Fully adequate isn’t enough

Theresa Montgomery

Homeland. Security. Those two words warm any heart.

Add a few more words.

The Department of Homeland Security. That feels different. As if, maybe, you’re not secure at all.

The DHS just released the results of a review, conducted at President George W. Bush’s request, gauging our national preparedness for catastrophic events.

If nothing happens, we’re fine. That isn’t very comforting.

The Nationwide Plan Review, based on almost 2,800 emergency operation plans and documents from every U.S. state and territory, concluded we’re generally not ready for much out of the ordinary.

In the events of terrorist attacks or natural disasters, we do not have sufficient strategies for large-scale medical care or evacuation. We don’t know what to do with large numbers of people who do manage to evacuate.

The reviewers rated emergency plans as being sufficient, partially sufficient or not sufficient. Of the 10 states whose preparation plans were rated overall as fully adequate, Florida was the only one to receive a top rating in each division of every category.

This was a review of plans as they were documented, not performed. What people would actually do if the plans were carried out was not addressed. In most states, even if everything planned went without a hitch – which is hard to imagine happening in a catastrophe – many emergency operations now planned wouldn’t cut it.

The review board’s initial conclusions express “profound concern” about an overall weakness in evacuation planning.

What has this department been so busy doing that has caused it to so wildly fail its mission?

As secretary of Homeland Security, which includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Chertoff was the face behind the neglect of last year’s Hurricane Katrina victims.

This sprawling monster of a bureaucracy ate $33.8 billion last year, funded in part by cutting lifelines to other vital programs and agencies.

There are five frequently asked questions on the DHS Web site. In the response to the first question, the department makes the only reference to homeland security’s mission on the page, stating the agency’s purpose in a single sentence. The next question addresses how to get a business contract with the department. The rest of the page refers to either employment or volunteering. Apparently more people want to know how to get a slice of the DHS pie than to learn about safety. More dollars than sense here.

The same financial undertow in the department seems to pull at the focus of some in senior management.

An unprecedented number of its top brass are walking out the door from the department straight into well-paying positions in the business sector. Using their privileged knowledge and personal ties, they turn around and sell the services and parts on which our security depends to that same government office.

Not skipping a beat before making the most of their freshly minted opportunities, former top DHS officials exploit loopholes in the laws created to prevent such corporate infiltration.

Having such crucial issues as those involved in homeland security decided by those looking to line their pockets and resumes leaves us dangerously vulnerable.

When our next national tragedy requires more than partially sufficient interventions and none are in place, the price we will pay will be nonrefundable.

Theresa Montgomery is a senior newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].