GAO: Emergency Management: Preliminary Observations on EMA’s Community Preparedness Programs

FEMA faces challenges measuring performance for Citizen Corps, partner
programs, and the Ready Campaign because it does not have a process to
verify that data for its principal performance measure–the registered number
of established volunteer organizations across the country–are accurate and
the Ready Campaign is not positioned to control the distribution of its
message or measure whether its message is changing individuals’ behavior.
FEMA faces challenges ensuring that the information needed to measure the
number of established, active volunteer units is accurate. For example,
officials representing 17 councils GAO contacted during its site visits stated
that 12 were active and 5 were not. FEMA officials said that the new online
registration process FEMA plans to adopt in 2010 will result in some programs
being removed from FEMA’s registries. They said that FEMA expects to use
the new process to collect more comprehensive data on membership and
council activities. FEMA counts requests for literature, Web site hits, and the
number of television or radio announcements made to gauge performance for
the Ready Campaign, but FEMA does not control when its message is viewed
because it relies on donated media, such as air time for television and radio
announcements. Because changes in behavior can result from a variety of
factors, including other campaigns, it is difficult to measure the campaign’s
effect on changes in individuals’ behavior.

FEMA’s challenges measuring the performance of community preparedness
programs is compounded by the fact that it has not developed a strategy to
encompass how Citizen Corps, its partner programs, and the Ready Campaign
are to operate within the context of the NPS. In April 2009, GAO reported that
FEMA’s National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), which is responsible for
community preparedness, had not developed a strategic plan. GAO reported
that instead of a strategic plan, NPD officials stated that they used a draft
annual operating plan and Post-Katrina Act provisions to guide NPD’s efforts.
However, the plan’s objectives do not include key elements of a strategy, such
as how NPD will measure its progress meeting goals and objectives or the
potential costs and types of resources and investments needed. GAO
recommended that NPD develop a strategic plan to implement the NPS that
contains these key elements. FEMA concurred with GAO’s recommendation
and told GAO that it is taking actions to strengthen strategic planning. FEMA
officials stated that they are reviewing implementation plans and policy
documents, such as the National Preparedness Guidelines, and that
community preparedness is a key element being considered in this process.
FEMA has not set a date for completion of the National Preparedness System
strategy, and the extent to which Citizen Corps, its partner programs, or the
Ready Campaign will be included in the final strategy is not clear. GAO will
continue to assess FEMA’s efforts related to community preparedness
programs as part of its ongoing work. FEMA provided technical comments on
a draft of this testimony, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

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