President  |  Vice President  |  First Lady  |  Mrs. Cheney  |  News & Policies 
History & ToursKids  |  Your Government  |  Appointments  |  JobsContactGraphic version

Email Updates  |  Español  |  Accessibility  |  Search  |  Privacy Policy  |  Help

Email this page to a friend

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.

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.

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.

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:

Email this page to a friend

In Focus

More Issues more issues

More News more news

Major Speeches


Your Government

  |   More Offices