Those living in Washington DC on the morning of September 11, 2001, had a rapid education of local and national responses to emergencies. NRF and NIMS became part of the daily vernacular. They quickly learned who did what, and when they could do it. The Pentagon lies within Arlington County’s jurisdiction. It was the responsibility of the Arington County Fire Department, who were first to the scene, to lead the response to a plane crash and building collapse.
The National Response Framework “NRF” (and its implementation program, NIMS) is managed by FEMA as part of the Department of Homeland Security. Since Democrats keep asking “WHY ISN’T TRUMP DOING MORE?!”, here’s why.
“NRF” = National Response Framework “NIMS” = National Incident Management System “Nitwit” = 90% of the people commenting on Trump’s response to Covid-19.
The NRF is a general framework of guidelines and concepts for how the United States should leverage its maze of overlapping agencies, protocols, and legal jurisdictions. NIMS is the implementation of architecture.
NRF/NIMS is designed to be “all-hazard” – general enough to cover most crises, scalable enough to expand from local to state, regional, or national levels. Given that the US is still a union of sovereign states, the first level of authority is local.
NIMS has five levels of activation: 5 = single incident,managed by 1-2 people 4 = full resources of local jurisdiction 3 = state-level response, multi-agency 2 = regional response, multi-state 1 = national response, full federal involvement. This is called tiered response.
The idea is that because most crises begin local (i.e. terror attack or natural disaster), local resources are the tip of the response spear. Where an event encompasses multiple locales (tornado, for example), municipal/county governments share resources to respond.
When a crisis exceeds local resources, a request is made by the Incident Commander to involve the state. The governor, as chief executive, may declare a state of emergency. This activates Level 3, often followed by 2 and 1 – but in that order.
As each level of activation “switches on”, new agencies arrive on-site and personnel re-sort by crisis management role/specialty (see chart below). The idea is to maintain continuity of operations, account for all stakeholders, and create a unified approach.
This flow of authorizations is what the nitwits miss in their rush to criticize the President.
Unless we want a constitutional/human-rights crisis on our hands (like FDR’s handling of Japanese-Americans in WWII), the feds cannot intervene at scale lacking a governor’s request.
NRF/NIMS is characteristically useful for single-incident disasters or crises.
Compare the incident management professionalism of FEMA and others during Katrina in 2005 (terrible) versus Sandy (improved) in 2012. On a smaller scale, consider the emergency response efforts post-Joplin tornado in 2011.
The US is good at this kind of one-off crisis and is getting better each time, from the National Guard deploying under state orders to FEMA and the US military. Further, the US is known for civilians’ self-drafting into effective disaster relief, like the famed “Cajun Navy”.
Sustained, long-dwelling crises are different stories. That same maze of agencies and protocols that works effectively under shorter time constraints begins to fall apart under decentralized conditions.
The more specialized the response required, the fewer bodies can be thrown at the problem. It’s one thing to have an average man or woman sort through debris, hand out water and supplies, or put on bandaids. It’s another to monitor and treat a viral outbreak.
NRF/NIMS places an enormous burden of individual accountability on each person, from the Incident Commander all the way down to the water-bottle-person. But as the stakes of even a single error grow, the risk of inaction or uncertainty does too.
In addition to the human capital chokepoint, specialized infrastructure is a major limiting factor. The US’s medical sector is simply not built to handle a multi-regional viral outbreak all at once. Nor is NIMS necessarily built to manage this level of coordination.
We’ve seen this before–the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 (swine flu), which infected a reported 59 million Americans, killing more than 12,000. It took President Obama six months to declare the swine flu pandemic to be a public health emergency. Compared to Obama in 2009, the current administration declared a public health emergency for COVID-19 only two weeks after the first reports emerged. But, specific containment and treatment measures still start at the state and local levels.
FEMA and the other agencies under the executive branch cannot just take over the process. The protocols and processes exist for a reason.
And here we are. A nation panicked by a virus it doesn’t understand, nor remembers the much-worse (to date) outbreak of swine flu from just eleven years ago, being egged on by incompetents that thrive when they bash Trump.
But this nonsense about how Trump should be doing more is based on ignorance of our particular laws and emergency management protocols in the US. Trump can either go full authoritarian or follow the process and manage what he can.