The TOPOFF 3 exercises conducted between April 4 and April 8, 2005, clearly showed that there are three main problems that are impairing the proper implementation of civilian terrorism response plans.
These three problems include: role confusion, a lack of NRP and NIMS familiarity, and difficulties coordinating private sector and DoD efforts. In order for future responses to terrorism and emergencies to be successful, these problems must be hurdled.
Throughout the duration of the TOPOFF 3 exercises role confusion was a main concern. Role confusion was experienced between federal agency employees as well as between similar positions in federal and state level agencies. (Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005).
However, role confusion is a problem that is not unique to these exercises. In fact, Waugh mentioned that “jurisdiction ambiguities” and “overlapping responsibilities” (Waugh, 2000, pg. 55) were major obstacles for emergency planners.
Role confusion problems have developed out of the hap hazard, ad hoc, manner in which the United States’ emergency management program originally developed.
Starting in the late 19th century when the federal government first stepped in to help with a fire disaster to the development of FEMA in the 1970s (Waugh, 2000, 26-30), the U.S. has created, combined, transferred and eliminated emergency planning and management agencies left and right.
As a result of all of the transfers of power from one agency to another, numerous overlaps, gaps and ambiguous rules about who has authority during an emergency have developed.
One example presented by the TOPOFF 3 Case Study that demonstrated role confusion involved the responsibilities of the PFO, the Principal Federal Official and the FCO, the Federal Coordinating Officer.
(Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005, pg. 12). It wasn’t clear to participants in this exercise what the PFO and FCO were each supposed to do, and because of this these two emergency management players performed jobs that were not actually assigned to their positions.
Several solutions have been proposed to deal with the issues raised by role confusion in inter-government emergency management situations. The first recommendation was to increase training in NRP and NIMS protocols at all government levels.
(Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005, pg. 15). The second recommendation made by this Case Study was to implement NRP and NIMS protocols as the primary emergency response model at all government levels. These two strategies should regulate action protocols, chains of authority and most importantly role assignments.
NRP and NIMS
Another serious problem that the TOPOFF 3 exercise experienced was that a lot of the participants didn’t understand the NRP and NIMS protocols. (Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005, pg. 11).
This led to several issues including role confusion, coordination troubles and chain of command irregularities. (pg. 12). These issues developed when participants who were not familiar with NRP and NIMS protocols reverted to using other emergency protocols in their place, like the Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan and the Federal Response Plan. (pg. 14).
An example of the confusion caused by the simple lack of familiarity with NRP and NIMS protocols occurred when a PFO used members from his own staff to create a PFO support cell.
(Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005). As a result of this breach in NRP protocol, the ad hoc support cell falsely assumed that the PFO had the authority to create such a support cell with staff members that had not been properly trained, and this breach also shifted the focus of the tasks performed by the PFO support cell from “an emergency focus to an agency focus.” (2005, pg. 13).
As Waugh points out in Living With Hazards Dealing With Disasters: An Introduction to Emergency Management, states are responsible for the coordination of local, state and federal efforts during disasters and emergencies that exceed local and state means. (2005, pg. 42).
This means that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that everyone in their state is using the same emergency response protocols and that emergency management specialists in each county have the proper training.
Had this been the case prior to the TOPOFF 3 exercise, a lot of the confusion could have been avoided.
As of May 2005 FEMA became the agency responsible for managing NRP. (Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005, pg. 16). This should help to streamline the protocols and increase the access states have to NRP training materials and review information.
By centralizing the management, maintenance and evaluation of NRP protocols, there will be no excuses for non-compliance by local and state government agencies.
The third problem that was experienced during the TOPOFF 3 exercise was the ineffective coordination of the efforts of the private sector and the DoD with the efforts of state and local governments.
This exercise also illustrated problems coordinating the efforts of state and federal responses. (Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005, pg. 21).
Some of the coordination problems developed because of a lack of experience responding to terrorism by the private sector, while others developed because the federal support agencies were not listening to what the state’s were asking for. Instead federal agencies were providing the state with items and support that was not requested, while ignoring their actual support requests. (2005).
In order to better coordinate the efforts of the private sector, local elected officials need to step up to create training and education opportunities for them.
(Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005, pg. 22). These local elected officials, after all, are the ones who will be held accountable for the success or failure of the emergency response in their jurisdiction.
(Waugh, 2000, pg. 42). On the other hand, the state government is who is held responsible for figuring out a way to integrate the Department of Defense into their current terrorism response plan, as well as their general emergency management plan. (2000).
To solve the coordination and integration problems identified by this exercise, information sharing protocols will need to be created. (Office of Inspections and Special Reviews, 2005, pg. 22).
State officials will also need to take an objective look at modifying state laws to help facilitate the use of DoD resources during a terrorism attack, during an emergency or during a disaster.
Currently, many state laws require state resources to be exhausted before calling in the military. (2005). Since it is planned to have the DoD to be a regular player in state organized responses to terrorism and emergencies, these laws will obviously need to be updated, as will the protocols for when and how the DoD resources can be tapped.
Most of the issues raised by the TOPOFF 3 Case Study are common complaints raised by emergency management specialists. First of all, fragmented chains of command, overlapping roles and ambiguous rules for inter-agency and inter-government interactions during an emergency impair the success of an emergency response plan.
To address this issue many emergency planning efforts and protocols have been centralized to help reduce confusion during an emergency. However, the current efforts are still not sufficient enough to straighten out the role confusion and overlap of jobs in the national emergency management network.
A total revamp of local, state and federal emergency management positions needs to be completed in order to straighten out the mess that has been compiling for over a century.
The second issue raised by the TOPOFF 3 Case Study was more of an education problem than an implementation problem. Many of the players involved in the TOPOFF 3 exercises simply were not familiar with the protocols for NRP and NIMS. As a result, job jurisdictions and confusion ensued. Fortunately this is a fairly simple issue to address.
Local, state and federal government emergency management specialists need to familiarize themselves with NRP and NIMS and these protocols need to be implemented as the primary protocols used for emergency responses.
The final issue raised by the TOPOFF 3 Case Study was a coordination and integration issue. During the exercises the public sector players and the DoD players found it difficult to gage what role they should play.
This confusion was not caused by policy or protocol failures, but simply by a lack of experience. The private sector and the DoD simply have not traditionally been included in emergency planning for terrorism responses on a local level.
To correct this problem new roles or protocols need to be implemented into local level emergency management plans so that communities can take advantage of the resources and support that these two players can offer.