Emergency Preparedness:

FEMA Faces Challenges Integrating Community Preparedness Programs into Its Strategic Approach

GAO-10-193: Published: Jan 29, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 2010.

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Individuals can reduce their need for first responder assistance by preparing for a disaster. By law, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to develop a National Preparedness System (NPS) that includes community preparedness programs. These programs account for less than 0.5 percent of FEMA's budget. They include the Citizen Corps Program (CCP) and partner programs, e.g., Fire Corps, which provide volunteers to assist first responders. FEMA's Ready Campaign promotes preparedness through mass media. GAO was asked to review federal efforts to promote community preparedness. GAO was asked to address (1) challenges, if any, FEMA faces in measuring the performance of CCP, its partner programs, and the Ready Campaign, and (2) actions, if any, FEMA has taken to develop a strategy to encompass how these programs are to operate within the context of the NPS. GAO analyzed documents on preparedness plans and strategies and compared reported performance data with observations during 12 site visits, selected primarily on the basis of major disasters. While not projectable, the results add insight.

FEMA faces challenges measuring performance for CCP, its partner programs, and the Ready Campaign because (1) it relies on states to verify data for local program units and (2) it is unable to control the distribution of the Ready Campaign messages or measure whether the messages are changing the behavior of individuals. GAO's past work showed the importance of ensuring that program data are of sufficient quality to document performance and support decision making. FEMA includes the number of local volunteer organizations registered nationwide as its principal performance measure for community preparedness, but does not verify that registration data are accurate. For example, 5 of the 17 registered Citizen Corps councils GAO contacted were not active as councils. FEMA relies on state officials to verify the accuracy of the data, and does not have staff or processes for this purpose. FEMA officials agreed that the data are inaccurate, and have plans to improve the registration process, but this process is not designed to ensure accurate data because states will continue to be responsible for verifying the accuracy of data. FEMA counts requests for literature, Web site hits, and the number of television and radio announcements made to gauge performance of the Ready Campaign, but it does not control when information is accessed or viewed. Also, changes in behavior can be the result of a variety of factors, including campaigns sponsored by other organizations. GAO's past work stated that agencies should measure performance based on accurate, clear, and reliable data that are clearly linked to program goals, but also recognized that programs like the Ready Campaign may need to rely on substitute measures that it uses such as Web site hits. GAO recognizes that FEMA is challenged measuring the performance of CCP, partner programs, and the Ready Campaign, but examining the feasibility of approaches to verify data on CCP and its partner programs could position FEMA to begin to (1) explore why programs that no longer exist were disbanded and (2) develop possible strategies for reconstituting local programs or developing new ones. FEMA's challenges in measuring the performance of community preparedness programs are compounded because it has not developed a strategy to show how its community preparedness programs and the Ready Campaign are to operate within the context of the NPS. In April and October 2009, GAO reported that FEMA's National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), responsible for community preparedness, had not developed a strategic plan; rather it used an operating plan, which lacked key elements of an effective national strategy, such as how to gauge progress. GAO recommended that NPD develop a strategic plan that contains these key elements. FEMA agreed and reported that it is taking actions to strengthen strategic planning. While officials said an NPD strategic plan and a community preparedness strategy are being developed, NPD has not developed timelines with milestone dates for completing these strategies. By doing so, consistent with standard management practices for implementing programs, FEMA would be better positioned to show progress and provide insights into how these plans can be used as building blocks for the national preparedness strategy.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) officials reported that the agency launched a new Citizen Corps/CERT Registration and Profile data tool in January 2011 to improve the accuracy of both programs. To remain in the Citizen Corps/CERT databases, registrants were required to re-apply. The registration data and supporting information for all applicants were reviewed for accuracy and approval by the State Program Manager, according to FEMA. Councils and CERT Programs are asked to update information periodically to ensure accurate data is displayed on the website, but to provide updates at least twice a year. State Program Managers have the responsibility to ensure the posted data on Councils and CERT Programs within their state are accurate and have editing rights to update content, FEMA officials said. We believe these efforts will help ensure that data on Citizens Corps Councils and CERT programs are more accurate.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that national community preparedness efforts are effective and completed in a timely fashion, the Administrator of FEMA should examine the feasibility of developing various approaches for ensuring the accuracy of registration data of local Citizen Corps Councils and partner programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials indicated that Citizen Corps and CERT (a partner program) are now linked with the agency's response to Presidential Policy Directive-8, issued on March 30, 2011. The directive, in part, states "The Secretary of Homeland Security shall coordinate a comprehensive campaign to build and sustain national preparedness, including public outreach and community-based and private-sector programs to enhance national resilience...." To execute this campaign, FEMA reports that it will engage members of the public, among other things, through local Citizen Corps Councils and CERT. FEMA provided a Plan of Action and Milestones for the National Community Preparedness Initiative. The action plan includes steps for Local Community-Based Engagement and Action, including Citizen Corps and CERT, including milestones. We believe this action responds to our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that national community preparedness efforts are effective and completed in a timely fashion, the Administrator of FEMA should develop plans including timelines and milestone dates for completing and implementing (1) NPD's strategic plan and (2) its Community Preparedness Strategic Approach, including details on how Citizen Corps, partner programs, and the Ready Campaign are to operate within the context of the National Preparedness System.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response: Federal Emergency Management Agency

 

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