The federal response to COVID 19 has been nothing short of disruptive and pure chaos to Homeland Security & Emergency Management professionals desperately seeking resources and federal assistance to contain and stabilize the global health crisis. States are forced to fend for themselves as the Trump Administration refuses to provide critical support and do what is necessary to protect the nation. This is an unreliable federal emergency response, with the administration clearly making it up as they go.
The Trump Administration’s approach flies against the foundation of all established U.S. emergency and disaster response policy and plans created since 9/11 to ensure America would be prepared to protect and defend itself from “all-hazards”. FEMA prescribes “a whole community approach”, but what states are being told is much different. This huge departure from Homeland Security & Emergency Management policy disrupts and effects the planning basis that all emergency plans in the United States are built on. Especially the assumptions in which federal assistance will arrive shortly after a disaster. Multiple states have pleaded continuously for federal assistance, only to receive little if any at all. There is simply is not enough resources available because of the massive uncoordinated federal response pitting every state and hospital against each other. Its everyone for themselves, and adding more competition is the fact that states and hospitals are now also competing against FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies creating major supply chain issues and frustration that has likely never before been seen in the United States. The President’s response that states are on their own goes against every fundamental aspect that the National Response Framework is built on.
A little history, the United States has been preparing for decades to be ready to respond to pandemics and other major disasters despite the President’s claims that no one could have imagined this. Nothing could be further from the truth. The nation has been preparing since 9/11. All federal government agencies, especially the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services have been preparing for emergencies and disasters for decades. Numerous policies, guides, legislation and billions in funding has been allocated to support emergency preparedness. The federal government has long planned and prepared for all types of natural, technological and man-made disasters – especially pandemics. The nation has faced previous pandemics and outbreaks such as the Ebola in 2014, West Nile in 2012 and H1N1 in 2009. All were managed successfully despite each having their own unique challenges. However, despite billions of dollars spent, years and decades of planning, training and conducting disaster drills across all levels of government, the military and the private sector including healthcare organizations, the Trump Administration’s response from the onset has been to abandon all rational and established Homeland Security & Emergency Management and Public Health Emergency Preparedness policy. Here are a few of the major policies and legislation being ignored or degraded:
- The Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act 1988, amended in 2006 and again in 2018 with the Disaster Recovery Reform Act.
- The National Incident Management System established in 2004
- The National Response Framework which is the federal doctrine established in 2008 as a result of the poor response to Hurricane Katrina.
- Project BioShield Act of 2004.
- The Public Health Service Act 1944, the latter amended the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act reauthorized in 2006, 2013 and most recently in June of 2019.
The most important policy is perhaps the National Response Framework, described as the foundation of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, guiding all emergency and disaster responses across the nation. The National Response Framework states how the federal government, is supposed to handle all types of emergencies, including pandemics (National Response Framework, Fourth Edition | FEMA.gov, 2019). “The NRF is a guide to how the Nation responds to all types of disasters and emergencies”(National Response Framework, Fourth Edition | FEMA.gov, 2019). America is witnessing an incident not seen in a century, and yet it appears that we have not learned from incidents as recent as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As it is said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Furthermore, a key concept of the National Response Framework, and the National Incident Management System is that when states and locals are overwhelmed and lack the required resources the federal government is supposed to step in and coordinate a national, unified federal response to save lives and protect the public. Not leading from behind, not supporting from the sidelines, leading the nation, leading the nation from the front using the might of the entire federal government to do what must be done to save the nation. But what we are witnessing is the opposite, a chaotic and uncoordinated federal response, undoubtedly caused by a massive vacuum in federal leadership, and the consequences are real. Hundreds of people to date have died from the Coronavirus in the U.S., around 20,000 have died globally and the number is still rising. Many more will die because of the massive failure of the federal government to lead the nation during this historic crisis. America will continue to suffer much more severely, long into the foreseeable future.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. (2004, August 21). National Commision on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States. https://www.9-11commission.gov/report/
National Response Framework, Fourth Edition | FEMA.gov. (2019, October 27). FEMA. https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/117791