that the District also is struggling with match requirements and is hoping to collaborate with the private sector to obtain in-kind matches. (In-kind matches are funds provided by the private sector to help meet the hard-match capitalization that FEMA requires before awarding a grant.)

McDonald also pointed out that her agency has been assigned several nationally unique responsibilities – for example, working as part of the security team for the Obama Inauguration in developing a regional catastrophic plan that included a potential evacuation process as well as a number of mass-care initiatives.

John Contestabile, director of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Office of Engineering and Emergency Services, said that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is particularly focused on measuring progress – and simplifying bureaucratic processes at the same time – by applying the CitiStat and StateStat framework and principles. (CitiStat and StateStat are statistics-based government management programs designed to help analystsentify trends and problems faster and to fix those problems not only more quickly but also in more cost-effective ways.)  Contestabile said that institutionalization and integration are high on the Maryland list of other priorities, which include the development and deployment of a statewide enterprise communication system (to improve interoperability, with costs shared between the counties directly participating).

Richard Canas, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, discussed such major concerns as mass-transit problems, counter-terrorism preparedness, and other issues involving the organization and management of his state’s Homeland Security Office, which is working in an increasingly closer partnership with New York City’s emergency-management and homeland-security agencies.

James Powers, director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Homeland Security, discussed a number of the Keystone State’s current initiatives, which include the possible merging of the offices of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Another initiative would require the registration of all vendors through the state’s Department of General Services (DGS).  Powers also discussed the proven effectiveness of Digital Sandbox – i.e., software designed to share practical operating expertise and best practices within the risk-management community.

Powers noted that there are now nine Pennsylvania task forces, with representatives from every region in the state, involved in various homeland-security matters affecting the state and its citizens.  Pennsylvania uses the same formulas the Department of Homeland Security does in its grant awards process, he said.  Pennsylvania’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy, he also said, is now creating a statewide notification system which is primarily designed to help first responders – an umbrella term that includes public works and healthcare officials as well as those involved in the protection of critical infrastructure.

Crouch – the “cleanup hitter,” so to speak – said that the Virginia Governor’s Office does not support match requirements and in-kind matches, but for an understandable reason – namely, that the communities that most need the grants are often those that can least afford them. He said that Virginia is looking at several ways to achieve greater interoperability (particularly in communications) both between and among the commonwealth’s own counties and with bordering states. Other issues at the forefront of the commonwealth’s current agenda, he said, include the building and deployment of VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention & Response) teams, and the issuance of so-called FRACK Cards (high-techentification cards that would be used by all state responders in the event of a disaster). Virginia also is working hard, Crouch said, on such matters as Continuity of Operations Programs (COOP), various Council of Governments (COG) matters, and pandemic planning.

The Highest Priorities, and Recent Releases All six panelists agreed that the most important current regional priorities are:

  • Matches – Both Hard and Soft;
  • Mass Transit;
  • Cyber Security;
  • Regional Grant Planning/Writing; and
  • Threat Assessments.

In addition to the topics mentioned above, several new documents were announced at the meeting, including:

  • A multi-state border coordination report that willentify key areas for coordination at state borders during a regional catastrophic evacuation;
  • The All-Hazards Consortium Annual Report for 2008, outlining activities and accomplishments; and
  • A multi-state regional Geographic Information System (GIS) White Paperentifying needs and best practices within the states in the region that participated in a similar workshop last July.

Footnote: The 2009 workshop was a closed meeting that focused on regional working group activities, planning functions, and future “next steps” for the states as well as regional initiatives carried out in coordination with federal partners.


Additional Information About the All Hazards Consortium (www.ahcusa.org)

The All Hazards Consortium is a 501(C)(3) non-profit, guided by the District of Columbia and the regional states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Its mission is to help create new resources and funding opportunities for those states, and the District, to support regional multi-state collaboration efforts among all participating stakeholders from the government agencies involved, the private sector, higher education, and non-profit/volunteer organizations.

Daniel Brethauer

Daniel Brethauer is DomesticPreparedness.com's account executive.  He attended the AHC to bring DPJ's readers the above report.



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