Images from Miyagi Prefecture, Sendai, Japan (photos by S.L. Herman)

Images from Miyagi Prefecture, Sendai, Japan (photos by S.L. Herman)

BY JIM KOURI – The United States is prepared to help Japan deal with the aftermath of the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Friday “in any way we possibly can,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during his Middle East tour.

“I’ve been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami,” said Gates. “As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, [and] our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape.”

In addition, first responders from cities and towns throughout the United States are gearing up and headed for Japan to offer their expertise in fire, search and rescue and emergency medicine. This includes members of the New York City Fire Department (New York’s Bravest) and the New York City Police Department (New York’s Finest).

“New York’s first responders take a backseat to no one when it comes to disaster response,” said former NYPD officer Orlando Ruiz, who served in the department’s Emergency Services Unit.

“I’m told there are cops, firemen and paramedics throughout the country who are paying their own expenses to travel to locations where U.S. transport planes await volunteers,” said Ruiz, now a director of security for a corporation.

Meanwhile, U.S. national security, public health, police and fire personnel are reviewing their own emergency plans should such a one-two punch — earthquake, tsunami — occur in the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security is the primary federal entity responsible for ensuring that first responders, such as police, fire, emergency medical and public health personnel, have the capabilities needed to provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to any large-scale crisis.

DHS had awarded $11.3 billion to state and local governments to enhance capabilities, primarily to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism or natural disasters. Presidential directives have instructed the DHS to develop a national all-hazards approach — preparing all sectors of society for any emergency event including terrorist attacks and natural or man-made disasters.

The US Congress’ General Accounting Office reviewed these policy initiatives and determined that each supports a national, all-hazards approach, not just a terrorism response approach.

DHS has undertaken three major policy initiatives aimed at creating a national, all-hazards coordinated and comprehensive response to large-scale incidents: (1) a national response plan (what needs to be done); (2) a command and management process (how it needs to be done); and (3) a national preparedness goal (how well it should be done).

DHS has also developed plans to implement three related programs to enhance first responder capabilities: (1) to assess and report on the status of first responders’ capabilities; (2) to prioritize national resources; and (3) to establish a national training and exercise program.

Implementing these programs will likely pose a number of challenges for DHS including integrating internal and external assessment approaches, assessing state and local risks in a national context to effectively prioritize investments, and establishing common training requirements for each first-responder discipline.

Because terrorist attacks share some common characteristics with natural and accidental disasters, 30 of DHS’ 36 capabilities first responders need to support preparedness and response efforts are similar.

GAO’s analysis found that the baseline capabilities required for terrorist attacks and natural or accidental disasters are more similar for response and recovery and differ most for prevention.

Since terrorist attacks are planned, intentional acts, all of DHS’ prevention capabilities focus on terrorist attacks, while almost all other baseline capabilities focus on all hazards.

Legislation and presidential directives call for DHS to place special emphasis on preparedness for terrorism and DHS has directed that the majority of first responder grant funding be used to enhance first responder capabilities to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks. Nonetheless, grant funds can have all-hazards applications.

Sources: US Department of Homeland Security, General Accounting Office, National Security Institute, National Association of Chiefs of Police

Jim Kouri, CPP, formerly Fifth Vice-President, is currently a Board Member of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a columnist for Examiner.com and New Media Alliance (thenma.org).  Write to COPmagazine@aol.com

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