Thanks to a newly created 30-member National Advisory Council that holds its first meeting later this year, state and local disaster response officials as well as industry representatives now have a formal way to communicate with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The council, mandated by the 2006 FEMA reform law brought about by the Hurricane Katrina debacle, is intended to give state and local entities a better way to communicate their needs to FEMA and to avoid past problems with top-down policies that were formulated without local input.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who co-authored the FEMA reform law, says the council will play an important role in making FEMA “less Washington-centric and more connected to the real work of preparing for disasters where they actually occur.”
The council will also hopefully formalize and make permanent relationships that have to date been one-to-one and episodic, says council member Kurt Krumperman, a senior vice president with Rural/Metro Corp. of Scottsdale, Arizona, which provides ambulance service in more than 400 communities in the United States. Krumperman, who holds one of the three council seats allotted to emergency response officials, also serves as chairman of the American Ambulance Association’s emergency preparedness working group.
The council will work with FEMA as it develops policy revisions of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the common national framework for emergency response, and the National Response Plan (NRP), which offers guidelines for collaboration between the three levels of government during emergency response.
Of the 23 council appointees to be designated by the FEMA administrator, 18 will represent specific sectors or specialties. Those sectors’ responsibilities will include emergency management and response, public health, cybersecurity, and disabilities. The administrator is allotted five personal selections. In addition, two ex officio members will include one representative from the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) and one official from a separate government agency.
Although the council is only scheduled to meet quarterly, it is hoped that members will informally serve FEMA as a frequent resource and point of contact, both day-to-day and during crises. “We hope that there will be a framework for raising concerns from state and local officials,” a legislative aide says.
The council will have authority to form subcommittees of its own choosing, which can consist of outside appointees. Possible subcommittees could handle NIMS, the NRP, or issues of international cooperation in emergency response, says FEMA spokesman James Kaplan. The agency has drafted a proposed charter and guidelines for the panel.
In addition, Krumperman hopes that representation on the panel of lesser-recognized first-responders, such as the ambulance industry that he represents, will raise their profile. He notes that his industry struggles to receive reimbursements after disasters and currently receives a mere 4 percent of federal homeland security grant funding.