FEMA Guidance on Recovery After Radiological Event Insufficient, GAO Reports

By Matthew Harwood

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not developed a comprehensive recovery strategy to help cities and states across the United States recover from a dirty bomb or improvised nuclear device (IND) attack, a representative from Congress' investigative arm told legislators yesterday.

"Despite the anticipated reliance by city and state governments on the federal government for analysis and cleanup activities following an RDD [radiological dispersal device] or IND incident, FEMA has not developed a national disaster recovery strategy or related plans to guide involvement of federal agencies in these recovery activities, as directed by federal law and executive guidance," Gene Aloise, director of natural resources and environment for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified.

A recently conducted GAO survey revealed that many cities and states would not have the technical or financial resources to clean up after a dirty bomb or IND attack themselves. The survey also exposed confusion among city and state officials over which federal agency has responsibility during a terrorist attack using either weapon. While DHS would be the lead agency in coordinating the response, Aloise said, it would heavily rely on the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency's experience in dealing with radioactive materials.

"This confusion, if not addressed, could hamper the timely recovery from an RDD or IND incident," he said.

FEMA, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for developing the nation's comprehensive emergency management system. Since 9-11 FEMA has focused focused primarily on the response phase of emergency management, such as evacuations and medical treatment, versus that of recovery. In the advent of an RDD or IND incident, recovery would mean cleaning up the contaminated area.

Aloise said that FEMA's national all-hazards recovery strategy, while in the works, is far from complete. Existing recovery guidance "represent stop-gap measures until it can issue more integrated planning guidance," he noted.

Of more than 70 RDD and IND response exercises carried out by local, state, and federal agencies since 2003, only three dirty bomb response exercises that used available guidance had a recovery component, GAO found.

This lack of integrated and comprehensive guidance leaves U.S. cities and states unprepared to recover from an attack that would contaminate homes and businesses, leaving people unable to return to the exposed area. The radiological attack's economic and psychological impact would be significant, Aloise said.

States and cities surveyed also told the GAO they want the federal government to consult with them as they develop recovery strategies as well as outline local, state, and federal responder responsibilities. Some states and cities also desire joint exercises to test their recovery plans. Nearly all state and city officials surveyed expressed interest in receiving and sharing intelligence information on RDD and IND threats.

♦ Photo of FEMA Search and Rescue team after 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City by smiteme/Flickr


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