New terrorism response plan takes effect

New National Response Plan and closely related National Incident Management System replace a patchwork of existing documents.

A host of U.S. plans for responding to terrorist attacks were officially replaced yesterday by the new National Response Plan.

The new plan and the closely related National Incident Management System, which officials describe as the playbook for implementing the response plan, replace a patchwork of existing documents. They govern federal assistance to state and city emergency agencies and formally assign responsibilities in times of disaster to different federal agencies.

"The NRP provides the seamless integration of crisis and consequence management as mandated by" a 2003 presidential directive on domestic incident response, National Incident Management System Integration Center acting director Gil Jamieson told a House of Representatives subcommittee yesterday afternoon.

The national plan replaces such prior plans as the Federal Response Plan, the U.S. Government Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations and the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan.

Response agencies yesterday wrapped up a two-month transition period during which they could train personnel and bring existing subsidiary plans into line with the new response plan. More than 100,000 people have taken online training courses for the national plan and incident-management system, Jamieson told a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee subcommittee with jurisdiction over emergency management.

With the end of the training and modification period, Homeland Security began the final stage of National Response Plan setup, in which it is expected to assess plan coordination and protocols.

Homeland Security official Corey Gruber briefed the subcommittee on an interim National Preparedness Goal, the result of another post-Sept. 11 directive from President Bush.

The goal is a standard for response capabilities by which agencies at different levels of government can measure their readiness and Washington can prioritize its spending. Among its top priorities are weapons of mass destruction detection and response, sharing of information among agencies, interoperability of communications equipment and hospital surge capacity.

The goal's March 31 release "represents the first major step in transforming the way the nation plans, trains, exercises, allocates resources and develops capabilities to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies," said Gruber, policy initiatives and analysis director in the department's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness.

"The interim goal identifies measurable targets and priorities to guide the nation's planning and provides a systematic, capabilities-based approach for determining how prepared we are, how prepared we need to be and how we should prioritize efforts to close the gap," Gruber said.

Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and senior Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., pressed Gruber on whether disaster scenarios that were considered in defining the response-capability goals were too heavily tilted toward natural disasters. International Fire Chiefs Association representative John Buckman, though, leveled the opposite complaint, expressing concern that planning scenarios had focused too heavily on terrorism.

Gruber said the priorities defined in the goal applied to terrorist attacks as well as to natural disasters.

The plan is scheduled to be finalized on Oct. 1.