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FEMA Releases 2021 National Preparedness Report

Will the report drive change?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is trying to be accountable and strategic in its efforts to improve the readiness of the nation to disasters. In the current, in-vogue language, it would be to improve the disaster resilience of communities and the nation as a whole.

Is the 2021 National Preparedness Report the right answer? I don’t know. My scanning of the document and a more in-depth reading of certain sections makes me wonder. Are they just words on a page? Does it pass the “so what” test? Will it drive the strategy of the nation in a new or different direction or will we continue to stumble from one disaster to the next, recovering when and where we can, rebuilding in a non-resilient way in places that should be abandoned to nature?

Meaningful change will only happen when it occurs at the local level and it involves zoning and building codes. Otherwise I feel like we are bailing water on the Titanic as it continues to dip deeper into the ocean.

FEMA summarizes the report this way:

What does the report say about the state of the nation’s preparedness?

The report summarizes the state of national preparedness, discussing the risks the nation faces and how those risks drive whole-community emergency management capability requirements. The report includes the following findings and discussion topics:

  • Climate change continues to impact the nation and worsen existing vulnerabilities, many of which were revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, ongoing racial, social, and financial inequalities may limit response and recovery during and after disasters.
  • Vulnerabilities remain within supply chains and aging infrastructure. The risks posed by misinformation and cyber threats continue to increase in scale and impact faster than the nation is able to build the capabilities needed to manage them.
  • Overall, the nation is closer to achieving its preparedness goals identified through the National Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment; however, affected communities may not be fully prepared to respond to nationally catastrophic incidents.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic shows that many gaps remain in the nation's preparedness; however, this provides an opportunity to identify strengths and shortfalls in capabilities, and apply lessons learned in a strategic way.

For the first time ever, the report provides management opportunities outlining steps that community leaders can take to address capability gaps. These include a justification for a preparedness investment strategy to help close capability gaps and improve capabilities, an explanation of what all levels of government are doing or can do to manage climate change, and how climate change worsens existing vulnerabilities.

It also includes a discussion of the National Preparedness System and the importance of maintaining the connections between the components of this system, including the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment and Stakeholder Preparedness Review, threat and hazard modeling, and planning.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.