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Historical Trends In Emergency Management

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Autor:  tasha129082  15 December 2009
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Historical Trends in Emergency Management

Early History – 1800-1950

In 1803, a Congressional Act was passed to provide financial assistance to a New Hampshire town devastated by fire. This is the first example of Federal government involvement in a local disaster.

During the 1930’s the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Bureau of Public Roads were both given authority to make disaster loans available for repair and reconstruction of certain public facilities after disasters. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created during this time to produce hydroelectric power and, as a secondary purpose, to reduce flooding in the region.

During this period, a significant piece of emergency management legislation was passed by Congress. The Flood Control Act of 1934 gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased authority to design and build flood control projects.

The Cold War and the Rise of Civil Defense – 1950s

The next notable era in the evolution of emergency management took place during the 1950’s. The Cold War years presented as the principal disaster risk the potential for nuclear war and its subsequent radioactive fallout. Civil Defense programs proliferated across communities during this time.

Almost every American community maintained a civil defense director, and most States had an official who represented civil defense in the State government hierarchy. By profession, these individuals were primarily retired military personnel, and their operations received little political or financial support from their State or local governments.

Federal support for these civil defense activities was vested in the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), an organization with minimal staff and financial resources, and whose main role was to provide technical assistance. However, the State and local civil defense directors became the first recognized face of emergency management in the U.S.

A companion office to the FCDA, the Office of Defense Mobilization, was established under the Department of Defense (DOD). The primary functions of this Office were to allow for quick mobilization of assets and materials and the production and stockpiling of critical materials in the event of a war. FCDA operations included a function called emergency preparedness. In 1958, these two offices were merged into the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization.

The 1950’s decade was a quiet period in regards to large-scale natural disasters, though three major hurricanes did strike with considerable impact. Hurricane Hazel, a Category 4 hurricane, inflicted significant damage in Virginia and North Carolina in 1954, Hurricane Diane hit several Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states in 1955, and Hurricane Audrey, the most damaging of the three storms, struck Louisiana and North Texas in 1957. Congressional response to these disasters followed a familiar pattern of ad hoc legislation to provide increased disaster assistance funds to the impacted areas.

As the 1960’s began, three major natural disaster events occurred. In 1960 in a sparsely populated area of Montana, the Hebgen Lake Earthquake (measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale) brought attention to the fact that the Nation’s seismic risk extended far beyond the California borders. Also in that same year, Hurricane Donna struck the West coast of Florida, followed by Hurricane Carla which blew into Texas in 1961. The incoming Kennedy Administration decided to change the Federal approach to disasters and emergency management. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the Office of Emergency Preparedness inside the White House to handle the growing risk of natural disasters. Civil Defense responsibilities, however, remained in the Office of Civil Defense within DOD.

Changes to Emergency Management – 1960s

As the 1960’s progressed, the United States was affected by a series of major natural disasters. The Ash Wednesday Storm in 1962 devastated over 620 miles of shoreline on the East Coast, producing over $300 million in damages. Then, in 1964, an destructive earthquake in Alaska’s Prince William Sound that measured 9.2 on the Richter scale generated tsunamis that affected beaches as far down the Pacific Coast as California and killed 123 people – the event garnered front-page newspaper headlines throughout America and the world. Hurricane Betsy (1965) and Hurricane Camille (1969) were both significant in regards to their force and fury, killing and injuring hundreds of people and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage along the Gulf Coast.

As with previous disasters, the response to each of these events was the passage of ad hoc legislation for disaster relief funds. However, the financial losses resulting from Hurricane Betsy’s path across Florida and Louisiana initiated the discussion of insurance as a protection against future floods and a potential method to reduce continual government assistance after disasters. Congressional interest was prompted by the unavailability of flood protection insurance on the standard homeowner policy. Such protection was in fact available in some areas, but it was prohibitively expensive and therefore rarely purchased. These discussions ultimately led to passage of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 that created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The Call for a National Focus to Emergency Management – 1970s

In the 1970’s, responsibility for various emergency management functions were evident in more than five Federal Departments and Agencies, including the Department of Commerce (weather, warning and fire protection); the General Services Administration (continuity of government, stockpiling, federal preparedness), the Treasury Department (import investigation), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (power plants) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (flood insurance and disaster relief). Within the military, there existed the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (nuclear attack) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (flood control). Overall, however, when one looked at the broad range of risks and potential disasters it became apparent that more than 100 federal agencies were involved in some aspect of risk and disaster management.

With passage of the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, prompted by the previously mentioned hurricanes and the San Fernando earthquake of 1971, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) possessed the most significant authority for natural disaster response and recovery. This existed through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) under the Federal Insurance Administration (FIA) and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration (disaster response, temporary housing and assistance).

The scattered pattern of placement of disaster management functions extended down to the State and, to a lesser extent, local levels. There were parallel organizations and programs that added to confusion and turf wars especially during disaster response efforts. The State governments and the Governors grew increasingly frustrated over this fragmentation. In response to the absence of a unified and effective Federal lead agency in emergency management, a group of State Civil Defense Directors led by Lacy Suiter of Tennessee and Erie Jones of Illinois launched an effort through the National Governor’s Association to consolidate Federal emergency management activities into a single agency.

In the midst of these discussions, the accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania occurred, which added impetus to the ongoing consolidation effort. This event centered national media attention on the lack of adequate off-site preparedness around commercial nuclear power plants, and highlighted the role of the Federal government in responding to such an event.

On June 19, 1978, President Carter transmitted to the Congress, the Reorganization Plan Number 3 (3 CFR 1978, 5 U.S. Code 903). The stated and achieved intent of this plan was to consolidate emergency preparedness, mitigation, and response activities into one federal emergency management organization. The President proclaimed that the plan would provide for the establishment of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and that the FEMA Director would report directly to the President.

Reorganization Plan No.3 transferred the following agencies or functions to FEMA: National Fire Prevention Control Administration (Department of Commerce); Federal Insurance Administration (HUD); Federal Broadcast System (Executive Office of the President); Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DOD); Federal Disaster Assistance Administration (HUD); and the Federal Preparedness Agency (GSA).

Additional transfers of emergency preparedness and mitigation functions to FEMA were: Oversight of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (Office of Science and Technology Policy); coordination of dam safety (Office of Science and Technology Policy); assistance to communities in the development of readiness plans for severe weather related emergencies; coordination of natural and nuclear disaster warning systems; and coordination of preparedness and planning to reduce the consequences of major terrorist incidents.

Civil Defense Reappears as Nuclear Attack Planning – 1980s

The early and mid-1980’s presented FEMA with many challenges, though no significant natural disasters occurred. The absence of the need for a coherent Federal response to disasters, as was called for by Congress when it approved the establishment of FEMA, allowed FEMA to exist and operate as an organization composed of many separate parts.

In 1982, President Reagan appointed General Louis O. Guiffrida as Director of FEMA. Mr. Guiffrida, a Californian and close friend of Presidential advisor Ed Meese, had a background in terrorism preparedness and training at the State government level.

General Guiffrida proceeded to reorganize FEMA consistent with Administration policies and his background; top priority was placed on government preparedness for a nuclear attack. Resources within the Agency were realigned and additional budget authority was sought to enhance and elevate the National Security responsibilities of the Agency. With no real role for the States in these National Security activities, the State Directors who had lobbied for the creation of FEMA saw their authority and Federal funding declining.

During Guiffrida’s tenure FEMA faced several unusual challenges that stretched its authority. This included asserting FEMA into the lead role for continuity of civilian government in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, managing the Federal response to the contamination at Love Canal and Times Beach, Missouri, and the Cuban refugee crisis. Although Guifridda managed to bring the Agency physically together in a new Headquarters Building in Southwest Washington, severe morale problems persisted.

Dislike of Guiffrida’s style and questions about the Agency’s operations came to the attention of U.S. Representative Al Gore of Tennessee who then served on the House Science and Technology Committee. As the Congressional hearings proceeded, the Department of Justice and a grand jury began investigations of senior political officials at FEMA. These inquiries led to the resignation of Guiffrida and top aides in response to a variety of charges including misuse of government funds.

President Reagan then selected General Julius Becton to be director of FEMA. General Becton was a retired military General and had been the Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the State Department.

General Becton is uniformly credited with restoring integrity to the operations and appropriations of the Agency. From a policy standpoint, he continued to emphasize the programs of his predecessor but in a less visible manner. Becton himself expanded the duties of FEMA when he was asked by DOD to take over the program dealing with the off-site cleanup of chemical stockpiles on DOD bases. This program was fraught with problems and bad feelings existed between the communities and the bases over the funds available to the communities for the cleanup. FEMA had minimal technical expertise to administer this program and was dependent on DOD/Army for the funding. This situation led to political problems for the Agency and prevented significant advancements in local emergency management operations (as had been promised by DOD).

During his tenure, General Becton ranked the programs in the FEMA by level of importance. Of over 20 major programs that were listed, the earthquake, hurricane and flood programs ranked near the bottom. In reaction to the absence of any significant natural hazards during the immediately preceding years, such a ranking did not come as a surprise. This fact is also noteworthy in the context that it continued the pattern of isolating resources for National Security priorities without recognizing the potential for a major natural disaster.

This issue was raised, again by then Senator Al Gore, in hearings on FEMA’s responsibilities as lead Agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). Senator Gore, reacting to a scientific report that said there could be up to 200,000 casualties from an earthquake occurring on the New Madrid fault, felt FEMA’s priorities were misplaced. The legislation that created the NEHRP called on FEMA to develop a plan for how the Federal government would respond to a catastrophic earthquake. This Federal Response Plan would later become the operating Bible for all of the Federal agencies response operations. Senator Gore concluded that FEMA needed to spend more time working with its Federal, State and local partners on natural hazards planning.

As Congress debated, and finally passed, major reform of federal disaster policy as part of the Stewart McKinney-Robert Stafford Act, the promise of FEMA and its ability to support a national emergency management system remained in doubt.

At the closing of the 1980’s, FEMA was an Agency in trouble. It suffered from severe morale problems, disparate leadership, and conflicts over Agency spending and priorities with its partners at the State and local levels. In 1989, the occurrence of two devastating natural disasters called into question the continued existence of FEMA.

In September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into North Carolina and South Carolina, after first inflicting damage in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It was the worst hurricane in a decade with over $15 billion in damages and 85 deaths. FEMA was slow to respond, having waited for the events to occur and for the Governors to decide what to do. South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings personally called the FEMA Director and asked for help, but the Agency did so at a very slow pace. Hollings responded by appearing on national television to berate FEMA in a most colorful way, calling the Agency the “sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses”.

Less than a month later, the Bay Area of California was rocked by the Loma Prieta Earthquake as the 1989 World Series got underway in Oakland Stadium. The response was equally slow and, likewise, criticized.

In August 1992, within months of each other, Hurricane Andrew struck Florida and Louisiana and Hurricane Iniki struck Hawaii . FEMA was clearly unprepared, as were FEMA’s partners at the State level. The Agency’s failure to respond was witnessed by Americans across the entire country as major news organizations documented the crisis. The efficacy of FEMA as the national emergency response agency was clearly in doubt. President Bush dispatched then Secretary of Transportation, Andrew Card to take over the response operation, which was tasked to the military.

All-Hazards Approach - 1990s

When President Clinton nominated James Lee Witt as the Director of FEMA, he breathed life back into FEMA and brought a much-needed new leadership style to the troubled Agency. Witt was the first Director of FEMA with actual emergency management experience. He had come from the constituency who had played a major role in creating FEMA but had been forgotten; the State Directors. With Witt, President Clinton had given FEMA increased credibility and more importantly, a skilled politician who knew the importance of building partnerships and serving one’s customers.

Witt’s leadership and the changes he made were quickly tested, as the Nation experienced an unprecedented series of natural disasters during his years at the Agency. The Midwest Floods in 1993 resulted in major disaster declarations in nine States. These floods, and their expansive and devastating consequences, called into question the value of some of the flood control measures initiated long ago as part of the 1930’s Corps of Engineers’ legislation. FEMA’s successful response to the event, however, brought about the opportunity to change the focus of emergency management from post disaster recovery to pre-disaster mitigation. Such a shift was initiated through the creation of the largest voluntary buy out and relocation program to date, which sought simply to move people out of the floodplain and thus, out of harm’s way.

The Northridge (CA) Earthquake of 1994 quickly followed the Midwest Floods. This event tested all of FEMA’s newly streamlined approaches and their advancements in service delivery technology (and even led to the creation of new policies and technologies). The Federal response to this event was hailed as an overall success.

When President Clinton elevated Witt as Director of FEMA to be a member of his Cabinet, the value and importance of emergency management was recognized. Witt used this as an opportunity to lobby the Nation’s Governors to include their state emergency management directors in their Cabinets.

The Oklahoma City Bombing in April 1995 represented a new phase in the evolution of emergency management in the United States. This event, which followed the less destructive first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1992, elevated the issue of the nation’s preparedness for terrorism events. As emergency management responsibilities were (and still are) defined by recognized risks and the consequences of those risks, responding to terrorist threats were included in FEMA’s domain. The Oklahoma City bombing tested this thesis and set the stage for inter-agency disagreements over which Agency would be in charge of terrorism.

The Nunn-Lugar legislation of 1995 opened the question of who would be the lead agency in terrorism. Many fault FEMA executives for not quickly claiming that leadership role. As such, the late 1990’s were marked by several different agencies and departments asserting their individual roles in terrorism planning. The question of who would be the first responder to a terrorism incident - fire, police, emergency management or emergency medical services – was closely examined without any clear answers resulting. The State Directors were looking for FEMA to claim this leadership role, but the leadership of FEMA vacillated on this issue in an uncharacteristic way. Terrorism was certainly part of the all-hazards approach to emergency management championed by FEMA, but the resources and technologies needed to address specific issues such as a chemical, biological, and other weapons of mass destruction events seemed well beyond the reach of the current emergency management structure.

While this debate continued, FEMA took an important step in its commitment to disaster mitigation by launching a national initiative to promote a new community-based approach called Project Impact. Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities was designed to mainstream emergency management and mitigation practices into every American community. The project sought to reach back to the roots of emergency management, asking communities to identify their risks and establish plans to reduce those risks. It tasked communities with establishing partnerships that would include all the communities’ stakeholders including, for the first time, the business sector.

The ultimate goal of the Project Impact concept was to incorporate decisions about risk and risk avoidance into the community’s everyday decision-making processes. By building a disaster resistant community, the community would promote sustainable economic development, protect and enhance its natural resources, and ensure a better quality of life for its citizens. Project Impact had ambitious goals and was well received by the communities and by Congress. It was designed to create a broader constituency - a grass roots campaign - for emergency management issues.

As the decade ended, absent of any of the predicted major technological glitches expected from the well-publicized �Y2K bug’, FEMA was recognized as the preeminent emergency management system in the world. It was emulated in several countries throughout the world, and Witt became America’s Ambassador for emergency management overseas.

Hurricane Mitch, which devastated many areas in Central America and the Caribbean, brought about a change in American foreign policy towards promoting and supporting community-based mitigation projects. State and local emergency management programs had grown and their value was recognized and supported by society. Private sector and business continuity programs were flourishing.

The role and responsibility and the partnerships supporting emergency management had significantly increased, and its budget and stature had grown significantly. Sound emergency management practice became integral to both economic and environmental issues; it became a staple of discussion relative to a community’s quality of life.

The profession of emergency management was attracting a different type of individual. Political and management skills were recognized as critical to the position, and candidates for State, local and private emergency management positions were now being judged on their training and experience rather than their relationship to the community’s political leadership.

Undergraduate and advance degree programs in emergency management were flourishing at over 65 national colleges and universities. The profession had become well-respected and challenging, and was quickly becoming competitive for prospective employees.

Terrorism Becomes Major Focus - 2001

With the election of George W. Bush, a new FEMA Director was named to head the Agency; Joe Allbaugh. As a former the Chief of Staff to Governor Bush in Texas and President Bush’s Campaign Manager in the 2000 Presidential race, Allbaugh had a close personal relationship with the President. As demonstrated by Director Witt under President Clinton, this relationship was recognized as positive for the Agency. His lack of emergency management background, however, was not an issue that was raised during his confirmation hearings.

As part of a major reorganization of the Agency, Allbaugh recreated the Office of National Preparedness (ONP), which was first established in the 1980s during the Guiffrida reign to plan for World War III (but had been eliminated by Witt in 1992.) The office was recreated with a new mission, to focus on terrorism. Allbaugh’s action raised some concerns among FEMA’s constituents and FEMA staff.

In a September 10, 2001 speech, Director Allbaugh talked about his priorities as being firefighters, disaster mitigation and catastrophic preparedness. Today, this speech seems prophetic in light of the events of September 11th. As the events of that terrible day unfolded, FEMA activated the Federal Response Plan, setting forth response operations as they were designed in both New York and in Virginia. Most of the Agency’s senior leaders, including the Director, had been in Montana at the time, attending the Annual Meeting of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA – an organization that represents State Emergency Management Directors.) The strength of the American emergency response system was proven effective by the rapid and effective activation of hundreds of Federal response personnel.

The Future - 2002 and Beyond

On November 25th of 2002, President Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002, and announced that former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge would be Secretary of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This act, which authorized the greatest federal government reorganization since President Harry Truman joined the various branches of the armed forces under the Department of Defense, is charged with a three-fold mission of protecting the United States from further terrorist attacks, reducing the nation’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimizing the damage from potential terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

A sweeping reorganization into the new Department, which officially opened its doors on January 24th of 2003, joined together over 179,000 federal employees from twenty-two existing federal agencies under the umbrella of a single, Cabinet-level organization.

The creation of DHS was the culmination of an evolutionary legislative process that began largely in response to criticism that increased federal intelligence inter-agency cooperation could have prevented the September 11th terrorist attacks. Just nine days following those attacks, President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security (by Executive Order), with Tom Ridge as Director, but the small office became widely viewed as ineffective.

The White House and Congress recognized that a Homeland Security czar would require both a staff and a large budget in order to succeed, and thus began deliberations to create a new Cabinet-level Department that would fuse many of the security-related agencies dispersed throughout the federal government. For several months during the second-half of 2002, Congress jockeyed between different versions of the Homeland Security bill in an effort to establish legislation that was passable yet effective.

Lawmakers were particularly mired on the issue of the rights of employees. Furthermore, the White House ultimately failed in their attempt to incorporate many of the intelligence-gathering and investigative law enforcement agencies, namely the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Despite these delays and setbacks, the Republican seats gained in both the House and Senate gave the President the leverage he needed to pass the bill without further deliberation.

Beginning March 1st or 2003, almost all of the federal agencies (and their respective employees) named in the act began their move, whether literally or symbolically, into the new Department. Those remaining followed later that year, with all incidental transfers completed by September 1st. While a handful of these agencies remained intact after the move, most were incorporated into one of four new directorates; Border and Transportation Security (BTS), Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP), Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R), and Science and Technology (S&T). A fifth directorate, Management, did not incorporate any existing federal agencies. FEMA was moved into, and essentially composed, the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate. Assistant Director of FEMA Michael Brown became the DHS Assistant Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response.

On January 24th of 2003, Tom Ridge and a small initial staff commenced work at the Nebraska Avenue Center (NAC) headquarters, a facility shared with the US Navy in Northwest Washington, DC (that had previously been used by the Office of Homeland Security.) Eight days later, when the Space Shuttle Challenger tragically exploded over Texas, the Department was tasked with its first disaster response. One week later, in reaction to information gathered by intelligence agencies, President Bush raised the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System index from yellow (elevated) to orange (high). However, it was not until a series of hurricanes struck in late 2004 that the true effectiveness of DHS, in its emergency management role, was tested. While the response mechanism surely worked as it had been designed to do, the recovery operations will likely extend for years owing to the massive damage that was incurred.


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