Emergency Communications Center Facing Challenges

The Emergency Communications Preparedness Center (ECPC), still faces major challenges on a number of fronts in fully executing its mission, according to a report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) prepared last month and released this week.
The report, titled Emergency Communications: Establishment of the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center and Related Interagency Coordination Challenges, found that ECPC faces interagency coordination challenges in obtaining agreement among ECPC members on group decisions, gaining the acceptance of its stakeholders when promoting a strategy to achieve interoperable communications, providing and demonstrating value to its members, maturing as an interagency body, and working to define its relationships with other organizations with similar goals and objectives.
GAO reviewed ECPC’s Charter, documentation from agencies detailing their agreement with the charter, and rosters of ECPC’s Executive and Steering Committees, as well as the Executive Committee Action Items list and OEC’s progress report on goals and objectives contained in the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP). The report’s researchers also interviewed officials from 11 of the 12 member ECPC agencies.
“ ECPC officials,” the report said, “ stated that ECPC cannot direct or require its members or stakeholders, such as other federal, state, or local agencies with a role in emergency communications, to take any specific actions in response to its recommendations,” undermining ECPC’s goal of providing input and recommendations regarding the establishment of interoperability and operability goals must be carried out in the absence of compulsory authority.
Nonetheless the officials, according to the report, believed that ECPC’s process of gaining consensus on decisions should help defuse interagency disputes going forward.
“ECPC officials we interviewed ,” the report said, “stated that they arerealizing, or expect to realize, value through their continued participation in ECPC. “
The officials interviewed by GAO gave a few concrete examples of how the organization is working at providing value.
One was providing The Department of Health and Human Services with information to provide better guidance to hospitals on what types of emergency communications equipment other first responders are procuring.
Another was facilitating the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s effort to collect comments from a wider array of stakeholders on the proposed National Broadband Plan. Yet another was helping the Department of Agriculture by offering resources to provide guidance to firefighters on how to develop cross-jurisdictional memorandums of understanding that will create a governance structure for multijurisdiction events such as wildfires.
In addition, according to the report, officials said that they plan to develop an ECPC Program Management Plan within which they would list ECPC’s goals and objectives and incorporate some best practices. These best practices may include: 1) defining and articulating acommon outcome or mission, 2) developing a strategy to align resources in support of the mission, 3) defining partners’ roles and responsibilities, 4) establishing methods to work across agency boundaries, and 5) developing mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report on the results of efforts.
Although ECPC has yet to develop a Program Management Plan, the report said, “OEC officials reported that ECPC has taken steps to incorporate some of these best practices into the management of ECPC. For example, ECPC defined a common outcome or mission within the charter. ECPC also established methods to work across agency boundaries by forming interagency working groups to address issues as directed by the Executive Committee.”

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