The Mid-Atlantic All-Hazards Forum - Hugely Successful

The outbreak of a pandemic flu; the protection of critical-infrastructure buildings, bridges, and transportation facilities; the need for additional and better-targeted funding; communications interoperability; the evacuation of major metropolitan areas in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack or major natural disaster; local, state, and federal emergency-preparedness training programs – and/or the lack thereof; food safety; and the establishment and operation of new fusion centers, transportation operations centers, and similar organizational/operational tools of government. 

Those were among the numerous major topics and issues dissected, examined, explained, and commented on during the thirty 90-minute panel discussions that were the highlight of the hugely successful Mid-Atlantic All-Hazards Forum (AHF) at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland. The 7-8 November AHF, fourth in a series that started in 2004, attracted almost 1,000 participants, including public and private-sector attendees from at least 27 states. Attesting to the growing importance of the Forum, as viewed from the highest level of government, was the attendance – as luncheon “keynote” speakers on 7 and 8 November, respectively – of Colonel Bob Stephan, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Assistant Secretary for Critical Infrastructure; and Dennis Schrader, Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Deputy Administrator for National Preparedness. The 2007 Forum’s Opening Plenary Session started with a no-topics-barred Homeland Security Directors’ Roundtable moderated by AHF Conference Chair John Contestabile and featuring the homeland-security directors of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. 

Major Improvements Noted, But Much More Is Needed 

Although speaking from different perspectives and different levels of experience, the Roundtable participants, panel discussants, and other Forum attendees seemed to agree in general – albeit not unanimously – on several major conclusions, including the following:

There has been significant but far from uniform improvement in the emergency-preparedness capabilities of all levels of government in the six The nation’s various first-responder communities are planning, training, and working together in a better-organized and more cooperative way than ever before – but additional improvement is still needed. years that have passed since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.
Nonetheless, the dimensions and nature of the threat posed by international terrorism also have increased – but to a somewhat lesser extent.

The federal grant programs and other funding initiatives – state and local as well as federal – that have opened up in recent years have helped immensely in the purchase of equipment and the scheduling of additional training exercises and programs, but those gains have been offset to some extent by an increase in unfunded mandates passed on to the states by the federal government.

The nation’s various first-responder communities (firefighters, police and other law-enforcement personnel, EMS (emergency medical services) technicians and other healthcare professionals, hazardous-materials specialists, etc.) are planning, training, and working together in a better-organized and more cooperative way than ever before – but additional improvement is still needed.
The homeland-security “industrial base” – an umbrella term that includes many defense-oriented and communications companies as well as pharmaceutical manufacturers, the designers and builders of detection and identification systems, the makers and distributors of personal protective clothing, and the suppliers of a host of other essential systems and equipment – has played a key role in the upgrading of the nation’s overall domestic-preparedness capabilities.

Again, though, greater progress could and should have been made – and would have been, if the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies had been swifter and more proactive in the testing, validation, and fielding of new systems and equipment. Perhaps the most important current problem still facing the nation’s collective domestic preparedness/homeland-defense community, though – again, according not only to the Roundtable directors but also to many of the panel-discussion participants and other Forum attendees – is the need for a significant upgrading of communications systems. In two ways: (a) the development, testing, fielding, and widespread use of standardized, sophisticated, and – of paramount importance – interoperable communications systems and equipment of all types; and (b) a major increase in educational and public-affairs efforts across the board to keep the American people, and their elected leaders, fully conversant with the still growing threat posed by international terrorism (and by malevolent acts of nature).

An official report on the 2007 Mid-Atlantic All-Hazards Forum is now in the early stages of editing and evaluation, and is expected to be distributed within the next several months. A notice about the availability of the report, and a summary of its content, will be included in a future issue of the DomPrep Journal.

James D. Hessman

James D. Hessman is former editor in chief of both the Navy League’s Sea Power Magazine and the League’s annual Almanac of Seapower. Prior to that dual assignment he was senior editor of Armed Forces Journal International.



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