A number of challenges from staffing shortages to insufficient training and limited guidance may be preventing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from meeting its disaster-related responsibilities in Region V, according to a recent report by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (IG).
Located in Chicago, Illinois, Region V serves the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The Region includes some of the most populated cities in the nation, including Chicago, the third largest city in the nation.
Due to the number of highly populated areas in the region, response and recovery efforts would be very challenging if a disaster struck the area. The most common disasters to affect the region are floods, severe storms and winter storms.
Consequently, the Inspector General conducted an inspection of Region V to ensure that it would be adequately prepared in a disaster scenario. The auditors determined that the region met nine of its twelve legislated and assigned responsibilities.
However, the region did not have temporary transportation in place for disaster situations, process first-level public assistance grants in a timely manner or hold mandated meetings so that the regional administrator was informed of emergency management issues in the region.
Moreover, Region V did not have a mechanism dedicated to ensuring the region successfully carried out its responsibilities. FEMA Delegation of Authority 0106-1 (FDA 0106-1) identifies the delegations of authorities assigned to each region, which gives the regional administrators authority in the following areas: general authorities, response and recovery, federal insurance and mitigation, preparedness and grant management.
The IG indicate a timely update of FDA 0106-1 could help FEMA headquarters identify issues prior to inspection, and that amended FEMA responsibilities are delegated appropriately. It is crucial that FEMA have a mechanism in place to ensure the region meets its assigned responsibilities.
“Region V officials do not have a mechanism in place to ensure their assigned responsibilities are being met, and they indicated that the region experienced staffing shortages, lack of training, and limited guidance, which contributed to these challenges,” the IG’s audit report stated. “By not ensuring all responsibilities are successfully implemented, FEMA may be missing opportunities to remediate weaknesses or deficiencies in preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation activities.”
In response, the IG provided five recommendations to improve FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts in Region V. Recommendations included developing and implementing procedures to provide temporary public transportation in the event of a disaster, improving training for staff on first-level appeals processing, and that the regional administrator convene regular meetings.
In addition, the auditors recommended FEMA headquarters work with Region V to develop a mechanism for communicating changes to the FDA 0106-1 and any other responsibilities to ensure they are tracked and implemented in a timely manner. Furthermore, FEMA’s chief counsel should lead an annual agency-wide review of FEMA’s authorities.
FEMA concurred with all five of the recommendations and has taken steps to improve the agency’s regional performance. “We recognize that improvements can always be made in large organizations with multiple and complex programs,” FEMA said in response to the IG’s report. “The findings in the report will be used to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of how we execute and manage our programs.”
As Homeland Security Today recently reported, this month marks the 10th anniversary of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season that brought destruction up and down the Gulf coast region. Hurricane Katrina continues to serve as a reminder of the importance of establishing policies and procedures in every region of the nation to ensure best practices are learned and implemented in the wake of major disasters.