An official report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says that the U.S. government is not fully prepared to handle nuclear terrorist attacks or a large-scale natural disaster. The report goes on to say that the government lacks effective coordination and, according to congressional investigators, is “years away from ensuring adequate emergency shelter and medical treatment” in some cases.
The report, which was obtained by the Associated Press before its official release, also stated that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has “hampered” the level of preparedness for the U.S. by not consistently keeping account of disaster efforts by different government agencies, even after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. “FEMA is not aware of the full range of information,”says the report, which relied partially on documents from the Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA. Investigators also said that FEMA, which leads an inter-agency group formed to create disaster response plans, also needs to set clear deadlines and better estimated costs in order to ensure that all agencies fulfill their individual goals.
The report from the Government Accountability Office further explained that the U.S. would still need one to five years in order to create a strategy to help determine whether citizens have been exposed to unsafe levels of radiation, in the instance that the U.S. is attacked by nuclear weapons, and five to ten years to create a full medical response plan. The report also says that other basic needs considerations, such as making shelters available and providing guidance for communication protocol among first responders, was lacking in the U.S.
This report is just one of several reports focusing on the U.S. level of disaster readiness — or unreadiness, as the case seems to be in this instance — in upcoming months.
“This report makes clear that there are some areas of our country’s preparedness that need strengthening up,” said Sen. Bob Casey, the co-chairs on the U.S. Senate Caucus on Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism.
As to the ability of the U.S. to handle natural catastrophes, the GAO report found the government’s ability to respond also lacking. The report suggested that FEMA should lead in a coordinated response in the case of such an event. The Energy Department, for example, did not coordinate effectively with either state agencies or the private sector during Superstorm Sandy, an event that ultimately led to 182 deaths and $65 billion in damages. The report also referred to a lack of coordination among different federal agencies when it came to deciding to send law enforcement into the region of the country impacted by Superstorm Sandy.
Jim Crumpacker of Homeland Security said the agency would work to fulfill the many recommendations made by the GAO report by June, but also noted that the department lacks the legal authority to see that other agencies take similar preventative actions. “FEMA will continue to coordinate and collaborate with other federal departments and agencies,” Crumpacker wrote in a response included in the GAO report.
The report from the GAO shows that 39 of 102 corrective actions previously identified by federal agencies after Superstorm Sandy hit still remain undone. Those measures include better emergency coordination with states, better training in the use of electronic medical records, and focusing on the ability to provide adequate transportation of injured victims.
According to the Huffington Post, Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, expressed concern over the report’s conclusions, and said he would work to make sure that agencies fix the lapses. “Whether a disaster is natural or man-made, large or small, our federal government needs to be prepared. This report makes it clear that federal agencies need to do a better job,” he said.
Suddenly the idea of these so-called “budget bunkers” doesn’t seem so strange.
Are you surprised at the lack of emergency preparedness, considering the terrorist attacks of September 11th, as well as such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy?