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Respond to and Recover from Incidents

Despite our comprehensive and steadfast efforts to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks and protect the American people, critical infrastructure, and key resources, our terrorist enemies remain determined to destroy our way of life, and nature continues to release its destructive forces. Given the certainty of catastrophes on our soil – no matter how unprecedented or extraordinary – it is our collective duty to provide the best response possible. When needed, we will bring to bear the Nation's full capabilities and resources to save lives, mitigate suffering, and protect property. As the Nation responds based on the scope and nature of the incident, we must begin to lay the foundation not only for a strong recovery over the short term but also for the rebuilding and revitalization of affected communities and regions over the long term. This is crucial to reducing the psychological, social, and economic effects of an incident. Ultimately, response, recovery, and rebuilding efforts are tightly intertwined, each tapping into the resilience of the American spirit and our determination to endure and become stronger in the face of adversity.

Incident Management Versus Response

The homeland security community has used the terms "incident management" and "response" in complementary and occasionally interchangeable manners. Within this Strategy, "response" refers to actions taken in the immediate aftermath of an incident to save lives, meet basic human needs, and reduce the loss of property. "Incident management," however, is a broader concept that refers to how we manage incidents and mitigate consequences across all homeland security activities, including prevention, protection, and response and recovery. This concept, including the role of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), is discussed further in the chapter titled "Ensuring Long-Term Success."
In order to respond effectively to an incident and initiate short-term recovery, we must have a system that can quickly adapt to the full range of catastrophic scenarios confronting the Nation today and seamlessly integrate capabilities and resources from all stakeholders – Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments and the private and non-profit sectors – to achieve common objectives. At the core of our efforts have been the National Response Plan (now referred to as the National Response Framework) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which were developed pursuant to Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5, issued on February 28, 2003. Building on best practices, lessons learned from exercises and real-world events, including our response to Hurricane Katrina, and the ongoing formal review and revision of the National Response Framework, we will continue to improve our all-hazards approach for responding to and recovering from incidents. Ultimately, our National Response Framework must help us strengthen the foundation for an effective national response, rapidly assess emerging incidents, take initial actions, expand operations as needed, and commence recovery actions to stabilize the area. This framework must be clearly written, easy to understand, and designed to be truly national in scope, meeting the needs of State, local, and Tribal governments and the private and non-profit sectors, as well as the Federal Government. We also will ensure that those communities devastated or severely affected by a catastrophic incident are set on a sustainable path for long-term rebuilding and revitalization.

Strengthen the Foundation for an Effective National Response

An effective all-hazards response effort must begin with a strong foundation based on clear roles and responsibilities across all levels of government and the private and non-profit sectors, strengthened doctrine to guide our national response, a joint planning process to improve response capabilities, and advance readiness activities to better prepare for an impending or emergent event. The effectiveness of our efforts will be determined by the people who fulfill key roles and how they carry out their responsibilities, including their commitment to develop plans and partnerships, conduct joint training and exercises, and achieve shared goals.

  • Clarify how national roles and responsibilities are fulfilled across all levels of government and the private and non-profit sectors. Disaster response has traditionally been handled by State, local, and Tribal governments, with the Federal Government and private and non-profit sectors playing supporting and ad hoc roles, respectively. A lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities across these levels can lead to gaps and seams in our national response and delay our ability to provide life-saving support when needed. Accordingly, we must better articulate how roles, responsibilities, and lines of authority for all response stakeholders are fulfilled across all levels of government and among the private and nonprofit sectors so that each understands how it supports the broader national response. We will continue to base our Federal planning and response efforts on the premise that the vast majority of incidents will be handled at the lowest jurisdictional level possible, with the Federal Government anticipating needs and assisting State, local, and Tribal authorities upon request, when their capabilities are insufficient, or in special circumstances where Federal interests are directly implicated. Public-private partnerships also are essential, and we will work together to better define the roles that the private and non-profit sectors can play, particularly in their local communities, to achieve a more successful response.
  • Roles and Responsibilities

    In today's dynamic threat environment, we must strive for a national response based on engaged partnerships at and across all levels that enable us to anticipate where we should increase or reduce support based on changing circumstances. Success starts with understanding the following fundamental roles:

    Community Response. One of the fundamental response principles is that all incidents should be handled at the lowest jurisdictional level possible. The initial response to the majority of incidents typically is handled by local responders within a single jurisdiction and goes no further. When incidents exceed available resources, the local or Tribal government may rely on mutual aid agreements with nearby localities or request additional support from the State. It is worth noting that for certain types of Federal assistance, Tribal nations work with the State, but, as sovereign entities, they can elect to deal directly with the Federal Government for other types of assistance.

    State Response. State governments have the primary responsibility for assisting local governments to respond to and recover from disasters and emergencies. When an incident expands to challenge the resources and capabilities of the State coordinate requests for additional support, the State may request support from the private and nonprofit sector, turn to other States for support through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or call upon the Federal Government for assistance. States also may collaborate with one another to ensure a broader, more effective regional response.

    Federal Response. The Federal Government maintains a wide array of capabilities and resources that may be made available to States and local governments. Federal assistance is provided when needed to support State and local efforts or lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe within the United States. Accordingly, Federal response efforts are designed to complement and supplement, rather than supplant, the State and local response. The Federal Government also maintains relationships with private and non-profit sector entities to aid in facilitating additional support.

    Private and Non-Profit Sector. The private and non-profit sectors fulfill key roles and work closely with communities, States, and the Federal Government. The private sector plays an essential role implementing plans for the rapid restoration of commercial activities and critical infrastructure operations, which can help mitigate consequences, improve quality of life, and accelerate recovery for communities and the Nation. Non-profit organizations serve a vital role by performing essential services within communities in times of need, such as mass sheltering, emergency food supplies, counseling services, or other vital support services.

    Special Circumstances. There are special circumstances where the Federal Government exercises a larger, more proactive role. This includes catastrophic incidents when local and State governments require significant support, and incidents where Federal interests are directly implicated, such as those involving primary Federal jurisdiction or authorities. For example, the Federal Government will lead response efforts to render safe weapons of mass destruction and coordinate related activities with State and local partners, as appropriate.
    Strengthen doctrine to guide the national response. Incidents that begin with a single response discipline within one jurisdiction may quickly expand to multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdictional incidents that require additional resources and capabilities. In order to ensure high-level organization and efficiency among multiple actors in these challenging and complex environments, the response community must rely on fundamental principles that guide the full range of response activities. NIMS forms the backbone of this doctrine and includes, among other things, an Incident Command System as the overall management structure for responding to an incident as well as the concept of Unified Command, which provides for and enables joint decisions and action based on mutually agreed-upon objectives, priorities, and plans among all homeland partners involved in the response effort without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability. We will continue to expand and refine the full set of fundamental doctrinal principles underlying our National Response Framework. For example, we will incorporate and further emphasize the concept of readiness to act that is imperative for no-notice incidents as well as incidents that have the potential to expand rapidly in size, scope, or complexity. Through the framework, we will encourage engaged partnerships in which all organizations establish shared objectives, assess their capabilities, identify gaps, and work collaboratively to fill those gaps well in advance of an incident. We also will underscore that our national response must be scalable, flexible, and adaptable to respond to the full range of potential incidents that our Nation could confront.
  • Develop and apply joint planning and training processes. An effective, coordinated response begins with sound planning well before an incident occurs. The planning process will translate policy, strategy, doctrine, and capabilities into specific tasks and courses of action to be undertaken during a response. The resulting plans must represent collaborative efforts involving communities, States, and the Federal Government as well as private sector and non-profit partners to ensure we effectively bring to bear all instruments of national power in our response to an incident. The planning effort also must be based on a clear set of planning assumptions and guided by a full range of national planning scenarios, depicting a spectrum of catastrophic man-made and natural disasters that would test our Nation's response capabilities. Finally, because each incident is unique, our planning processes must be dynamic and flexible, ensuring we have the ability not only to produce deliberate plans but also the ability to adapt our plans at the operational and tactical levels in a compressed period of time to address the specific characteristics of each incident.

    Complementing our process for joint planning is a joint training and exercise program that will help response professionals practice the application of those plans well in advance of an actual incident. Ultimately, a continuous cycle of joint training and exercises will ensure that all government, private sector, and non-profit stakeholders are capable of fulfilling their roles and responsibilities and can achieve unity of effort when responding to a real-world natural or man-made disaster. It is vital that best practices and lessons learned from exercises be applied to continually improve our Nation's response.
  • Conduct advance readiness activities. There are times when we are able to anticipate impending or emergent events that will require a national response, such as an upcoming hurricane season, a potential pandemic, or a period of heightened terrorist threat. We must capitalize on this critical window of opportunity to increase readiness activities. For example, we can pre-identify needs and fill gaps in our current capabilities or resources that will be required to address the specific nature of the forthcoming incident. We also will pre-position commodities such as water, ice, emergency meals, tarps, and other disaster supplies so they will be readily available for use. Additional advance readiness activities include establishing contracts with the private sector prior to an incident and developing pre-negotiated agreements with Federal departments and agencies to ensure that appropriate Federal resources are available during a crisis.
Assess Situation and Take Initial Action

Situational Awareness

Maintaining situational awareness is essential to assessing emerging incidents as well as conducting operations and ultimately ensuring the effective management of incident response. It demands that we prioritize information and develop a common operating picture, both of which require a well-developed national information management system and effective multi-agency coordination centers to support decision-making during incidents. The concept of situational awareness, along with other fundamental principles of incident management, is detailed in the chapter titled "Ensuring Long-Term Success."
When an incident occurs, responders work to assess the situation – including possible causes, extent of affected population and geographic area, and the degree of damage – in order to take the initial actions that will save lives, mitigate suffering, and protect property. Our Nation must acknowledge the critical role of first responders to rapidly assess ongoing and emerging incidents. This includes effectively prioritizing and coordinating initial actions, mobilizing and deploying resources and capabilities, and anticipating additional support that may be needed.

  • Prioritize and coordinate initial actions to mitigate consequences.   Since there will be a degree of confusion and turmoil in the initial hours of an incident, it is critical that our Nation use standardized incident response structures and procedures to prioritize and coordinate initial actions. Our framework must better integrate the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which enables a consistent approach and allows multiple organizations to work together effectively. For example, as first responders arrive at the affected area, they must quickly establish on-scene incident command to coordinate the activities of numerous responders under a single structure. Using NIMS, the incident command develops an Incident Action Plan, which outlines incident priorities, objectives, and initial actions and drives the development of supporting plans. These initial activities may include search and rescue, evacuations, communication of key information to the public, restoration of essential critical infrastructure, and provision of community law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services, among others. As the incident unfolds, the incident command will revise plans and courses of action based on changing circumstances.
  • Examples of Federal Field Teams

    Since September 11, the Federal Government has strengthened deployable teams to help respond to natural and man-made disasters. These teams support the emergent needs of State, local, and Tribal jurisdictions or exercise Federal statutory responsibilities by providing specialized expertise and capabilities, establishing emergency response facilities, and supporting overall incident management.

    • Emergency Response Teams (ERT) – to be replaced by the Federal Incident Response Support
      Teams (FIRST) and Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT)
    • Damage Assessment Teams
    • Nuclear Incident Response Team (NIRT)
    • Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs)
    • Department of Health and Human Services' Incident
      Response Coordination Team – formerly the Secretary's Emergency Response Team
    • Department of Labor/Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Specialized Response Teams
    • National Veterinary Response Teams (NVRT) – formerly the Veterinarian Medical Assistance Teams (VMATs)
    • Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORTs)
    • Medical Emergency Radiological Response Team (MERRT)
    • National Medical Response Teams (NMRTs)
    • Scientific and Technical Advisory and Response Teams (STARTs)
    • Donations Coordination Teams
    • Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces
    • Incident Management Teams (IMTs)
    • Domestic Emergency Support Team (DEST)
    • Domestic Animal and Wildlife Emergency Response Teams and Mitigation Assessment Team
    Effectively mobilize and deploy people, resources, and capabilities.  In response, every minute counts, and a failure to quickly surge people, resources, and capabilities can result in lives lost, increased property damage, and cascading consequences that can magnify the effects of the incident. To ensure rapid mobilization and deployment of response assets, our National Response Framework must describe how this process occurs across various levels of government and with the private and nonprofit sectors. In addition, all responders should be encouraged to maintain and regularly exercise notification systems and activation protocols. Activation and deployment should be a deliberate and informed – yet rapid – process that reflects the size, scope, nature, and complexity of an incident.
  • Anticipate additional support that may be needed.   Minute by minute, the scope and scale of an incident can rapidly evolve, such as when a hurricane changes course or it becomes apparent that a terrorist bombing is actually one in a series of attacks in multiple cities. Responders at all levels must be able to anticipate the course of an incident and associated requirements and work with their counterparts to surge or deescalate resources and capabilities as needed. While there is no substitute for experience, our National Response Framework must help drive joint planning and training programs that will help responders across all levels better anticipate alternative courses of action and work together effectively.
Expand Operational Capabilities, As Needed

While the vast majority of incidents are effectively handled at the community level, some require additional support from nearby jurisdictions or the State, including through mutual aid agreements with other States. If needed, the Federal Government also will provide support. In catastrophic or highly complex events, all who respond should provide assistance in an organized fashion within the existing response framework, anticipating needs and coordinating with their partners in advance as opposed to waiting to be asked. As the incident grows in severity and complexity, our national response operations must effectively coordinate requests for additional support and integrate resources and capabilities into ongoing operations. It is critical that our Nation continue to improve and clearly describe the processes used to coordinate requests for additional support and integrate resources and capabilities into ongoing operations.

  • Effectively coordinate requests for additional support.  If resources and capabilities beyond the immediate area are required, the on-scene incident command requests additional support, activating response structures and personnel to support and coordinate the overall response.   In many cases, resources and capabilities are provided from surrounding areas.   Our Nation must work together to clarify the processes to request and provide assistance and ensure we have the necessary awareness, training, and familiarization programs for responders to execute related plans and agreements. This includes familiarization with the processes that States use to request support through mutual aid agreements as well as from the Federal Government and how the Federal Government provides this support to States. Effective support requires that all organizations review and update their existing agreements and plans, meet with their partners, and verify their expectations and capabilities on a regular basis.
  • Integrate resources and capabilities.   During large-scale incidents, we establish response structures and facilities to effectively receive, stage, track, and integrate incoming resources and capabilities into ongoing operations.   For example, personnel are deployed to staging areas to receive commodities that can then be integrated into operations in support of the State and then distributed to communities. For large, complex incidents, resources and capabilities might arrive from a diverse array of organizations – ranging from multiple private-sector companies to non-governmental organizations to the Federal Government – through pre-arranged agreements and contracts.   In order to assist with the full assimilation of resources and assets, we will continue to develop comprehensive and integrated logistics systems and procedures that enhance our Nation's overall response capabilities. In addition, our National Response Framework must describe the policies and procedures for how to manage disaster assistance offered by our international partners, as well as clarify responsibilities and procedures for inquiries regarding affected foreign nationals.
Commence Short-Term Recovery Actions to Stabilize the Affected Area and Demobilize Assets

Even as the immediate imperatives for response to an incident are being addressed, the need to begin recovery operations emerges. In an almost imperceptible evolution, response efforts will transition to short-term recovery operations, such as the restoration of interrupted utility services, reestablishment of transportation routes, and the provision of food and shelter for those displaced by the disaster – actions that will help individuals, communities, and the Nation return to a general state of normalcy.   While short-term recovery efforts are the primary responsibility of States and communities, they also involve significant contributions from all sectors of our society – Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments, the private sector, nonprofit partners, as well as individual citizens. As the priorities and needs of an incident evolve, people, assets, and resources will be reassigned or demobilized to provide a flexible and scalable response, evolving as needs evolve, changing as the incident priorities change. As immediate life-saving and life-sustaining activities subside, and short-term recovery decisions are made over a period of weeks or even months, we must recognize that these efforts are steps to an effective transition to long-term rebuilding and revitalization efforts.

Ensure an Effective Transition to Long-Term Rebuilding and Revitalization Efforts

Ensuring a successful transition from short-term recovery to rebuilding and revitalization efforts is vital and must include active participation and leadership by the breadth of political, economic, private, and non-profit actors that form the fiber of any community. Rebuilding and revitalization efforts are distinguished from shorter-term recovery efforts not only by the length of time involved, but also by the scope and nature of the incident, the complexity of efforts required to regenerate infrastructure, and the effect on the social fabric of the community and region.

Rebuilding and revitalizing those communities so devastated or severely affected by a catastrophic incident that a State or region is overwhelmed can take several months and sometimes years, depending on the severity and extent of destruction. Some cases might require the complete reconstruction of critical infrastructure and key resources, redevelopment of homes and long-term housing solutions, and the restoration of economic growth and vitality.

In the past, we have undertaken reconstruction operations for major catastrophes in an ad hoc and reactive fashion, developing large-scale disaster-specific rebuilding approaches and tools only after major crises arise. The resulting process of rebuilding has been slow, complex, and extremely expensive. Notwithstanding the tremendous efforts of the individuals involved, the challenges of an ad hoc approach are reflected in the experiences in lower Manhattan after the September 11 attacks, in the southeastern United States during the 2004 hurricane season that witnessed landfall of four major hurricanes within six weeks, and in the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina.

Going forward, we must develop a comprehensive – but not bureaucratic or government-centric – framework wherein communities that are directly or indirectly affected by a large-scale disaster can flourish on a sustainable path to rebuilding and revitalization. This framework and accompanying plans must be closely guided by, and have at their core, the citizens, private sector, and faith-based and community organizations that are most severely and directly affected. After all, individual citizens and the private and non-profit sectors are our society's wells of creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness, and they have the greatest stake in, and urgency for, revitalizing their community.

The majority of reconstruction efforts will occur beyond the Federal Government's purview. However, the Federal Government, in collaboration with all stakeholders, will draw upon and apply the field's most innovative thinking, lessons learned, and best practices to create a comprehensive framework for our Nation that fully appreciates free markets and the vast power of incentives and empowers individuals, businesses, and non-profit groups in the decisions about the future of their communities.

In order to develop this new framework, our Nation must continue to assess the challenges in this area and provide recommendations to improve our ability to rebuild and revitalize areas following a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster. We must determine how Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments, the private and non-profit sectors, and communities can improve collaboration and develop recommendations that further economic renewal and help stabilize and reconstruct communities.

In addressing these challenges, Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments, the private and nonprofit sectors, and communities must be focused on citizens – and not on bureaucracy or processes – and be guided by the concepts of compassion, speed, efficiency, common sense, and the devolution of as many decisions as reasonably possible to individual citizens, businesses, and communities. Specific areas of focus include:

  • Restore community services and the economy. In the wake of a catastrophic event, all facets of society will need to work together to restore communities and the economy. This includes helping to facilitate the return of private, non-profit, and government operations to the affected area. Individuals, communities, and private sector and non-profit entities should strive to resume their services as quickly as possible, while government at all levels should carry out activities and investments that foster this rapid and orderly revitalization. Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments may consider a range of actions based on the circumstances and careful consideration of the situation and, in some cases, may temporarily reduce or waive regulations that could result in unintended consequences from large-scale incidents.
  • Organize planning efforts among key players. The Nation should coalesce around public-private partnerships that can more effectively integrate and coordinate collective recovery efforts. This requires plans and policies that support basic needs such as housing, medical care, and the food service industry. In some circumstances, this will require the creation of special purpose entities and unique, temporary tax or other financial incentives that foster cooperation and collective engagement in rebuilding of the affected communities. In addition, as warranted and in accordance with existing laws and regulations, the Federal Government can scale back select requirements that communities match Federal expenditures with certain percentage of funding from their own budgets.
  • Facilitate long-term assistance for displaced victims. Ensuring the availability of medium-term housing and promotion of long-term housing solutions for the affected area are often important initial measures. Other focus areas must include care and treatment of affected persons in terms of sustained medical care and additional measures for social, political, environmental, and economic restoration. In order to be effective, long-term efforts to assist displaced victims must begin as soon as possible following response efforts, in conjunction with short-term recovery.
  • Rebuild critical infrastructure. A key Federal role in long-term reconstruction involves both rebuilding the most essential critical infrastructure and providing economic incentives, when appropriate, to support the return of citizens and the private sector to the affected community. Because this is a very different problem from response and immediate recovery efforts, long-term rebuilding and revitalization must be addressed through tailored approaches that creatively engage the full spectrum of government, private sector, and non-profit entities. Furthermore, including mitigation measures in critical infrastructure designs during the restoration process also is important for reducing the consequences of future similar events.