The National Response Framework: Overview and Possible Issues for Congress
The National Response Framework:
Overview and Possible Issues for Congress
November 20, 2008
Bruce R. Lindsay
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy
Government and Finance Division
The National Response Framework:
Overview and Possible Issues for Congress
In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress and the
President moved to consolidate numerous federal emergency plans into a single,
unified national response plan. The end product of these efforts was the National
Response Plan (NRP), which established broad lines of authority for agencies
responding to emergencies and major disasters.
Perceived problems with the implementation of the NRP during Hurricane
Katrina led Congress to enact the Post-Katrina Management Reform Act (P.L. 109-
295) to integrate preparedness and response authorities. The legislation directed
DHS to issue a successor plan to the NRP entitled the National Response Framework
(NRF). Implemented in March 2008, the NRF establishes a new approach to
coordinating federal and nonfederal resources and entities. The Department of
Homeland Security maintains that the NRF is an improvement over the NRP. Some,
however, assert that the NRF is not an improvement because it does not fully address
the problems and challenges associated with the NRP.
In the 110th Congress, Members of Congress focused, in part, on policy options
that addressed issues concerning the NRF as well as attempts to coordinate federal,
state, and local preparedness and response efforts more fully. Some examples of
federal laws enacted in the 110th Congress that have affected the NRF include
Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53),
and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (P.L. 110-181).
Some selected pending legislation introduced in the 110th Congress that may
affect the NRF includes H.R. 1333, H.R. 2830, H.R. 3237, H.R. 6147, S. 4, S. 1427,
S. 2214, S. 3260, and S. 2445.
This report discusses how national response planning documents have evolved
over time and describes the authorities that shape the NRF. Several issue areas that
might be examined for potential lawmaking and oversight concerning the NRF are
This report will be updated as significant legislative or administrative changes
Authorities Establishing and Influencing the NRF....................2
Overview of the NRF...........................................4
Components of the NRF Document............................4
Reasons for Replacing the NRP...............................6
Reports on Progress Made Since Hurricane Katrina...............8
Potential Issues for Congress.....................................8
Lack of Operational Plans and Annex Updates...................8
Integrating Nonfederal Stakeholders in National Planning..........9
Children and Disasters.....................................10
The NRF as a Living Document.............................12
Reporting Requirements and Metrics.........................12
Emphasis on Terrorism....................................12
Selected Enacted and Pending Legislation in the 110th Congress........13
Selected Enacted Legislation................................14
Appendix. Annexes to the National Response Framework.................16
List of Tables
Table 1. List of ESF Annexes.......................................16
Table 2. Lists of Incident and Support Annexes.........................17
The National Response Framework:
Overview and Possible Issues for Congress
In recent years, Congress and the President have devoted considerable attention
to how the nation can best prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural
and human-caused disasters. Events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001, and Hurricane Katrina of August 2005, have prompted Congress and the
President to require the development of a plan for how government at all levels, and
also the nongovernmental sector, should respond to all types of emergencies and
disasters. Pursuant to statutory requirements and presidential directives, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency located within the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS), issued such a plan in March 2008 with publication of
the National Response Framework (NRF).1
The NRF is the end product of a long history. Prior to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, the structure for responding to emergencies and disasters
resided in at least 5 separate plans.2 With the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L.
107-296) and Sections 15 and 16 of the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5
(hereafter HSPD-5), Congress and the President directed DHS to consolidate these
plans into a single, integrated, and coordinated national response plan, and to develop
a national incident management system (NIMS).3 These efforts culminated in the
initial National Response Plan (NRP) on October 10, 2003, followed by the release
of NIMS on March 1, 2004.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, followed shortly by
Hurricanes Rita and Wilma. A number of studies on the responses to these
hurricanes found shortcomings in the NRP itself and its implementation.4 DHS made
1 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency,
National Response Framework (Washington: January 2008),
[ h t t p : / / www.f e ma .gov/ pdf / e me r gency/ n r f / nr f -cor e .pdf ] .
2 These were the Federal Response Plan (which provided an overall plan for federal
response since 1992), Conplan, Radiological Plan, National Contingency Plan, and Distant
Shores. For background see also CRS Report RS21697, Overview of Components of the
National Response Plan and Selected Issues, by Elizabeth Bazan, Keith Bea, William
Krouse, Mark Holt, Mark Reisch, and Karma Ester, available from CRS.
3 NIMS is a preparedness and response model that uses standardized terminology,
communication systems, and organizational structures for a unified response. NIMS was
created to integrate effective practices in emergency preparedness and response into a
national framework for incident management.
4 These include U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental
the decision to revise the NRP partially based on these reports. The revision of the
NRP was also due to mandates in the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform
Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-295, hereafter the Post-Katrina Act). In January 2008, DHS
issued the NRF, which took effect in March 2008. Since that time, the NRF has been
the nation’s core response document, providing a structure for the response to such
disasters as the 2008 Midwest floods and California wildfires, as well as Hurricanes
Gustav and Ike.
This report reviews selected statutory provisions related to the NRF and
provides an overview of the document. It discusses some of the reasons the Bush
Administration revised the NRP, as well as some controversial aspects of the review
process. The report also summarizes selected pending legislation concerning
national response planning and concludes with a discussion of issues over which
Congress might consider exercising oversight.
Authorities Establishing and Influencing the NRF
Authority for the creation of the NRF emanates from numerous sources. FEMA
has described the NRF as being guided by 15 “principal emergency authorities,” 48
other statutory authorities and regulations, 17 executive orders, and 20 presidential
directives.5 This report does not offer an exhaustive overview of these authorities.
Rather, this section discusses some of the major authorities establishing the NRF,
legislation that shaped the NRF’s development, and legislation tied to congressional
Pre-Hurricane Katrina. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and
Emergency Assistance Act (hereafter the Stafford Act) establishes the programs and
processes by which the federal government provides emergency and major disaster
assistance to states and localities, individuals, and qualified private nonprofit6
organizations. Section 611 of the Stafford Act authorizes the Director of FEMA to
prepare federal response plans and programs and to coordinate these plans with state7
efforts. Consistent with this authorization, FEMA released the Federal Response
Plan in April 1992. The primary purpose of the Federal Response Plan was to
Affairs, Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., S.Rept. 109-
322 (Washington: GPO, 2006); U.S. Congress, House Select Bipartisan Committee to
Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, A Failure of Initiative:
Final Report of the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation forthnd
and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 109 Cong., 2 sess., H.Rept. 109-377 (Washington:
GPO, 2006), and the White House Homeland Security Council, The Federal Response to
Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned (Washington: February 23, 2006).
5 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency,
National Response Framework: List of Authorities and References, January 2008, pp. 1-16,
6 Section 612(c) of the Post-Katrina Act renamed the position of Director to Administrator.
7 42 U.S.C. 5196(b).
maximize the availability of federal resources to support response and recovery
efforts taken by state and local emergency officials.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, Congress passed the Homeland
Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296). Subsection 502(6) required the consolidation
of “existing federal government emergency response plans into a single, coordinated
national response plan.”8 The Homeland Security Act also created DHS,
consolidating over 20 agencies, including FEMA, into a single department. Under
DHS, FEMA retained both its authority to administer the provisions of the Stafford
Act and its designation as the lead agency for the nation’s response plan.
On February 28, 2003, President Bush issued HSPD-5. Section 16 of HSPD-5
directed the Secretary to develop and submit for review to the Homeland Security
Council a national response plan. Section 16 also mandated that the plan use an “all-
discipline” and “all-hazards” approach in preparing for, responding to, and
recovering from domestic incidents.9 In December 2004, through the primary
guidance and authorization of the Stafford Act, the Homeland Security Act, and
HSPD-5, DHS issued a successor to the Federal Response Plan, which was entitled
the National Response Plan (NRP).10
Post-Hurricane Katrina. The NRP was in place and implemented for the
Hurricane Katrina response in August 2005. The problems that arose from Hurricane
Katrina prompted numerous studies. Some of these studies attributed the poor
response, in part, to the implementation of the NRP. Concerned by perceived
deficiencies in the NRP, Congress sought a remedy through legislation in the Post-
Katrina Act. The Post-Katrina Act provides the most comprehensive legislation
concerning the NRP (or any subsequent plans) by mandating numerous adjustments
to the NRP as well as mechanisms for oversight. Section 642 amended the Stafford
Act and the Homeland Security Act to mandate that the President develop a national
preparedness system.11 Section 643 further establishes that the President shall,
through the Administrator of FEMA “complete, revise, and update, as necessary, a
national preparedness goal... to ensure the Nation’s ability to prevent, respond to,
recover from, and mitigate against natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-
made disasters.”12 It further states that the national preparedness goal, to the extent
possible, should be consistent with NIMS and the NRP.
Section 649(b) of the Post-Katrina Act requires that the national preparedness
goal, NIMS, and the NRP be subjected to clear and quantifiable performance
8 6 U.S.C. 312.
9 U.S. President (G.W. Bush) Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5, sect. 16.
10 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Response Plan (Washington: December
11 6 U.S.C. 742, 120 Stat. 1425.
12 6 U.S.C. 743, 120 Stat. 1425.
measures to ensure they are continuously revised and updated.13 Section 652 of the
act establishes annual reporting requirements concerning preparedness capabilities.14
Section 652(c) requires the reporting of state compliance with the NRP.15 Finally,
Section 653 requires the president to ensure that federal agencies assigned with
responsibilities in the NRP have the capability to meet the national preparedness
goal, and develop plans to “respond effectively to natural disasters, acts of terrorism,
and other man-made disasters in support of the National Response Plan to ensure a
coordinated federal response.”16
In response to the Post-Katrina legislation and perceived problems with the
implementation of the NRP, DHS revised the plan and issued the NRF. The
following section describes the various components of the document.
Overview of the NRF
General Approach. The NRF is part of a national strategy for homeland
security. It provides the doctrine and guiding principles for a unified response from
all levels of government, and all sectors of communities, to all types of hazards
regardless of their origin.17 Although the primary focus of the NRF is on response
and short-term recovery, the document also defines the roles and responsibilities of
the various actors involved in all phases of emergency management.18
The NRF is not an operational plan that dictates a step-by-step process for
responding to hazards. Rather, the NRF appears to be an attempt to build flexibility
into response efforts by setting up a framework that DHS believes is necessary for
responding to hazards. Within this framework, the NRF gives users a degree of
discretion as to how they choose to respond to the incident.
Components of the NRF Document. The NRF is organized into five parts.
The introductory chapter presents an overview of the entire document and explains
the evolution of the NRF, and identifies the various actors involved in emergency and
disaster response. The chapter also discusses the concepts undergirding emergency
13 6 U.S.C. 749, 120 Stat. 1428.
14 6 U.S.C. 749, 120 Stat. 1429.
15 6 U.S.C. 752, 120 Stat. 1430.
16 6 U.S.C. 753. Sec. 653(a)(4), 120 Stat. 1431.
17 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “National Response Framework Released,” press
release, January 22, 2008, [http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1201030569827.shtm].
18 These phases are mitigation, prevention, response, and recovery.
preparedness and response by providing a list of what DHS describes as the “five key
principles” of response doctrine.19
The first chapter of the NRF, entitled “Roles and Responsibilities,” provides an
overview of the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments, the
nonprofit and private sectors, and individuals and households. The first chapter also
discusses the roles and responsibilities of those who hold various positions within
The second chapter, entitled “Response Actions,” describes and outlines key
tasks as they pertain to what DHS calls the “three phases of effective response.”
These phases include “prepare,” “respond,” and “recover.” Preparing includes
planning, organizing, equipping, training, exercising, and conducting evaluations.
Activities related to responding include gaining and maintaining situational
awareness,20 activating and deploying resources and capabilities, coordinating
response actions, and demobilizing. “Recover” activities are broken down into two
broad categories. These are short-term and long-term recovery.
The third chapter of the NRF, entitled “Response Organization,” discusses the
organizational structure and staffing used to implement response actions, all of
which are based on NIMS and ICS.21 The NRF describes the organization and
staffing structure of every entity responsible for preparedness and response in detail.
19 These are:
(1) Engaged Partnership: the NRF advocates for open lines of communication
among various emergency management entities and for support partnerships
during preparedness activities so that when incidents take place, these various
entities are able to work together.
(2) Tiered Response: responses to incidents begin at the local level. When local
capacity is overwhelmed, state authorities assist the locality. Likewise, should
the state be overwhelmed, assistance from the federal government is requested.
(3) Scalable, Flexible, and Adaptable Operational Capabilities: as incidents
change in size, scope, and complexity, there needs to be a corresponding change
in the response apparatus.
(4) Unity of Effort Through Unified Command: a clear understanding of the
roles and responsibilities of each entity is necessary for effective response.
Moreover, effective response requires a unit of effort within the emergency
management chain of command.
(5) Readiness to Act: all emergency management agencies, to the extent
possible should anticipate incidents and make preparations to respond swiftly to
20 “Situational awareness” refers to monitoring information regarding actual and developing
21 ICS establishes a management system that helps agencies responding to an incident work
together in a coordinated and systematic approach.
The fourth chapter, entitled “Planning,” describes the process of planning as it
pertains to national preparedness and summarizes planning structures relative to the
NRF. The chapter describes the criteria for successful planning and offers example
scenarios for planning.
The fifth and final chapter of the NRF, entitled “Additional Resources,”
describes the 15 Emergency Support Function (ESF) Annexes to the NRF, eight
Support Annexes, and seven Incident Annexes.22 These annexes are listed in Tables
1 and 2 of this report. The final chapter also explains that the NRF and its annexes
are posted online through the NRF Resource Center, which allows for ongoing
revisions to the document.23
Reasons for Replacing the NRP. As mentioned earlier in the report,
several studies attributed the problematic response to Hurricane Katrina partly to the
implementation of the NRP. Although the NRP was used for smaller emergencies
and disasters prior to Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane marked the first time the NRP
was used for a catastrophic incident. The section that follows discusses how some
of the changes in the NRF have addressed these criticisms.
Difficulty in Understanding the NRP. The NRP was widely criticized as
complicated and overly bureaucratic. Some said it was long and weighed down with
technical language. Additionally, users of the NRP reported that the document failed
to clarify roles and responsibilities and that the federal chain of command was24
confusing. It was further pointed out that the name “National Response Plan” was
a misnomer (and hence misleading) because it was not a true operational plan in the
sense that it did not provide a step-by-step process for responding to an incident.
The NRF uses less technical language than the NRP, and attempts to make the
roles and responsibilities more transparent. The NRF is also shorter. Whereas the
NRP contained over 400 pages, the NRF is roughly 80 pages. Still, some have
contested the clarity of the NRF. This will be discussed in greater detail later in the
National Versus Federal Focus. Despite efforts to make the NRP a
nationwide response plan, the NRP was widely seen as not sufficiently national in its
focus because it emphasized federal preparedness and response. Some have further
22 ESFs provide the structure for coordinating federal interagency support for responses
involving multiple federal agencies. Support Annexes describe how federal, state, tribal, and
local entities, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector,
coordinate and execute the common functional processes and administrative requirements
for incident management. Incident Annexes are specific hazard scenarios that require
specialized and specific response efforts.
23 NRF Resource Center, [http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nrf/#].
24 Thomas Birkland and Sarah Waterman “Is Federalism the Reason for Policy Failure
in Hurricane Katrina?,” Publius, vol. 38, no. 4 (Fall, 2008), p. 706.
argued that the process of creating the plan excluded nonfederal stakeholders, such
as states and localities.25
According to DHS, the NRF more clearly articulates the roles and
responsibilities of nonfederal entities.26 Additionally, when drafting the NRF, DHS
held outreach sessions to solicit the feedback of nonfederal partners.27 The extent of
nonfederal participation in the creation of the NRF has been questioned and is
discussed later in this report.
Confusion Concerning the FCO and the PFO. One frequent criticism
of the NRP was the ambiguity surrounding the relationship and role of the Federal
Coordinating Officer (FCO) and the Principle Federal Officer (PFO).
The FCO determines the types of relief most urgently needed, establishes field28
offices, and coordinates relief efforts. The FCO position is authorized by the
Stafford Act. Immediately upon declaring a major disaster, Section 302(a) of the29
Stafford Act requires the President to appoint an FCO.
The PFO, on the other hand, is not a legislatively authorized position. Rather,
the PFO position was created by DHS in the NRP. The PFO is designated by the
Secretary of DHS and represents the Secretary as the leading federal official and
serves as the primary point of contact for state and local officials. In Hurricane
Katrina, Michael Brown, who was serving as the Director of FEMA, was additionally
designated as the PFO. William Lokey served as the FCO for Louisiana. To some
observers (such as the Inspector general for DHS), these roles created a great deal of
confusion during Hurricane Katrina, because it appeared that two people were in30
charge of the relief operations.
Congress focused on the confusion involving the PFO in the Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-181). Section 526 of the act states that “none of
the funds provided by this or previous appropriations Acts shall be used to fund any
position designated as a Principal Federal Official for any Robert T. Stafford Disaster
Relief and Emergency Assistance Act declared disasters or emergencies.”
25 Based on a discussion with James Kish, Senior Director, Exercises and Evaluations, DHS
26 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Response Framework (Washington:
January 2008), p. 2.
27 Mickey McCarter, “FEMA Deputy Director Lauds National Response Framework,”
Homeland Security Today, September 30, 2007,
28 U.S. Congress, Senate, Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared, special report of
the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 109th Cong., 2nd sess.
(Washington: 2006), pp. 552-553.
29 42 U.S.C. 5143.
30 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, FEMA’s
Preparedness for the Next Catastrophic Disaster, OIG/OIG-08-34, March 2008, p. 15,
[http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/ assets /mgmtrpts/OIG_08-34_Mar08.pdf].
To date, the PFO and FCO arrangement remains in the NRF. However, FEMA
has pointed out that since the implementation of the NRF, the PFO position has not
been used. Some have indicated that the position may be in the process of being
phased out.31 However, DHS Secretary Chertoff designated PFOs before the start of
the 2008 hurricane season. The move was viewed as controversial by some. House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar reportedly
focused on the fact that Congress had effectively eliminated the position, and that
designating PFOs violated the Consolidated Appropriations Act.32 As previously
pointed out, the PFO position has not been used since the NRF was implemented.
Reports on Progress Made Since Hurricane Katrina. Several
emergencies and disasters have taken place since implementation of the NRF. In
general, responses to the NRF have been mixed. Some have indicated that its
implementation has been successful.33 One observer stated that coordination among
federal, state, and local governments has improved.34 In the case of Hurricanes
Gustav and Ike, officials in Texas related that the federal response to the hurricanes
was good.35 Other officials have been ambivalent regarding the NRF’s
implementation, noting that the scale of recent disasters has not warranted enough
federal involvement to understand how well the NRF works.36
A review of various reports may hint at some problems, however. For instance,
during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, state officials in Texas said it was the local
government’s responsibility to set up distribution points for supplies. However, the
local government claimed it was unaware of this responsibility.37 Such confusion
may indicate that the NRF still does not clearly articulate the roles and
responsibilities of state and local governments during emergencies and disasters.
Other, more serious criticisms of the NRF have surfaced since its
implementation. The following section discusses these in greater depth and
highlights issues Congress might examine or policy options it might consider.
31 Based on a discussion with Glenn Cannon, Assistant Administrator, DHS/FEMA, August
32 Mickey McCarter, “Lawmakers, Experts Rebuke Disaster Response ‘Chokepoint’,” HS
Today, June 18, 2008, [http://www.hstoday.us/content/view/3859/149/].
33 For example see, Daniel Fowler, “Effective Response to Gustav — Courting
Complacency or Heralding a Habit?” CQ Press, September 3, 2008,
34 Daniel Fowler, “Who’s in Charge Still a Disaster-Response Question Mark,” CQ
Homeland Security, September 22, 2008.
35 Daniel Fowler, “Federal Response to Recent Hurricanes Termed ‘So Far, So Good’,” CQ
Homeland Security, September 23, 2008.
36 Based on telephone conversations with emergency managers in Maine, New Mexico,
Oregon, and North Dakota.
37 Daniel Fowler, “Who’s in Charge Still a Disaster-Response Question Mark,” CQ Press,
September 22, 2008.
Potential Issues for Congress
Lack of Operational Plans and Annex Updates. There has been some
concern over a lack of comprehensive, operational plans in the NRF. Homeland
Security Presidential Directive 8 (hereafter HSPD-8) Annex 1, issued in December
of 2003 by President George W. Bush, requires DHS to establish a standardized
federal planning process that integrates plans among all levels of government. To
date, this standardized planning process has not been released. The absence of a
standardized planning process was discussed in Government Accountability Office38
(GAO) tesitmony on preparedness for catastrophic disasters. In the testimony,
GAO pointed out that two supplements to the NRF are not completed. These are
Federal Partner Response Guides and the Integrated Planning System. The partner
guides are intended to provide a ready reference of key roles and actions for federal,
state, and local governments, as well as nongovernmental and private-sector response
partners. The planning system is intended to assist all levels of government in39
working together collaboratively to create plans for various types of incidents.
A similar concern over a lack of operational plans was voiced by Representative
Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. In a
letter to the Secretary of DHS, Representative Thompson expressed concern that the
Incident Annexes lack operational plans that detail how the federal government will40
respond to natural and human-caused disasters. The Catastrophic Incident, Cyber
Incident, and Terrorism Incident Law Enforcement and Investigation Annexes have41
yet to be updated. Some would argue that using these annexes, which were
developed for the NRP, may create problems if they are invoked under the NRF. For
example, the Catastrophic Incident Annex discusses how a catastrophic event may
be designated as an Incident of National Significance (INS). An INS was intended
as a triggering mechanism for certain types of response strategies. However, the INS
term has been eliminated from the NRF’s lexicon.
Some could argue that a lack of operational plans in the NRF may warrant
congressional oversight. Should DHS fail to release the Federal Partner Response
Guides, and the Integrated Planning System, or update the remaining Incident
Annexes in a timely fashion, Congress might elect to consider the matter.
Integrating Nonfederal Stakeholders in National Planning. A
criticism of the NRP was that input from nonfederal stakeholders, such as state and
local governments, nonprofit groups, and the private sector, was poorly integrated
38 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Observations on DHS’s Preparedness for
Catastrophic Disasters, GAO/GAO-08-868T, June 11, 2008.
39 Ibid., pp. 11-12.
40 Letter from Rep. Bennie Thompson, Chairman, U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Homeland Security, to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of U.S. Department of
Homeland Security, October 9, 2008.
41 The Catastrophic Incident Annex was not updated when this report was released. Since
then, a new Catastrophic Incident Annex has been issued. This report will be updated at a
later date to reflect this change.
into the document. Congress addressed this issue in Section 653 of the Post-Katrina
Act, where Congress required DHS and FEMA to develop operational plans with
state, local, and tribal government officials.42 According to a GAO report, DHS
initially included nonfederal stakeholder input in the creation of the NRF, but later
“deviated” from the process.43 Rather than disseminating the first draft of the NRF
to stakeholders, DHS conducted an internal review of the document. GAO found
that the issuance of a later draft to nonfederal stakeholders was delayed, reducing the
amount of time for the stakeholders to respond with comments on the draft.
Additionally, GAO reported that DHS failed to establish FEMA’s National Advisory
Council (NAC) by the December 2006 deadline that was set forth in Section 508 of
the Post-Katrina Act. According to the act, the NAC is responsible for incorporating
the input of state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector in the
development and revision of the NRF.44
The importance of meeting the congressional mandate has been addressed by
one analyst. Donald Kettl, a public policy professor at the University of
Pennsylvania, has emphasized the importance of including local officials in the
planning process. According to Kettl, “no amount of national planning can side-step
the fact that ... the first indicator that something bad is happening is a report from the
In consideration of these conclusions, some may argue that failing to integrate
feedback from local emergency officials could (1) omit hazards that are known at the
local level but not recognized by federal officials, (2) miss an opportunity to integrate
the lessons learned from local responders who have first-hand experience with
emergencies and disasters, and (3) fail to establish “buy-in” to the plan at the state
and local level thereby creating a possible reluctance to execute the plan faithfully.
If the issue of nonfederal stakeholder input were of concern to Congress, it might
move to conduct oversight on the extent to which DHS and FEMA are utilizing the
NAC and incorporating nonfederal stakeholders in all aspects of national emergency
planning and revision.
Children and Disasters. In testimony before the House Homeland Security
Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology, one emergency
42 42 U.S.C. 753.
43 U.S. Government Accountability Office, National Response Framework: FEMA needs
Policies and Procedures to Better Integrate Non-Federal Stakeholders in the Revision
Process, GAO-08-768, June 2008, p. 9.
44 Richard Skinner, the Inspector General for DHS, made the same assertion, stating that
FEMA’s NAC was not established in time to have meaningful input into the development
of the NRF. See Testimony of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland
Security, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental
Affairs, The New FEMA: Is the Agency Better Prepared for a Catastrophe Now Than It Wasthnd
in 2005?, 110 Cong., 2 sess., April 03, 2008,
45 Donald F. Kettl, “Katrina Plus Three,” Governing.com, August 2008.
[ ht t p: / / www.gove r ni ng.com/ ar t i c l e s/ 0808pot omac.ht m] .
professional46 pointed out that there is a gap in the level of emergency readiness
between adult and pediatric care.47 He noted that children are more vulnerable to
hazardous materials than adults, have unique treatment needs, and require care from
providers who have been specifically trained to meet these needs. The witness
stated, however, that federal, state, and local efforts in disaster planning have
generally overlooked the unique needs of children.
Separately, Mark Shriver, Vice President and Managing Director of Save the
Children’s U.S. Programs, has stated that children are vulnerable during emergencies
and evacuations. According to Shriver, the needs of children are commonly
overlooked before, during, and after a disaster. Shelters, for example, often have
unsanitary conditions, and many communities lack sufficient stockpiles of diapers,
formula, pediatric medications, and child-size respirators.48
In various legislative provisions, Congress has focused on the needs of children
during disasters. For example, the Post-Katrina Act contains a provision to reunite
children with their families by establishing, within the National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children, a new National Emergency Child Locator Center.49 Congress
addressed the subject again in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008. Division
G, Section 603 of the act establishes the National Commission on Children and
Disasters. The purpose of the Commission is to conduct a comprehensive study to
examine and assess the needs of children during disasters and submit a report to the
President and Congress.50
Under the NRF, the needs of children are addressed in ESF #6 and #13.51 The
support of children’s needs in ESF #6 is delegated to several nonprofit organizations,
including Catholic Charities, Feed the Children, Save the Children, and the United
Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). One of the functions of ESF #13 is to
protect children. Under the annex, the National Center for Missing and Exploited
46 Steven Krug is the Head of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Children’s
Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Northwestern
University Feinberg School of Medicine.
47 Testimony of Steven Krug, U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee
on Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology, Emergency Care Crisis: A Nation
Unprepared for Public Health Disasters, July 26, 2006,
[ ht t p: / / www.aap.or g/ sect i ons/ pem/ e r _r eadi ness_t e st i monyf i nal .pdf ] .
48 Save the Children, Keeping Texas Children Safe from Hurricane Ike, September 11, 2008,
[http://www.savethechildren.org/newsroom/2008/texas-hurricane-ike.html]. See also
Editorial, “What About the Children? A National Commission Starts Work to Make Sure
the Young Aren’t Forgotten During Disasters,” Washington Post, October 14, 2008, A16.
[ h t t p : / / www.washi n gt onpost . com/ wp-d yn / c ont ent / a r t i c l e / 2008/ 10/ 13/ A R 2008101302279
49 Sec. 689(b)(1).
50 P.L. 110-161, Sec. 604(1)(2)(3).
51 ESF #6 is the Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services Annex
and ESF #13 is the Public Safety and Security Annex.
Children (NCMEC), a private sector organization, is responsible for preventing child
abduction and sexual exploitation, and helping locate missing children.
Congress might consider how well the issue of child protection in disasters is
addressed in the NRF’s annexes. Several observations about the NRF’s current
coverage include the following. First, there are no primary agencies designated as
responsible for addressing children’s needs. Only supporting agencies have this
designation. Second, some may argue that the annexes are flawed because the Public
Health and Medical Services Annex (ESF #8) and Search and Rescue Annex (ESF
#9) do not explicitly mention children in their various functions. Third, some may
argue that having multiple annexes focused on the needs of children may create
service gaps, and that when several organizations are assigned with responsibility,
it becomes unclear what agency will take the lead, and what functions these agencies
are carrying out. In addition, they may argue that having multiple organizations
creates unnecessary duplication.
The NRF as a Living Document. Having the NRF available online appears
to have some benefits. Emergencies and disasters are fluid events and having a
document capable of adapting to the needs created by unique emergencies and
disasters would seem to add to the NRF’s flexibility. It also gives users easy access
to the document. However, it is unclear what mechanisms are in place to ensure
users know the document has been changed. Is it possible that a state or locality may
use protocols that have been removed or revised?
The NRF is always in effect, whereas the NRP had to be invoked when an
emergency or disaster struck. According to DHS, this has the benefit of speeding
response time because it eliminates the need to wait for some form of announcement
that the plan is in effect. Some may argue that a plan that is always in effect lacks a
triggering mechanism to alert responders and create situational awareness. Does the
NRF benefit response activities by always being in effect?
Reporting Requirements and Metrics. The Post-Katrina Act requires the
Administrator of FEMA to submit to Congress annual reports that identify the
resources needed to enhance regional offices and undertake planning, training, surge
capacity, and logistics. Reporting must also include information about state
compliance with the NRF and the extent to which the use of federal assistance during
the preceding fiscal year achieved preparedness priorities.52 Additionally, homeland
security grants require broad state compliance with national preparedness policy.
Some may argue that emergency management practices are strengthened when
states and localities adopt federal standards for emergency preparedness and
response. Others may argue that mandating compliance has at least two negative
consequences. First, not all states have the same set of hazards. A one-size-fits-all
approach may not be the best method of addressing hazards, because states and
localities are better positioned to make decisions about how to conduct emergency
52 P.L. 109-295, Sec. 652(a)(2)(A)-(D), 120 Stat. 1429, Sec. 652(c)(2)(A)-(C), 120 Stat.
planning and response.53 Second, requiring compliance and creating standards
increases federal involvement in emergency policy. Again, some may argue this is
beneficial, because it can help save lives and reduce property loss, but others might
argue that the requirements infringe on state sovereignty.
Emphasis on Terrorism. All of the NRF’s Incident Annexes are oriented
toward terrorism. Since Hurricane Katrina, some have argued that there has been an
emphasis on planning for high-impact, low-probability incidents at the expense of
low-impact, high-probability incidents. Additionally, it is possible that planning for
terrorism underemphasizes preparedness for natural disasters. For example, in
testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, David Applegate pointed
out that earthquakes are among the most expensive of natural disasters in terms of
destruction. According to Applegate, this underscores the importance of
preparedness and mitigation; however, there is no Incident Annex addressing54
The President of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM)
and Director of Emergency Management, Hillsborough County, Florida, also
addressed the terrorism emphasis. Director Larry Gispert responded favorably to
President-elect Obama’s plan to support first-responders, prepare effective
emergency response plans, improve interoperable communications systems, and work
with state and local governments and the private sector, and allocate funds based on
risk. Gispert objected to plans that focus on terrorism because state and local
emergency managers primarily deal with natural disasters. According to Gispert, the
plan would have the benefit of allowing state and local governments to prepare for
both types of incidents rather than predominantly terrorism.55
On the other hand, others would argue that planning for terrorism is of the
utmost importance and that a terrorist attack would have the same consequences as
a natural disaster.56 They may conclude that planning and preparedness for terrorism
can be applied toward natural disasters and therefore fits the all-hazards model of
53 Samuel Clovis, “Promises Unfulfilled: the Sub-Optimization of Homeland Security
National Preparedness,” Homeland Security Affairs, vol. 4, no. 3, October 2008.
[http://www.hsaj .org/ page s/volume 4/issue3/pdfs/4.3.3.pdf].
54 Testimony of Director of Government Affairs, U.S. Geological Survey U.S. Department
of the Interior, David Applegate, in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, The United States Geological Survey’sthnd
Earthquake Hazards Program - Science, Preparation, and Response, 110 Cong., 2 sess.,
May 22, 2008, [http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/images/Documents/20080522/
55 Daniel Fowler, “Experts Like Obama’s Preparedness Plans, Eager to See the Details,” CQ
Press, November 11, 2008.
56 RAND National Defense Research Institute, When It Comes to Terrorism, How Prepared
Are Local and State Agencies? RB-9209-OSD (2006),
[ h t t p : / / www.r a nd.or g/ pubs/ r esear ch_br i e f s / 2006/ RAND_RB9209.pdf ] .
If Congress were concerned about the possibility that preparedness for natural
disasters is being hampered by overemphasizing terrorism in emergency plans, or that
resources for natural disaster preparedness are being diverted to prepare for terrorist
events, Congress may elect to have FEMA develop natural disaster annexes, or
incorporate more natural disaster planning in existing Incident Annexes.
Selected Enacted and Pending Legislation in the
The 110th Congress enacted legislation addressing issues related to the NRF;
other matters, however, have been left unresolved. The following section gives some
examples of enacted legislation that affected the NRF. It also identifies legislation
that Members of the 111th Congress may decide to reconsider.
Selected Enacted Legislation.57 Several laws enacted in the 110th
Congress have affected the NRF. P.L. 110-53, Implementing Recommendations of
the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, was signed into law August 3, 2007. Section 408
amends 510 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by requiring the Administrator
of FEMA to create standards for credentialing and classifying58 incident management
personnel for federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies that have
responsibilities under the NRF.
Section 510 of the Homeland Security Act, as amended, requires that no later
than six months after receiving the standards, each federal agency with
responsibilities under the NRF must ensure that incident management personnel,
emergency response providers, and other personnel (including temporary personnel)
as well as resources likely needed to respond to a disaster, be credentialed and typed
in accordance with those standards.59 Section 1407 of P.L. 110-53 requires that
security exercises for public transportation agencies be consistent with the NRF.60
P.L. 110-181, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, was
signed into law January 28, 2008. Section 351(f) requires the National Guard to
submit an annual report containing an assessment of the Guard’s readiness to perform
tasks that support civil authorities under the NRF. The act also requires that should
the report reveal relevant information concerning a National Guard of a particular
state, that information will be made available to the governor of that state.61
57 Based on a search on the CRS Legislative Information System (LIS) using the terms
“National Response Plan” and “National Response Framework.”
58 The act uses the term typing rather than classifying.
59 Sec. 408(c).
60 Title XIV — Public Transportation Security, Sec. 1407(1)(F).
61 Sec. 351(2).
Pending Legislation.62 The following is a list of selected legislation pending
at the end of the 110th Congress that, if acted upon in a later Congress, might have
implications for the NRF.
S. 3260, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act,
2009, was introduced July 14, 2008. Section 516 of the bill would have authorized
the General Services Administration (GSA) to allow volunteer and other
nongovernmental organizations supporting the NRF to have access to GSA sources
of supply. The intent of the bill was to improve logistics in response efforts. Some
may contend that the confusion during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike concerning
distribution points for supplies may have been lessened through access to GSA
supply schedules. S. 3260 was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under
general orders. (Calendar No. 877).
H.R. 1333, the Civil Air Patrol Homeland Security Support Act of 2007,
introduced in the House on March 6, 2007, would have directed the Secretary of
DHS to enter into memoranda of understanding or other agreements with the
Secretary of Defense to use Civil Air Patrol personnel and resources to support
homeland security missions. The Secretary of DHS would have been authorized to
consider the Civil Air Patrol an available resource for purposes of national
preparedness and response planning activities, including the National Response Plan
(meaning the NRF). H.R. 1333 passed the House and was referred to the Senate.
H.R. 6147, the Federal Emergency Management Advancement Act of 2008, was
introduced May 22, 2008. The intent was to establish FEMA as an independent
agency. If enacted, Section 104(6) would have required the Director of FEMA to
consolidate existing federal government emergency response plans into a single,
coordinated national response plan. H.R. 6147 was referred to the House
Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response June 2,
In response to directives from Congress and the President, the Bush
Administration issued the NRF to establish a new approach to coordinate federal and
nonfederal entities in times of emergencies and major disasters. The NRF does
appear to respond to some of the challenges identified by Congress and others. The
document is more concise, has less jargon, and has made an attempt to clarify roles
and responsibilities. On the other hand, parts of the NRF may have retained some of
the problems associated with the NRP. The NRF still contains the PFO arrangement,
nonfederal stakeholder input appears to be lacking, and the Incident Annexes have
yet to be fully updated.
Some observers might say that not enough emergencies and disasters have
occurred since the NRF has been issued to form a clear picture of its effectiveness.
Also, they may contend that insufficient implementation studies have been conducted
62 Based on a search on the Legislative Information Service (LIS), using the terms “National
Response Plan” and “National Response Framework.”
on the NRF to assess its efficacy. As some observers point out, the only way to find
out whether the NRF is an improvement over the NRP may be to subject it to a major
catastrophe comparable to Hurricane Katrina.
Appendix. Annexes to the
National Response Framework
Table 1. List of ESF Annexes
Emergency Support Function (ESF) Annexes
ESF #3 Public Works and Engineering
ESF #5Emergency Management
ESF #6Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human
ESF #7Logistics Management and Resource Support
ESF #8 Public Health and Medical Services
ESF #9 Search and Rescue
ESF #10Oil and Hazardous Materials Response
ESF #11Agriculture and Natural Resources
ESF #13Public Safety and Security
ESF #14Long-Term Community Recovery
ESF #15External Affairs
Table 2. Lists of Incident and Support Annexes
Food and Agriculture Incident
Mass Evacuation Incident
Terrorism Incident Law Enforcement and Investigation
Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources
Volunteer and Donations Management
Worker Safety and Health