For Immediate Release Contact: Sheila Menz (Lieberman) 202-224-1839
July 19, 2007 Jen Burita (Collins) 202-224-4751
WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday examined the Defense Department’s progress in coordinating with Department of Homeland Security emergency response officials in order to respond more efficiently to a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
At a committee hearing entitled “The Military’s Role in Disaster Response: Progress Since Hurricane Katrina,” the senators heard from senior officials at DOD, and DHS, and the National Guard on gains made by the military in disaster preparation and response and the challenges that remain in coordinating a federal response to a national disaster.
Witnesses at the hearing said that during a major multi-state disaster, the National Guard isn’t fully equipped for response and recovery. Therefore, the federal government must anticipate the significant role it will be expected to play in the first 24 hours.
“This Committee’s investigation into the aftermath of Katrina revealed serious weakness in planning, preparedness and coordination within the Department of Defense, and between Defense and the Department of Homeland Security,” Lieberman said. “In addition, the National Intelligence Estimate announced two days ago its finding that al-Qaeda remains intent on conducting another attack on our homeland. Are we prepared to prevent and respond to such attacks?
“We have to make sure the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security are doing everything they can within the current structure to ensure an effective, coordinated response to catastrophic disasters, including a catastrophic terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction.”
Senator Collins said: “As the Committee’s report on the Katrina investigation demonstrated, the number and scale of natural and man-made threats to our country demanded progress on many fronts. We need not only better contingency planning, but a more aggressive, forward-leaning posture as identifiable threats emerge and requests for civil support can be anticipated. We need better training, exercising, and communication. We also need better protocols for handling Emergency Management Assistance Compact requests among states, better arrangements for federal and state command and coordination of units, and greater clarity on balancing a President’s ability to call on National Guard troops to restore order with preserving the states’ lead role in responding to local disasters.”
Collins explained that related Committee recommendations, many of which have been signed into law, have already proven to be successful. She cited the recent New England FEMA exercise where improved operating relationships and communication were evident.
The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, a result of the committee’s Katrina investigation and signed into law last year, strengthens coordination efforts between Defense and Homeland Security officials during a catastrophe. The law created a Defense coordinating officer to work directly with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the ground. Although personnel from DoD and FEMA are working together to plan and prepare for a disaster response, witnesses said FEMA must take the lead in developing and coordinating missions.
Witnesses at the hearing included Peter F. Verga, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, in the Department of Defense; Gen. Victor E. Renuart, Jr., Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command; Vice Admiral Roger T. Rufe, Director of the Office of Operations Coordination in DHS; Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau; and Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, Adjutant General of the Maine National Guard.