After a one-year preliminary implementation period, the National Response Plan will definitively replace a host of existing federal emergency plans, assigning responsibility to specific agencies for different types of incidents - the Homeland Security Department's Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate in the case of attacks involving weapons of mass destruction, for example.
The plan also governs federal support during incidents to states, municipalities and businesses.
"This approach is unique and far-reaching in that it, for the first time, eliminates critical seams and ties together a complete spectrum of incident management activities to include the prevention of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from terrorism, major natural disasters and other major emergencies," Ridge wrote in the preface to the plan.
A February 2003 directive by President Bush set in motion development of the plan and of the associated National Incident Management System, which lays out the nuts and bolts of implementing the plan.
The plan is designed to go into effect upon the emergence of specific conditions, including an appeal for help to the Homeland Security Department by another federal agency, a request by a state or city for federal help in managing a large disaster, a terrorist threat to a major gathering or an order by the president.
German Township, Ind., Fire Chief John Buckman, who served on a council of state and local officials that advised Homeland Security on the national plan, said it "is a unifying document" that "will bring all of the players together before the event."
"It is a new day in this country, and the NRP brings a fresh approach to assisting state, tribal and local agencies [to] respond to the threats against our society," Buckman said Thursday in an e-mail message.