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THE STORM [home page]
brown's 2005 memo of concern

[The following memo to Michael Jackson, the number two official at the Department of Homeland Security, was written by FEMA Director Michael Brown in June of 2005. It was leaked to correspondent/producer Martin Smith.]


I've now had an opportunity to think about the proposed organizational chart and program realignments you showed me on Thursday. This is to express serious concerns about the direction this is taking emergency management in this nation.

Emergency management is a cycle: prepare, respond, recover and then mitigate against future disasters based on lessons-learned. This cycle is taught in universities, practiced in the smallest of jurisdictions, and replicated throughout the world. The Emergency Preparedness & Response Directorate as originally envisioned by the President, and generally adopted by the Congress, recognizes that cycle. The title itself suggests the inherent link between preparedness and response.

The philosophy of all-hazards teaches us that how we prepare, respond, recover and mitigate for any disaster can be replicated in any disaster, regardless of the cause. Thus, whether the disaster is chemical, hurricane, radiological, tornado, biological or forest fire, the cycle is the same:

Prepare - through planning, training and exercises.

Respond - with those with whom you have planned, trained and exercised.

Recover - through rebuilding and reconstruction.

Mitigate - building codes, standards, protocols, retrofits, et al.

If we break that cycle in any regard, we minimize our effectiveness and maximize our potential for failure. The proposed organizational structure and realignment of programs I saw last week not only breaks that cycle, it diminishes it to the extent that I believe it is doomed to fail in the future.

In this new era of heightened security, we have created an ever evolving department and sometimes emergency preparedness is inadvertently considered the same as other DHS functions such as law enforcement duties at airports, interception of illegal aliens and inspection of cargo at ports of entry. Those are true law enforcement duties inherent to the DHS mission. For these organizations their preparedness mission is focused on prevention of incidents, not response to disasters. Emergency Preparedness means the capability to respond to a disaster, regardless of what causes that disaster.

While critically important, those functions are separate from the preparedness planning, training, and exercises to respond to the disaster that occurs when terrorists slip through the screening process and turn airplanes into missiles. Those law enforcement functions are also separate from the planning, training and exercises preparing for the disaster that occurs when Mother Nature sends four hurricanes across Florida in a six week period.

FEMA exercises with state and local governments. FEMA performs capability assessment reviews to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of those we will partner with when asked to come to their aid. FEMA plans with those state, local and tribal governments to prepare for disasters in their jurisdictions. FEMA brings a broad umbrella that enables us to do catastrophic disaster planning that otherwise would never be done. FEMA trains those partners in the emergency management cycle in a way that no other organization does. FEMA brings all state and local responders (police, fire, political leadership, health, public works) together so they can train together and not see each other for the first time when disaster strikes. FEMA brings all state and tribal governments together in a vast mutual aid program so states can help other states respond to disasters.

The emergency management cycle exists in FEMA today. The emergency management cycle will be irreparably broken in the proposed organization and realignment. Without those partnerships built through all of those activities, FEMA is doomed to failure and loss of mission. While some may argue that it would be difficult, yet possible, to merge the preparedness functions, I maintain that you should not merge those functions as they are distinct and separate missions.

FEMA is a very small part of DHS in terms of budget, personnel and other resources. Merging FEMA's small preparedness functions with the prevention mission of the department will destroy the emergency management cycle and lead to failure. I don't want to see us fail this President or the nation because of a desire to consolidate that which shouldn't be consolidated.

I trust we will be able to discuss this in person at your earliest convenience.


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posted nov. 22, 2005

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