Scholarly assessments of our nation’s capability to effectively respond to hazards suggest a paradigm shift is needed regarding the future direction of research, policy and tactics for preparing and responding to natural and human-made hazards. This paper will provide a historical overview of our nation’s emergency preparedness and response posture, examine the need to reformulate the existing hazards paradigm into a broader resiliency framework, and suggest roles and responsibilities characteristic of government and community stakeholders in the context of this broadened approach. Mechanisms needed to achieve a successful implementation of this improved strategy will also be examined.
Reformulating the Hazards Mitigation Paradigm
The federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating, responding to and recovering from natural and man-made disasters can be traced back to the Congressional Act of 1803. The Act was enacted to provide relief from the aftermath of a devastating New Hampshire fire (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2010). Later disasters that occurred throughout our nation’s history “reached catastrophic proportions in terms of deaths, injuries and property loss which focused government and public attention on the need to develop formal systems to respond to such events” (Waugh & Tierney, 2007, p. 27). Accordingly, federal involvement in emergency planning and response increased to the degree where, by the 1970’s, more than 100 agencies were responsible for some element of emergency preparedness and response. Similarly, numerous programs were instituted at state and local levels, compounding the complexity of response efforts. This broad-based, uncoordinated approach yielded a fragmented response posture, with roles and missions unclear across government, community and private sector lines. An effort to centralize federal emergency functions was instituted in 1979 where many separate disaster-related responsibilities were merged into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA developed an integrated emergency management system, realigning its mission from civil defense into disaster relief, recovery and mitigation programs using an all-hazards approach. Following the terrorist attacks of 2001, FEMA coordinated its activities with the newly formed Office of Homeland Security by joining 22 other federal agencies, programs and offices which became the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003 (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2010).
Despite efforts to better organize federal response programs, “expectations regarding improved federal response to natural disasters were shattered by FEMA’s poor performance in dealing with hurricanes (Waugh & Tierney, 2007, p.33). While integrating FEMA into DHS was intended to the federal response capability, DHS was found to be plagued by high employee turnover and low morale to the degree Homeland Security had the lowest job-satisfaction rating out of 36...