Federal disaster management plan running into criticism

Homeland Security officials defend the document, saying they will address specific concerns after a 30-day review and comment period.

A proposed federal plan to react to such disasters as the Sept. 11, attacks or Hurricane Katrina came under fire Tuesday from emergency response experts who said the proposal needs revision.

The broad-scale attacks on the National Response Framework put together by the Homeland Security Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency came at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Economic Development Subcommittee.

"It is not rocket science and it does not have to be 800 pages long," said Robert Bohlmann of the International Association of Emergency Managers. "The draft NRF that we have reviewed appears to be more like a public relations document rather than a response plan or framework," Bohlmann told the panel.

The draft plan is an outgrowth of legislation approved by Congress last year to deal with the confusing layers of bureaucracy and other problems that arose after the storm.

As an example of his complaint, Bohlmann said, "there is no discussion of the role and responsibility of the FEMA administrator with respect to the president of the United States as Congress clearly delineated."

Similarly, Paul Stockton, senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said a key responsibility of the draft framework is to clarify the role and responsibilities in the federal emergency management structure.

"Unless revised, the framework will create new confusion over roles at the very top of the system, not only within DHS but also amongst the departments that must partner with FEMA and DHS for disaster response, and with state and local leaders whom the federal government will assist," Stockton said.

Economic Development Subcommittee Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said she was "deeply troubled that the critiques of the plan we are receiving go to the congressional mandate in the Post Katrina Act itself."

She suggested the Homeland Security Department "just doesn't get it, or does not want to get it."

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison and Roger Rufe, director of the Office of Operations Coordination for the Homeland Security Department, defended the document. Paulison said the critics had not seen the latest version of the draft, but Norton said it was very close to the one distributed to emergency responders earlier this summer.

Paulison resented the attacks "of a general nature" and said specific concerns will be addressed after a 30-day public review and comment period.

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