By: Lisa DuBrock, Contributing Editor and Writer

Late Last week the Senate COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS led by Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) and Susan Collins (R-ME) held a hearing titled  “Catastrophic Preparedness: How Ready is FEMA to Respond to the Next Big Disaster?

In the wake of the catastrophe in Japan, the Senators called the hearing to understand the progress FEMA had made since the enactment of the’ Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act’ in 2006.

Unfortunately, while much of the information provided and discussed indicated that improvements had been observed in FEMA’s capabilities to respond to recent disasters, the bigger question of estimating FEMA’s capabilities to respond to a mega-disaster such as occurred recently in Japan still remains an unanswered question.

One of the people present at the hearing was Former Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner.  Mr. Skinner had produced a report in September which pointed to the moderate gains that had been made by DHS and particularly FEMA since the enactment of the Legislation.

Mr. Skinner also discusses the progress that has been made on the following 10 areas that his group audited against last year:

  1. Overall Planning
  2. Coordination and Support
  3. Emergency Communications
  4. Logistics
  5. Evacuations
  6. Housing
  7. Disaster Workforce
  8. Mission Assignments
  9. Acquisition Management
  10. Mitigation

In this report, Mr. Skinner also gave some staggering statistics:  “Between January and May 2010, FEMA responded to more than 40 presidentially declared emergencies and disasters. From January 1980 through December 2009, the average number of events to which FEMA responds each year has risen from 25 to about 70.”    He also goes on to state that “…FEMA spends approximately $4.3 Billion a year on average in responding to disasters.

Senator Lieberman was quoted in the hearing to say that … “Response to and recovery from disaster is the responsibility of a lot of people. Other federal agencies, state and local governments, the private sector, and every American have roles to play, and many of them also need to improve their capabilities.”  Does this statement lessen the responsibility of FEMA?

Many questions from this hearing seem to be yet unanswered —  How do we do a better job responding to disasters?  Have we factored in enough of the worst case scenarios as part of our disaster preparedness strategies?  Are nuclear facilities located along our country’s coast lines ready to survive a tsunami – like that which shocked Japan?

Any business continuity planner today has to fully recognize that for many organizations, this mega-disaster in Japan is a game change dynamic — in the world of disaster preparedness,  business continuity and crisis management —  that cannot be ignored.

If you would like to read the full statement of Richard L. Skinner, former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs – U.S. Senate on March 17, 2011 — Click here.

If you have any thoughts, please let us know.

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