Emergency Management Assistance Compact:

Enhancing EMAC's Collaborative and Administrative Capacity Should Improve National Disaster Response

GAO-07-854: Published: Jun 29, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2007.

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The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) is a collaborative arrangement among member states that provides a legal framework for requesting resources. Working alongside federal players, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard Bureau, EMAC members deployed an unprecedented level of assistance in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Although EMAC played a critical role in our nation's response to these hurricanes, the magnitude of these events revealed limitations. GAO was asked to (1) examine how the use of EMAC has changed since its inception; (2) assess how well existing policies, procedures, and practices facilitate collaboration; and (3) evaluate the adequacy of the EMAC network's administrative capacity to achieve its mission. GAO examined documents and interviewed officials from 45 federal, state, and local agencies and offices.

Since its inception in 1995, the EMAC network has grown significantly in size, volume, and the type of resources it provides. EMAC's membership has increased from a handful of states in 1995 to 52 states and territories today, and EMAC members have used the compact to obtain support for several types of disasters including hurricanes, floods, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The volume and variety of resources states have requested under EMAC have also grown significantly. For example, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, New York requested 26 support staff under EMAC to assist in emergency management operations; whereas, in response to the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes, approximately 66,000 personnel--about 46,500 National Guard and 19,500 civilian responders-- were deployed under EMAC from a wide variety of specialties, most of whom went to areas directly impacted by the storms. EMAC, along with its accompanying policies, procedures, and practices, enables its members to overcome differences to achieve a common mission--streamlining and expediting the delivery of resources among members during disasters. While these policies, procedures, and practices have worked well for smaller-scale deployments, they have not kept pace with the changing use of EMAC, sometimes resulting in confusion and deployment delays. The EMAC network has taken steps to address several of these challenges, but additional improvements can be made in a number of areas including clarifying roles and responsibilities of EMAC members and improving existing systems that track resources deployed under EMAC. In addition, a lack of sufficiently detailed federal standards and policies has led to some reimbursement delays and additional administrative burdens. While the EMAC network has developed a basic administrative capacity, opportunities exist for it to further build on and sustain these efforts. The EMAC network has adopted several good management practices, such as using after-action reports to learn from experiences and developing a 5-year strategic plan. However, the EMAC network can enhance its administrative capacity by improving how it plans, measures, and reports on its performance. FEMA provided $2 million to help build this capacity in 2003, but the agreement has recently expired. FEMA and EMAC leadership are in the process of finalizing a new 3-year cooperative agreement. Such an agreement would enhance the EMAC network's ability to support its collaborative efforts.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In situations involving catastrophic disasters that require significant assistance from several states and in turn increase the financial and administrative burdens on EMAC members, the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security should work together to amend the National Response Plan's Catastrophic Incident Supplement Execution Schedule to include early consideration of the use of Title 32 in situations where the Secretary of Defense deems it appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DHS/FEMA initially concurred with this recommendation, since the Department of Defense has non-concurred and the recommendation states that DHS and DOD should work together on amending the Catastrophic Incident execution schedule, DHS has not taken any action.

    Recommendation: In situations involving catastrophic disasters that require significant assistance from several states and in turn increase the financial and administrative burdens on EMAC members, the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop guidance for impacted states to efficiently seek and obtain advance funding through expedited project worksheets to facilitate more expedited reimbursement for those states providing assistance through EMAC to impacted areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Despite repeated requests by GAO for details regarding steps taken in response to this recommendation, FEMA officials could not provide evidence that it had been addressed.

    Recommendation: To further enhance the administrative capacity required to support the EMAC network, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator of FEMA to look for ways to build the administrative capacity required to support the EMAC network, such as cooperative agreements, grants, and training initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA is addressing this recommendation in several ways. For example, FEMA's National Integration Center has put in place a cooperative agreement with the Council of State Governments and the National Emergency Management Association to expand the EMAC network's resource management systems with the purpose of helping to provide a comprehensive framework for managing resources that contribute to national emergency capacity. In addition, FEMA has also made available on the web interactive, computer-based courses aimed at federal, state, tribal, local, and nongovernmental personnel in order to improve understanding and awareness of these systems and to improve incident response. In light of these actions, FEMA has met the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: In situations involving catastrophic disasters that require significant assistance from several states and in turn increase the financial and administrative burdens on EMAC members, the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security should work together to amend the National Response Plan's Catastrophic Incident Supplement Execution Schedule to include early consideration of the use of Title 32 in situations where the Secretary of Defense deems it appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a September 26, 2007, letter to GAO, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs conveyed the department's official response to our final report and to the recommendation contained therein. The Assistant Secretary stated that the department's previous position of not concurring with our recommendation, conveyed to us during agency comments, has not changed.

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