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The National Response Framework

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Submitted By albertroberts
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National Response Framework (NRF):
Improving America’s Disaster Response

The government of the United States has experienced and continues to manifest consistent, often times sweeping, changes to the “way it does Emergency Response business.” The disastrous events of both September 11, 2001 and the unfolding tragedy of Hurricane Katrina proved to be “real-time” triggers for the evolution of governmental amendment to and eventual restructure of the overarching procedural standard for incident response in the country. One of the outcomes would become what was dubbed the National Response Framework, or NRF. This paper will present a brief outline of its core structure and purpose. Moreover, it will aim to make an opinion on whether this template for emergency response is maximally effective in its approach to the complexities associated with Incident Response in the U.S.

A brief outline of the NRF structure and intent is now appropriate here. The template is a doctrinal approach to the domestic partnerships and implementation of resources above and beyond those rules set by the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) (fema.gov, 2012). General audiences of NRF-specific guidance will typically be policy-level personnel or heads-of-agencies, who directly or strategically coordinate echelon and subordinate agencies at all eventual layers of government emergency response. It is driven largely by the data and regulatory information offered to emergency managers at the NRF Resource Center, and ultimately lies within the realm of the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA. NRF is commonly held to have been the much-needed revision to American disaster response, ultimately replacing what was known as the National Response Plan… in the wake of publicly perceived failures within the United States government’s ability to respond and coordinate incident response measures after Hurricanes Katrina and Irene. In the year 2006, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act set the stage for NRF and in what would be perhaps one of its most sweeping measures, the government transitioned the authority for national disaster mitigation to the FEMA Administrator for emergency management, who serves in an advisory capacity to the President of the United States. Currently, the billet is held by Craig Fugate (fema.gov, 2012).

A key method in which the NRF is kept “current” is one that this researcher is particularly comfortable with classifying as an innovative and an appropriate manner in which to ensure relevance in the NRF’s doctrine. It routinely adds and updates “annexes” to its charter so as to allow for coordination instructions and specific guidance under various “worst-case” types of scenarios. As with any evolving (and often times bureaucracy-laden) governmental agency, there are measures of success and shortcoming to be expected. Overall, however, this researcher feels that the NRF provides a vastly improved approach to high-level oversight and distribution of subordinate mandates in the wake of a catastrophe. As stated by Senator Joe Lieberman in his comments on the draft of the NRF, “I am pleased DHS consulted with state and local stakeholders to produce a comprehensive and coherent plan for responding to disasters of all sorts when they occur… I am particularly pleased the final National Response Framework, unlike an earlier draft, recognizes the larger role the Post-Katrina Act gave to the FEMA Administrator for emergency management (senate.gov, 2012).” It is clear to understand the urgent need, especially in light of fiscal and specialized capabilities offered by the recently-born FEMA, to assign the Framework’s primary coordination responsibility to the Administrator. This was clearly an effective and well-based move.

As previously stated, however, there are challenges in the NRF which, to date, have not been brought to light during a real-world national crisis, at least not to the scale of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. One would certainly be that of some confusion on certain areas of responsibility and authority for assigned personnel such as Principal Federal Officials (or PFO’s) and Federal Coordination Officers (FCO’s). This disconnect, and other potential shortcomings for the initiative, are echoed by Paul Stockton, a Senior Research Scholar at Stanford University, when he states “Confusion over those coordination roles undermined federal response efforts in Katrina, and should be further clarified in the Framework. The current draft of the that document is also silent on a number of outstanding issues for structuring the U.S. response to catastrophes, including that of the special circumstances in which the president would designate the Department of Defense (as opposed to FEMA and DHS) to serve as the lead federal agency for response activities (stanford.edu, 2007).”

In all, though, it is safe to say that the National Response Framework, or NRF, is an effective- albeit fluid- mandate for the hugely complex issue of American Emergency Management, especially when considering policy-level directives. NRF has clearly demonstrated successes. Among them would be placing authority at the highest level appropriately under FEMA and the inception of an innovative web-based centralized resource center, complete with “updated” and extremely concise “annexes” for consumption by subordinate players in nearly any incident response. Of course, its challenges remain and are likely to be proven when least desired- in the midst of a national or regional crisis. This researcher feels the Framework’s likely biggest failure is that does not seem to prevent the eventual duplication or omission of efforts by certain leaders because of vague guidance.
Works Cited:

FEMA. (2012). National Response Framework Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 29, 2012, from Depart of Homeland Security website: http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/NRFOnePageFactSheet.pdf

FEMA. (2012). William Craig Fugate. Retrieved April 29, 2012, from fema.gov website: http://www.fema.gov/about/bios/wfugate.shtm

Lieberman, J. (2008, January 22). National Response Framework Represents a Good Start. Retrieved April 29, 2012, from US Senate website: http://lieberman.senate.gov/index.cfm/news-events/news/2008/1/national-response-framework-represents-a-good-start

Stockton, P. N. (2007, September 11). Hearing on “Readiness in the Post Katrina and Post 9/11 World: An Evaluation of the new National Response Framework [Testimony]. Retrieved April 29, 2012, from Stanford University website:
http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/21979/Stockton_T&I.pdf

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