Friday, October 22, 2010

Perspective on Preparedness Report

Readers of this blog will probably remember a series of blog posts I did in August and September in support of the National Dialogue on Preparedness. In these blog posts I urged readers to participate in this dialogue though I did warn you that “I don’t expect DHS to put much effort into using the results of this citizen participation”. Well, the Preparedness Task Force published their report Wednesday and it certainly looks like I was correct.

Ideas Discussed

You might remember that in my final report on the Dialogue I reported that:

“There have been a total of 266 Ideas submitted to the Dialogue. A total of 869 registered users have posted 420 comments on those Ideas and voted a total of 3,297 times.”
I also reported on the seven ideas of those 266 that I thought would be of particular interest to the chemical security community

“● FEMA CBRNE Preparedness Division (5 votes, 0 comments, rank 98) - Hot
“● Funding Post-Emergency Response Research (6 vote, 0 comments, rank 87) - Hot
“● Update "pre-fire" tours to include "pre-hazmat" considerations (9 votes, 0 comments, rank 65) - Hot
“● HAZMAT Rail Shipment Notifications (-4 vote, 0 comments, rank 252)
“● TSA Chlorine Dispersion Modeling Study (0 votes, 1 positive comment, rank 278)
“● Bring in the Military (-13 votes, 4 positive comments, rank 265)
“● Counter-Terrorism Emergency Response Plan - CFATS (11 votes, 0 comments, rank 45)”
While these ideas were of special interest to the chemical security community, they were pretty representative of the vast majority of the ideas that were submitted by the Dialogue participants. Fairly detailed suggestions how the Federal, State, and local governments could improve the preparedness of this country to respond to a wide variety of disasters and catastrophes, both natural and man-made.

I didn’t agree with most of the proposals, but they were honest efforts by a wide variety of citizens to do their part to help guide the government to better ways to prepare for and respond to potential catastrophes. It’s too bad that our efforts were apparently a complete waste of time.

Ideas Ignored

The report covers the results of the National Dialogue on Preparedness in a two-page appendix. Almost the entire first page of that appendix is devoted to a description of how the Task Force reached out to “preparedness-minded citizens, non-governmental organizations, and private sector partners” (pg 75). It turns out that the online forum was just a part of that Dialogue.

The report identified three “core themes that emerged from the National Dialogue [that] align with Task Force deliberations and recommendations”:

“Integrating Non-Governmental Stakeholders”,
“Integrating Preparedness into Educational Curricula”, and
“Establishing Financial Incentives for Preparedness”.
If you read the detailed explanations of these themes you could be forgiven for concluding that these were consensus themes shared by a large number of the Idea presenters and commentors. Unfortunately, that is nowhere near the case. Now these themes were supported in a number of the ideas, but they could hardly be considered ‘core themes’.

The vast number of ideas dealt with specific situations and how to resolve those situations. Reading the report it is clear that the Task Force was never concerned with dealing with this type specificity (and to be fair they never directly solicited specificity), but that is what the bulk of the Ideas were. It would have been nice if they had at least acknowledged the types of the responses that they had received, perhaps by listing, say the top ten ideas as measured by the votes they garnered.

But no, the report instead ignores the attempts at presenting solutions to specific problems and pretends that the bulk of the participants supported the key themes that just happened to support the conclusions reached by the Task Force. This is the type response to public participation in political dialogue that ends up convincing people that political participation is a waste of time.

Ideas Encouraged

Having said all of that, I will continue to recommend that readers of this blog participate in public forums like this. It does provide individuals a very public venue to share ideas that they have. I will remind people that the likelihood of political officials paying any attention to the ideas being discussed is quite low, but I will still recommend that they participate.

After all, the sharing of ideas is always a good thing. Particularly in a venue that brings a wide variety of people to the forum, putting one’s ideas out in public provides for the possibility of cross-fertilization of ideas and the raising of unique hybrids; hybrids that will probably end up being stronger and more vital than their parents.

So, don’t expect the politicians to listen; but just perhaps some fellow citizens will.

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