Disaster response exercises need comprehensive lessons learned evaluation
| 11.30.2006 | 05:55:17 | Views: 2796 | ID:
November 30 '06: When it comes to homeland preparedness and first response, recovery operations and exercises are only as valuable as the lessons learned from them, GovExec.com was told recently by industry experts and government officials. Part of the dilemma facing emergency response lies in understanding the complexity of large-scale disasters experts said.
According to homeland preparedness and first response experts, "Simply holding [emergency preparedness exercises] is not sufficient; the exercises must be evaluated to ensure they are testing the system enough to expose vulnerabilities and problems that must be repaired."Highlighted in the article, GovExec found that federal efforts to standardize national lessons-learned gleaned from the TOPOFF exercises have been difficult. Part of the reason is that though large-scale regional and state emergency exercises combine multiple levels of emergency response, those exercises are expensive and many times do equate to substantial change in the response mechanism. One example given was Hurricane Pam - a fictitious storm that hit that Gulf Coast a year before Hurricane Katrina. During the exercise, 120 mph winds and high flood waters were supposed to buffet the coast and the aftermath was designed to train federal, state and local officials in the possible impacts of a large-scale disaster. However, the lessons learned proved to be inadequate to help confront a disaster such as Katrina. Experts say a good step forward will be to include "Rigorous and independent evaluation ... to ensure that exercises provide an accurate portrait of response capabilities and deficiencies." Carl Osaki, a disaster-scenario designer and clinical associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington told GovExec, "All these exercises don't mean anything unless there is some type of after-action report, [but] some people in some agencies see the exercise as then end in itself rather than a means to an end." However, DHS has begun to take lessons learned and put them into use. A Lessons Learned Information Sharing Web site and the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program suggest that a federal initiative is underway.
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