No confidence in national capital region disaster preparedness


Residents of the national capital region: It's not necessarily your imagination that authorities seem woefully unprepared for disasters, natural or otherwise--or even just a big snow.

Take, for example, the Jan. 26, 2011 snowstorm, during which some commuters sat in traffic for up to 12 hours. There was an organization, the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination Program, monitoring that agonizing slow crawl, but the then-newly formed organization (!) was unable to communicate or coordinate with "the broader community of emergency response stakeholders across the region," the Government Accountability Office notes in a recent report.

"Additionally, once the snowstorm was underway, there was no coordinated message from authorities to the media or the general public to advise area residents," the report adds.

Also, regional officials later said they found existing information-sharing tools to be "underutilized."

And it's not just that snowstorm that demonstrated recent ineptitude. There was the Aug. 23, 2011 earthquake and the summer 2012 derecho storm.

Damningly, the GAO report notes that since fiscal 2003, the national capital region has received more than $560 million through Urban Area Security Initiative grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For all that $560 million, one might think that there would exist ways to send coordinated messages to the public--but perhaps most damningly of all, authorities really can't describe the effectiveness of what that money bought. They lack preparedness metrics. GAO authors acknowledge such metrics are difficult to craft since they might involve costly research--but without some idea of effectiveness, regional officials will never be able to answer the question of how prepared we are. Instead, they'll find evidence of ineptitude trickling in after each major event. - Dave