The official start of summer brings four things to the Nation’s Capital – heat, humidity, interns, and the annual “will we have an appropriations bill or not” debate. While all four are in full swing, only one is of concern to the broader alerts & warnings community – the FY 2013 Homeland Security appropriations bill.
The House and Senate have passed their versions of the legislation. However, there is no firm schedule on a final bill going to the President for signature. Given the increase in pre-election partisan rancor, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the bill will be signed into law by the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
While the appropriations bill funds a multitude of programs, there is a particular policy shift in the legislation that is important to discuss: the consolidation of multiple grant programs into one larger National Preparedness Grant Program (See the FY 2013 Budget In Brief for more details, specifically pages 143-154). While the exact details of how this will be implemented will not be known until the legislation is finalized, the intent is to provide the grant program with three things:
- Greater flexibility;
- A focus on regional assets and planning; and
- Emphasis on a “whole communities” approach to building resilience through collective responsibility before, during, and after events.
While aspects of this approach are causing some controversy, the concept of regionalization is worth exploring in the alerts and warnings community. Traditionally, we have viewed alerts and warnings activities as county- or city-level activities–particularly from a procurement perspective. Jurisdictions buy their own siren systems, opt-in text-message alerting systems, and other tools that help emergency managers save lives. These systems are relatively easy to focus on meeting the needs of a specific community–siren noises do not travel far, and publicity campaigns for opt-in systems focus on constituents of that jurisdiction.
The Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS) is a new technology that may necessitate a shift to a regional mindset. CMAS messages have the ability to extend beyond any one jurisdiction, whether intentionally or otherwise. Since CMAS messages will be bound by the range of cell towers and not political boundaries, a decision by one emergency management office to alert the public may result in alerting others well outside the intended audience. While we won’t know the extent of this “bleed-over” issue until the system is used frequently, we can easily surmise it being an issue, particularly in smaller, more densely populated counties. It would benefit emergency management officials to begin thinking now about how they plan to tackle this new challenge.
Given this issue, I would make the argument that alerts and warnings governance should be a regional priority, much in the same way regional governance works with land mobile radio communications. In fact, this type of thinking should be integrated into statewide emergency communications plans and the related governance activities should be funded in the same manner in FY 2013 and beyond.