WASHINGTON – The Nation's Capital has made progress in developing a plan to cope with emergencies but needs to do a better job of long-range planning and improve how it tracks money for disaster plans,a Senate subcommittee said this week.
The Sept. 11 terrorists attacks showed the region's vulnerability,the senators and regional officials agreed. The metropolitan area is made up of 14 state and local governments,including the District of Columbia and suburbs in Maryland and Virginia,where the Pentagon is.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office provided assistance to develop the National Capital Region Homeland Security Plan that provides long-term guidelines for effective regional coordination for emergency situations.
Sen. George V. Voinovich,R-Ohio,said that,as the home of the federal government,the capital area is a prime target for a terrorist attack but that an all-hazard preparedness and response capability should be developed.
Voinovich said not all such threats are terrorism. For example,in June,record-breaking rains flooded the D.C area,closing streets,some Metro tracks and several federal buildings.
Voinovich chaired the hearing Thursday of the oversight of government management,the federal workforce and the District of Columbia subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The capital region is home to more than 4.5 millions residents and receives nearly 20 million tourists annually.
Each of the 14 independent jurisdiction can act independently – no local or regional government can force them all to act.
The plan has four goals:
٠ Improve collaboration on identifying problems and making plans and decisions.
٠ Better inform residents and visitors about how to prepare for and respond to crises.
٠ Prevent events or lessen their effects through improved training and equipping of those who respond.
٠ Develop plans to recover from an event or attack.
The two members of the subcommittee who attended the hearing pointed out the achievement of the different partners to develop the strategic plan and referred to it as a huge step forward. But they agreed that the plan's goals are hard to measure.
“I believe that any strategic plan must include measurable performance goals,” Voinivich said.
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka,D-Hawaii,said the plan,which calls for completing 12 steps under the four goals by 2008,doesn't go far enough.
“A strategic plan should look beyond two years into the future,” said Akaka,the subcommittee's senior Democrat.
Akaka and Voinovich also highlighted their concerns on the lack of information on federal grants,especially those that go to non-governmental organizations that would be involved in disaster planning and response.
The capital region is eligible for grants to purchase new equipment and for planning,training and exercises to ensure that first responders are prepared for major emergencies.
“Without a central system to track all types of grants,I am concerned that it will make it difficult to prioritize initiatives and lead to duplicative spending,” Voinovich said.
Local officials said they will follow the GAO's recommendation to track funding.
Akaka urged partners of the national region to continue working in a coordinated and cooperative basis,and Voinovich said he is willing to provide any assistance to get the job done.