Four years after terrorist attacks on the United States, about 46% of respondents (representing a cross-section of the country), say their organizations have made little or no improvement in emergency preparedness – according to a nationwide survey covering municipalities, airports and seaports, as well as state homeland security departments. The survey – CODE Red: The State of Emergency Preparedness – was conducted via telephone in June and July (two months BEFORE Katrina struck) with a wide range of public organizations, including municipalities representing 51 of the top 100 metropolitan areas – among them San Antonio, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.
Airport emergency response leaders were most likely to see major improvements in emergency preparedness, while municipal response leaders were least likely. Four times as many emergency response leaders (48%) said they were more worried about a natural disaster like a tornado or hurricane than about a terrorist attack (12%), or more than twice as many than a major catastrophic accident, such as a chemical spill (19%).
The CODE Red Survey, sponsored by engineering and technology design firm Ross & Baruzzini, found that “bureaucracy” was by far the most important barrier to securing federal funds to improve preparedness, with twice as many respondents (48%) listing it as compared to the “lack of expertise in applying for these grants” (23%), which was the second most common barrier. On the other hand, power generation facilities (41%), water supplies (38%), and communications systems (36%) were considered most vulnerable to a natural emergency such as severe storms or earthquakes. Public buildings and parks were considered the most vulnerable to man-made emergencies, including terrorist attacks and chemical spills, according to 38% of the respondents, followed by chemical plants (35%), water supplies (33%), power generation facilities (33%), airports (33%), office towers (30%), ground transportation (29%), hospitals (27%), communications systems (26%), coastal and inland ports (25%), and colleges and universities (17%).
Of the “man-made emergencies,” more than one-fourth (27%) of all emergency response leaders worried most about an explosive device, followed by an electronic attack on computer systems (18%) and chemical attacks affecting air or water supplies (18%). Worry about explosive devices was highest in airports (54%) and seaports (55%).
“The survey indicates that progress has been made in making our country safer, but we’ve got to increase these efforts on a number of fronts,” says Michael Shea, principal at Ross & Baruzzini. “The world has changed since 9/11,” Shea adds, “and, as a result, the need to be prepared has changed as well.”
A key step forward, he says, occurred last November when the U.S. National Response Plan was completed. The plan establishes a single, comprehensive framework for the management of all domestic incidents. “Nevertheless, there are gaps in receiving funding or planning for emergency preparedness,” Shea notes. “We must identify and address them, because these issues will remain with us for years to come. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix.”
Following are some additional key CODE Red Survey findings:
•In assessing emergency preparedness of municipalities, 51% of the first responders in the survey – such as police and fire departments – said major improvements had been made, while 39% of that group said minor improvements were implemented. Another 5% said emergency preparedness was about the same, 1% said improvements were planned but not yet implemented, and 3% said preparedness had actually deteriorated.
•Less than half (47%) of municipal administrators reported major improvements, with 30% seeing minor improvements, 13% seeing no change, 7% saying improvements were planned but not implemented, and 1% saying the situation had deteriorated.
•About 65% of security leaders at seaports reported major improvement, while 35% said only minor improvements have been implemented.
•The state homeland security directors surveyed were somewhat optimistic in their assessment of progress, with 64% saying major improvements have been implemented in their state and 29% saying there had been minor improvements.
•The most important features of these emergency centers are data back-up, as well as redundant emergency power and communications systems, these leaders said.
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