Chertoff speech addresses FEMA’s role in DHS

DHS secretary points to value of having response, prevention and intelligence organizations together


Finally, I observe this. Many of those who argue that FEMA ought to be pulled out of the department do so because their vision is that, where FEMA is about natural disasters and hurricanes and not terrorism and that’s what the rest of DHS is about. But need I remind you that one of the critical elements, if there were a serious terrorist attack, would be the need to have an effective response and a response not to a weather event but a response perhaps to a dirty bomb or multiple improvised explosive devices or a biological weapon, and in order to have that capability, FEMA needs to continue to be a consumer of intelligence and expertise that the entire department brings to the issue of combating terrorism.

But let me stand back even from the narrower issue of FEMA’s participation in the department and look more generally at the role of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as the incident manager when there’s an incident that cuts across agency lines and has national implications.

When DHS was created and shortly after it was created, the president issued a Homeland Security Directive known as HSPD-5 which put the Secretary in the position of the operational incident manager in the case of a terrorist attack or natural disaster of significant consequence. The purpose of doing this was to recognize that while the White House guides policy, the operational planning, training and execution needs to be in a department and the conception was that the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t control the other departments but that there would be someone who would be saddled with a central responsibility to make sure all of the components of the operators were being synchronized and working well together.

This is, of course, a reflection of what they call the Incident Management System which has been adopted in many states as their way of dealing with incidents at the state level. It’s a recognition of the fact that again crisis management and consequence management are part of a spectrum, that when you’re dealing with a potential terrorist attack, for example, you are simultaneously looking at how you prevent further attacks, how do you protect against the attacks that are underway, and how do you respond and mitigate the attacks that have occurred. If you don’t bring all these elements together, what you have is a disconnected response and it’s that kind of disconnection that causes the kinds of problems that are often complained about when there’s a terrorist attack and a failure to effectively respond.

That is really, in my mind, one of the core missions of the Department of Homeland Security. What happens when you don’t have someone to coordinate the incident across the entire spectrum of prevention, protection and response? Well, I would argue that that’s what we saw in Mumbai, India. Again, this is not my opinion. This is what was reflected in the Wall Street Journal a couple days ago when they wrote about a lack of communication between the fire responders and the emergency responders, the police and the military dealing in the hours and then days after that initial assault in Mumbai.

The failure to coordinate all of those elements led to delay and uncoordination and resulted in criticism directed against the government by the citizens of India itself. This is not again my opinion. I’m not commenting. I wasn’t there. This is what the papers are reporting the citizens of India have indicated. What you come to recognize is without the kind of incident management and coordination that we are building at DHS, joint planning, joint execution, cutting across the lines of the different operators, without that kind of capability, it’s easier to have a disconnected response than to have a coordinated and properly connected response.

Now let me give you some examples of what happens when we do do it the right way, when we do have properly coordinated response on an operational basis. In July 2006, you may recall that there were questions about the safety of Americans living in Lebanon during the war between Hezbollah and Israel. Working in a coordinated way with CBP and TSA and the State Department, using this incident management construct, DHS was able to facilitate the repatriation of Americans who had to leave Lebanon literally under the stress of fire fights in order to make sure they were not engulfed in the struggle between Hezbollah and Israel.