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Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 7:02 pm    Post subject: Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Reply with quote

Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at the National Emergency Management Association Mid-Year Conference

Washington, D.C.
National Emergency Management Association Mid-Year Conference
February 13, 2006

Fact Sheet: Strengthening FEMA to Maximize Mission Performance

Bruce, I'd like to thank you for inviting me. And, we arranged a little snow yesterday so we could introduce a concept of some severe weather to give additional urgency to these proceedings. Seems the problem we have in this country is we either have too much moisture or too little moisture, depending on whether youíre on the coast or in the interior. If we could average it out, we could prevent some of the disasters weíve been faced with.

Well, I really wanted to come here to spend some time with the nationís emergency managers and those working across our country to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and communities. What I'd like to do in my remarks is outline where I think we want to go in the first step of our process of reengineering DHS and FEMA, to make ourselves better partners with you in protecting this country and responding when we have natural disasters.

I do have prepared remarks, but I'm going to step out of the prepared remarks on a couple of occasions. I'm saying this because I want to warn the press to take their pens out and their pads out so they donít miss what I want to say.

I want to begin by saying that in the last couple of days, Iíve read in some quarters that people are taking the position that DHS sees itself as a terrorism-focused agency, or that thereís some huge difference between what we do when we deal with disasters that are trigged by evil acts of men and disasters that are triggered by acts of nature. I want to tell, you I unequivocally and strongly reject this attempt to drive a wedge between our concerns about terrorism and our concerns about natural disasters. That kind of wedge makes no sense, and it does a disservice to all of you here who are working very hard to protect against any kind of disaster of whatever cause.

When I came on board this Department almost exactly a year ago, one of the first things I thought I would do is try to find out how people view the Department, both from within and from without. The Department was barely two years old when I arrived. So I commissioned within the Department, and outside the Department, what I called a Second Stage Review. The purpose of that review was, as with a rocket ship thatís launched, itís had its initial booster rocket, and now when that booster falls away, weíre trying to make sure our course is properly set, when we get to the second stage rocket. So I wanted to make sure our course was properly set.

And the way I went about this is, I said, letís bring together people from within the Department with all kinds of disciplines and backgrounds, and letís tell them to put to one side the individual interests of their components and to ask: What are the core critical missions that DHS has to perform for this country? How close are we to achieving those missions? If we havenít achieved them, why havenít we achieved them? And, what can we do to make sure we do achieve them?

I specifically asked these teams to go out into the country and talk to people at the state and local level and in the private sector, the various communities with whom we work as partners, to get their perspectives. As part of that process, I know a number of you were engaged by our 2SR review teams to talk about issues like: Are we prepared? What do we need to do to get better prepared? What does the federal government need to do to work better with states and localities to make sure we are prepared? And the product of that review, that Second Stage Review, went into a lot of serious thinking about how we could reconfigure the Department on its anniversary, or shortly after its second-year anniversary, to do a better job of protecting this country and responding when something bad has happened.

I gave a speech and I testified before Congress. And when I spoke to Congress and when I spoke to the public, I said pretty honestly, I didnít think we were where we needed to be in the area of preparedness. And as part of the response to that, I said I thought that we werenít paying enough attention to the need to focus on natural hazards, as well as terrorism. For that reason, I specifically announced that at the beginning of August, we would host the first ever national meeting at DHS here in Washington, including both state homeland security advisors and the emergency management community, to make sure we brought them all together in a summit to talk in a comprehensive sense about how we address the threats that face this country.

And I participated in that conference over a period of two days. And I met with a lot of you, I spoke to you, others in the Department spoke to you, and we talked about the importance of making sure that we were balancing our focus on the total spectrum of what we need to worry about to protect Americans -- prevention, protection, response and recovery -- and to make sure that we were integrating these functions. Because one of the things that was evident to me -- and I know itís evident to you -- whether itís a natural disaster or a disaster caused by a terrorist, our response is often going to be the same. The concept of operations is going to be the same, our capabilities are going to have to be the same, our training is going to have to be the same, and therefore, we ought to look at these as a single set of problems.

In fact, we all know that a lot of times, we face a disaster and we donít know whether itís manmade or natural. Sure we know a hurricane is an act of God, and we know that if bombs go off in a subway, thatís an act of man. But a major power blackout, like the one we had a couple of years ago over the summer, could be caused by a simple fault in an electrical transmission system, or it could be caused by an act of sabotage. And because weíre not going to know, our concept of operations has to be seamlessly built so that it operates whether we are dealing with a terrorist act or an act of nature.

And thatís why I come here emphatically to say that the grounding principle in what we do in establishing our program of preparedness and operations going forward is that we are going to do it embracing both those who are focused on preventing terror, and those who are focused on responding to disasters of whatever the cause.

Now, we also recognize something else, and I think I said this when we met at the summit meeting last August, as well. This was the very beginning of August, and of course, that was before Katrina had arrived on the horizon. What I recognized then was that all emergencies of a certain scale require an integrated response at a local, state and federal level. And that means the key to our success, in creating this kind of security and response capability for America, is expanded partnership with state and local leaders, and the private sector, as we move forward together in the area of catastrophic planning.

So let me begin with certain fundamental principles. Simply put, state emergency managers and first responders will always be our nationís front-line disaster response. If a disaster strikes, you are the first on the scene in your state, not the federal government, and thatís not going to change. And thereís a reason for that. You know your communities best. You have the expertise, experience and understanding to know what works and what doesnít work in your particular states and localities.

Specific planning on a whole range of issues has to be driven by local expertise about transportation, medical capabilities, residential patterns, and other characteristics. We canít replace that experience or expertise at the federal level, but at the same time, the federal government does play an important role and has important responsibilities.

In the normal case, in a normal disaster, we work with our state and local partners to boost and support your capabilities. We do this by pre-positioning equipment and supplies, providing funding, conducting joint exercises, and working with you to develop effective emergency plans. But second, when we face an extraordinary catastrophe, the federal government can bring a unique set of assets and capabilities to the scene of the response.

So moving forward, we have to take steps to boost operational effectiveness for routine disasters and for the truly exceptional catastrophe.

Now, we meet in the shadow of the most devastating series of storms in American history. These storms tested and exposed weaknesses in our operational capabilities, but they also provided important lessons that we would be wise to heed.

Katrina alone was clearly one of the most devastating storms to strike American soil. The scope of the damage is unprecedented -- 90,000 square miles of impacted areas. That is three-and-one-half times the area inundated by the great Mississippi flood of 1927. Katrina displaced an estimated 770,000 people, and damaged or destroyed an estimated 300,000 homes. That is 11 times as many as Hurricane Andrew destroyed.

So this was the 100-year storm everybody feared. And the size and scope of this disaster, although it is obviously very unusual, reflects the scale of the capabilities we have to be able to deploy if we are to respond to another 100-year storm or a comparable manmade or natural disaster.

We began almost immediately the process of integrating lessons from Katrina and Rita to help our state and local partners become better equipped to address not only catastrophic events, but the more routine disasters and emergencies that we are most likely to face in the future.

Last year, in the shadow of Jackson Square in New Orleans, the President directed that we conduct an immediate review, in cooperation with local counterparts, of emergency plans in every major city in America. Congress followed up with a similar legislative mandate. And in fact, Congress instructed that we give a preliminary report on February 10th. I am pleased to say that we met that deadline and we delivered that report.

That report contains a preliminary self-assessment of catastrophic planning in all 50 states, five territories, and our 75 largest urban areas, undertaken by state and local officials themselves. And, candidly, this assessment shows a mixed review of capabilities -- some at green, others at yellow, some at red. I appreciate those of you who assisted with the self-assessments that were part of the first phase of this review, and were honest about where there were shortfalls. This is going to help us ensure that our states and biggest cities do have effective emergency operations plans in place, including evacuation plans.

And weíre already conducting the second phase of this review, including site visits by teams of former senior state and local homeland security and emergency management officials to validate those emergency plans, identify deficiencies, and make specific recommendations to elevate catastrophic emergency planning consistent with our National Preparedness Goal.

Now, we have to make significant improvements, as well, at the federal level, to give us better ability to effectively assist you in your vital mission.

As we know, the President, in the wake of Congressí enactment of legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security, assigned to this Department the responsibility to lead the federal response to disasters. As the President has said, the results of our response to Katrina were unacceptable. Some things worked well, but some things which should have worked well did not. The President has ordered a thorough after-action review process that has been deep, difficult and even painful. We are cooperating with that review, and have engaged in our own soul searching. I want to be clear: As the Secretary of Homeland Security, I am accountable and accept responsibility for the performance of the entire Department, good and bad. I also have the responsibility to fix what went wrong so we can meet the Presidentís expectations and the publicís expectations for helping disaster victims as quickly and effectively as possible. And I will certainly listen to all the advice and even all the criticism that is leveled in order to make sure we get ourselves in as good shape as possible, recognizing that June 1 looms ahead of us as the beginning of yet another hurricane season.

So today, I want to give you a sense of where we are headed to accomplish this important goal of improving our abilities at the federal level. I believe our most urgent priority in the near-term is to take a hard, honest look at what we can do to improve our response capability and make substantial progress toward that goal by the looming hurricane season. We have to be able to effectively provide support and assistance to disaster victims, identify the most urgent needs, and get resources into those areas quickly. We have to communicate effectively with our partners and have greater confidence in the information we rely upon to make our decisions.

Many of these improvements will happen through a stronger, federal, state, local and private sector partnership, and a shared plan for moving forward, but we also need to make some changes in Washington.

Now, we have identified a number of issues at DHS and FEMA, including a series of long-term policy issues that we have to address with Congress. These include questions about how do we deal with long-term housing needs, possible changes to the way in which we provide individual assistance and short-term shelter. And obviously, decisions about these policy issues will have to await findings by the presidentially mandated, lessons-learned review, which youíre going to hear about I think this afternoon, and by Congress itself. But I also have to say, there are some short-term issues that have to be resolved, or at least have their resolution well underway by the beginning of this hurricane season.

FEMA is not, as you know, a first responder. For 25 years, FEMA has worked to support state and local first responders during a disaster, and to provide assistance when a state makes a request for support. But when state and local capabilities are clearly overwhelmed, as was the case in Katrina, and could, for all we know, be the case again this season, the federal government has to be better prepared to assume responsibility for some aspects of the response. And that means DHS has to be able to function effectively, to provide assistance in a timely manner, and when a potential disaster looms, we have to be prepared to get help and supplies into the pipeline as quickly as possible, even before our partners anticipate their needs.

So how do we do this? Well, I begin with what I think are kind of the three basic premises, the building blocks, of what we need to start to do immediately. First, we have to complete the integration of a unified incident command at DHS. Just as the intelligence functions in this country were stovepiped before September 11th, and in the wake of September 11th, we had to crush those stovepipes together. I have to tell you that incident management has been stovepiped, and remains stovepiped, even after the creation of DHS.

I want to come back to that Second Stage Review, that review which I undertook, in part, working with you, and having people talking to you about what you were saying. We saw in July of last year, as I was coming up on my 6-month anniversary, that the preparedness efforts we had made were not sufficient and not where they needed to be. We saw that we didnít really have a fully integrated operational capability. I think we had almost two dozen operation centers, and itís not just a question of real estate, itís a question of getting a seamless integration between those centers so that weíre not passing off information from one center to another to a third, but so that we have a common operating picture, common visibility of what is going on, as close to real time as possible. The end state we need to achieve here is one in which at every level, everybody is looking at the same menu of information at the same time. I am committed, by June 1, to moving us forward to a fully integrated and unified incident command at DHS.

Now, some of that is going to be a matter of finishing building the hardware capabilities and the software capabilities that were incomplete as we went into August of last year. But I have to also say it requires a fairly wrenching change in the culture of our agency at DHS and FEMA. The fact of the matter is, there are still people who did not agree with the unification of FEMA into DHS. Congress made that decision. Our obligation now is to implement it and to execute it. To the extent that integration was not done in July and August of last year -- and it was my assessment that it was not done -- we paid the price for that. We have to make sure we donít pay that price again this summer. And that means we have to all understand that we have to work as a team. There is no place for a lone ranger in emergency response, for the person who wants to go it alone, doesnít want to integrate with everybody else, to show they can do it themselves. The cost of being a lone ranger is visited on too many innocent people.

Second, we are in the 21st century, and we have to have the operational capabilities that befit a 21st century department. Thatís the focus, the discipline, and the technology that are the hallmarks of all great 21st century organizations. And I'm going to talk a little bit about what that means from a technology and a process standpoint.

Third, we canít lose sight of a very important third principle: the need to foster our employees who are some of the most talented, dedicated public servants in the federal government. The fact of the matter is, I got to meet and work with a lot of people at FEMA in the period from August and the months thereafter. And I saw some uniformly amazingly dedicated people working very hard with very limited tools and processes that were out of date, and with some thinking that was out of date. We owe these people the best support they can possibly have.

I remember in particular someone whose name has come up recently because he was the fellow who was flying over the levees late Monday, Marty Bahamonde who is really a public affairs person, who was out there. And I remember speaking to him when I arrived in Louisiana at the end of the first week -- actually my second trip at the end of the first week -- and hearing firsthand from him on that Sunday at dinner what he had seen and experienced. The fact of the matter is, as heroic and as excellent his performance was, we shouldnít have had to force somebody who is essentially a public affairs representative to get in a helicopter and give a situational awareness. So weíve got to make sure we all have the tools to avoid having to put people in that situation in the future.

So let me talk a little bit concretely about several major changes we are in the process of implementing in how we do business to support a strengthened and more effective emergency response.

Letís face it, one of the biggest barriers last year was not being able to get supplies quickly into the areas that needed the most. Now, some of this, of course, was nature itself. During Katrina, the flooded streets and extensive damage to critical infrastructure simply prevented a lot of supplies from reaching the most heavily damaged areas in timely fashion. FEMA employees did the best they could under these conditions with the resources they had. Within the first six days of Katrina recovery operations, FEMA had distributed 28 million pounds of ice, 8.5 million meals, and 4 million gallons of water, which exceeds the combined total assistance for the entire recovery operation during Hurricane Andrew.

Despite this remarkable effort, FEMAís logistics systems were not up to the task of handling a truly catastrophic event. The reality is, FEMA lacks technology and information management systems to effectively track shipments and manage inventories. FEMA relies on other government agencies, like the Department of Transportation, who often serve as agents of FEMA, and contract through their extensive network of private sector entities to provide support and move most of the necessary commodities. But the fact of the matter is, if FEMA is going to take responsibility for moving goods and services, it canít do it by remote control. It has to have the ability directly to impact the way in which we monitor and supervise and are able to effect in real time the movement of those supplies. Therefore, DHS must have some of the same skill sets that 21st century companies in the private sector have to routinely track, monitor and dispatch commodities where they are needed.

Our first step for strengthening FEMA will be to create a 21st century logistics management system that will require the establishment of a logistics supply chain, working with other federal agencies in the private sector. What that means in the very short-run -- because weíre not going to get all this done immediately -- is that we have to put agreements into place before the need arises again to ensure a network of relief products, supplies and transportation support that can be tracked and managed. In other words, we are going to insist this year, as we go into contracting, that we are going to have as a capability with anybody who is carrying our goods and services real-time visibility to where those deliveries are, when theyíre going to arrive, and, if necessary, the ability to redirect those, if the emergency so requires.

In effect, we are building a command and control structure that will allow FEMA to ensure supplies get to the people that need them the most.

Second major area of improvement: We have to upgrade FEMAís claims management system, including its registration and intake procedures. The reality is, a lot of what FEMA does is deal with claims of people who are victims of disasters -- claims for individual assistance, claims for shelter, claims for emergency assistance to help them feed themselves. And it doesnít matter what business youíre in, if you canít meet the needs of your customers, then youíre failing at your job. And FEMAís customer -- really, FEMAís wards -- are the disaster victims. And so FEMA has got to better be able to identify and communicate with these victims wherever they are.

That means weíve got to change our intake system so itís no longer overly burdensome or bureaucratic. We have to be able to adjust our intake system to the changing needs of disaster populations during surge periods, and we also have to make sure these systems continue to protect against fraud and abuse.

Therefore, in the immediate future, we will significantly enhance and strengthen FEMAís disaster registration and processing systems, its website, and its 1-800 call-in number so that we build the capacity in FEMA to handle up to 200,000 disaster registrations a day. That is our objective. We will also begin the process of upgrading FEMAís outdated information technology and computer systems.

Now, we recognize that not every disaster is the same, and different disaster victims have different needs. And this presents some federal challenges. In most cases, for example, disaster victims will require shelter and can be accommodated in their own communities or at least within their own state. But Katrina was different. With Katrina, an entire geographic region of the United States required sheltering in 50 states, all over the country. And this difficult kind of footprint for evacuation tested FEMA. FEMA was challenged because it was not able to reach out, get with these people, and deal with their needs in the kind of geographic expanse that was required by the admittedly unusual but very real urgencies of the situation.

So we intend to expand and decentralize FEMAís mass disaster claims management operation when we do face another significant displacement of people.

In anticipation of this next hurricane season, we also intend to develop a pilot program to deploy mobile registration assistance trucks with laptops and communications equipment directly to areas where victims have taken shelter, enabling those victims to register for and receive assistance faster and more easily. And by the way, to do this, weíre going to have to enlist the Red Cross and other NGOs in giving us real-time awareness in advance of where the shelters are, and the ability to get in quickly to those shelters and begin that process of registration and intake, and dealing with the needs of victims, almost from the first day after the disaster.

Finally, we have to acknowledge that we cannot continue to rely primarily on volunteers to provide services in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. FEMA has to develop and will develop a highly-trained nucleus of permanent employees to serve as its core disaster workforce. Of course, volunteers will continue to be an important part of the FEMA team, but in the future, FEMA has to have a larger dedicated disaster workforce that can respond to the unique challenge of a surge population and that can provide a cadre around which we can build our network of volunteers.

Third, let me talk about debris removal. The damage caused by Katrina is without precedent, and although significant progress has been made to clear streets on public and private land, we know that debris removal remains one of the biggest ongoing challenges in the Gulf. Debris removal not only blocks roads, but it prevents the rebuilding and reconstruction of homes and infrastructure. And I'll tell you something else. Itís very hard to get the sense that the spark of life has begun again in an afflicted community when there is a lot of rubble and debris sitting all over the place.

Itís estimated that Katrinaís destruction resulted in a staggering 118 million cubic yards of debris. That is nearly six times more debris than the next largest hurricane weíve experienced, which is Hurricane Andrew. And at last count, over 70 million cubic yards of debris have been removed from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. But we have a lot more to go.

Now, as you know, this is hard enough under any circumstances. The work is labor-intensive; itís often dangerous. But whatís made it worse is, it is hampered by an unbelievably complicated contracting and reimbursement process between FEMA, the states, and the people removing the debris. This is really unnecessary bureaucratic churn. Weíre in the process of establishing pre-establishing contract and response architectures with debris removal companies, cutting out middlemen, and ensuring that states are quickly and cost-effectively supported by qualified local firms in removing debris.

Whatís the end state? We want to be able to allow cities and towns the quickest access to debris removal with the most accountability, using, where possible, local work, and in a way that cuts down on the bureaucratic paperwork while preserving the fact that we do after all have to have accountability about public money.

Now, while we envision that the states and localities will take a greater and faster role in coordinating debris removal themselves, we will continue to count on support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during those situations, particularly in the initial days of a disaster response, when states may be too overwhelmed to effectively initiate and manage debris removal. But we may open additional options after that initial period to make sure that municipalities and states are not locked into the Army Corps, if, in fact, there are other more efficient, and, frankly, locally more useful ways to remove that debris.

Streamlining debris removal will help people in communities recover faster and help FEMA in ensuring a more coordinated and productive effort on the ground.

Finally, let me turn to communications. Weíve heard the expression, ďthe fog of war,Ē and weíve experienced the fog of war. And the first step in addressing that fog is to enhance and expand a hardened set of communications capabilities that will allow DHS, FEMA, and our federal, state and local partners to get better situational awareness about conditions and events on the ground as they unfold during a disaster. Now, all of us know, and you here better than anybody else, that initial reporting is often wrong during a crisis.

I certainly learned that lesson in Katrina. I also learned that lesson during 9/11. When I was in 9/11, I was in the FBIís operation center pretty much all the time during the first few days. And we got all kinds of initial reports about things that were going on, and had to sift through those. And the key there was communication, and the key in Katrina was communication. And to the extent that that initial reporting was a problem, thatís something that weíve got to correct.

Itís not just a question of human imperfection and human mistake. We know that a powerful storm like Katrina can render even the most sophisticated communications equipment useless if itís not sufficiently hardened. And without that equipment, no amount of good intentions is going to get the message across.

Therefore, we are providing DHS and FEMA with a robust communications capability for disasters and events. Weíve already begun the process of assembling specialized reconnaissance teams from existing homeland security assets, including the aerial assets of the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This is one of the many benefits of FEMAís being part of DHS that we maximized over time. These teams will be self-sustaining, and will enter a disaster zone, establish emergency communications, and relay vital information back to FEMA and our partners so we have a better grasp of whatís going on on the ground and what the needs are, and so that we can make sound decisions.

We will also continue to work to ensure a basic level of interoperability among federal agencies responding to a disaster, including DHS and NORAD, the military. And we also have to look at what we do inside DHS to make sure that as the information comes in, we have a better common operating picture.

During Katrina, we often lacked situational awareness, because our homeland security operations center and FEMA operations center were located in literally different parts of the city, and information had to be essentially pushed from one into the other, or pulled from one into the other. As I said before, Iíve mandated that we build the hardware and the culture to integrate these operations centers into a single virtual operations center, maybe eventually even a physically integrated operations center, so that we no longer have a seam or a stovepipe within the federal government on the flow of information.

Let me conclude by saying this: FEMA has been a vital part of our nationís emergency response community since 1979, and it is very much part of the DNA of the Department of Homeland Security. We have a new Undersecretary of Preparedness, George Foresman. I know many of you know him from this organization. He is committed to using, as he builds a concept of total preparedness, a lot of that DNA from FEMA in having real grounded truth about the way things work that has to inform the way we build plans, the way we spend money, the way we train, and ultimately, the way we execute.

We recognize and respect the accumulated wisdom and experience and dedication of FEMA in all of these functions, but we also recognize that the 21st century means we have to give them better tools.

At bottom, our proposed changes to the Department and to FEMA underscore an underlying philosophy and approach that I think I first told you about last August when we got together. We have to address major challenges not as independent stovepiped agencies, and certainly not as lone rangers, but as a unified team and a national network of partners who share a common goal of protecting our homeland.

As we retool FEMA and the Department as a whole, we look to asking you to continue your ongoing support and participation as NEMA members and as individual emergency managers, and working with us and with other emergency managers all across the country, to benefit from the changes we want to create and to help us make those changes as effective and as useful to you as possible.

I want to thank you very much for your partnership over the last year with me. I want to thank you for all you do to keep our citizens and our communities safe and secure, and I want to tell you I look forward to working with each of you as we come to face not only a guaranteed hurricane season starting this summer, but the things we donít know about -- the dangers, both manmade and natural, which will afflict some of our communities in the following year, and which we must meet bound together, unified and integrated as a team.

Thank you very much.

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