So how should we measure regional excellence in homeland security? Your suggestions are critical. - Request for input.

Regional Excellence
Measuring Regional Excellence

by Bill Dodge

    The U. S. Congress has asked the National Academy or Public Administration (NAPA) to develop quantifiable measures for assessing the effectiveness of grants administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  (Redundancy Elimination and Enhanced Performance for Preparedness Grants Act  --  Public Law No: 111-271)  The measures are to focus on the State Homeland Security Grant Program  and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), the key sources of federal largesse for building the capacity of state and local governments, and their partners, to safeguard citizens against terrorist and other disasters. 

    This task is being overseen by a panel of NAPA fellows, including yours truly.  The Congressional mandate is especially demanding and its success requires your suggestions for measuring regional excellence.

    The U.S. Congress is requesting only 3 to 7 measures and a roadmap for their implementation.  It wants hard evidence that can be printed on a pocket card and makes a convincing case with lay persons in an “elevator speech”. 

    The tough part of this task is dealing with the unknown and unpredictable. 

In some ways, homeland security is like other efforts.  The  efficiency, effectiveness, and even equity of the processes for using FEMA funds can be measured.  How many first providers were trained, how much equipment was purchased, how many exercises were conducted? And at what cost?  How many communities  --  large and small, rich and poor  --   are covered by homeland security plans?  How many partners, across all sectors, are participating in the strategies to safeguard their communities?

    However, the impact of homeland security is more difficult to measure.  Unlike transit systems or health services, no clear path can be easily drawn between expenditures made and results accomplished.  It is difficult to predict the timing or frequency of natural disasters.  Witness the plethora of tornadoes this year, even before the traditional heart of tornado season.  Manmade incidents, especially terrorist attacks, do not even have seasons.  And the nature of these events range from the unpredictable to the totally unexpected
“black swans”.  Witness the simultaneous impact of a massive earthquake and tsunami on the supposedly-protected Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    Finally, federal funding is not a given.  There is a strong likelihood that UASI funds will be concentrated in a smaller number of regions, those  allegedly more prone to terrorist  attacks, potentially eliminating funding for over 30 participating regions in the coming year.

    In the first meeting of the NAPA panel, I discovered that I had been especially selected to help measure regional excellence in homeland security.

Regions have emerged as the most local level for addressing disasters and attacks.  Only at the regional level can sufficient first providers be assembled to respond to major disasters and attacks, especially in the first 24 hours.  Individual jurisdictions, even the largest, need to reach out to neighbors.  Witness the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.  Across the country, many states have mandated the preparation of regional homeland security plans and, even where they haven’t, local governments and their private, nonprofit, and civic partners have voluntarily come together to develop regional plans. 

    State and national governments are critical to providing follow-up recovery assistance, but regions need to develop the capacity to be first providers.  In fact, some regions are negotiating protocols with surrounding regions, creating a network of regions prepared to respond, depending on the magnitude of the event.

    So how should we measure regional excellence in homeland security?  Your suggestions are critical.

    Currently, UASI grant recipients are required to create some form of a regional mechanism for planning and monitoring the use of federal funds as well as designate an official liaison with FEMA.  Should there be minimal expectations for regional governance, such as adopted processes for setting strategic goals and prioritizing the use of funds, tested systems for managing complex activities  --  such as interoperability communications, regional exercises, incident evaluations, and mutual aid protocols with other regions  --  and regular reporting on progress in strengthening homeland security? 

Is there a single measure, even a proxy, which describes the regional governance capacity needed to address disasters and attacks? 

For example, should there be a requirement that local governments and their partners in each region, including state and federal government agencies, design and adopt a regional governance agreement, a Homeland Security Regional Compact, which creates and empowers the regional governance capacity needed to safeguard the region?  Or, given that federal funds might not go on indefinitely, should there be a requirement to institutionalize a minimal regional governance capacity with federal funding --  the “muscle” as David Robertson, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, calls it  --  that does not atrophy if federal funding declines.

    Is there a combined measure of regional excellence?  Such as a combination of indicators of readiness  --  adopting a Homeland Security Regional Compact,  #/% of priority actions implemented in regional plans, #/% of first providers trained,  # of regional exercises conducted, #/%  of recommendations from exercise evaluations implemented, #/% of recommendations from incident evaluations implemented, etc.  Maybe, it could be called the Homeland Security Regional Readiness Index, with ratings from 0 to 100 and measured regularly to assess changes over time.

    Or, are there other ways to measure regional excellence?

Your thoughts on potential measures, and suggestions for their implementation, are welcome.  And as soon as possible.  The NAPA panel will next meet in early August to consider candidate measures for its report to the Congress.

Thanks to the National Association of Regional Councils for surveying its members.  If you responded to its survey, you do not have to respond again;  the survey results will be sent to NAPA.
    Thanks for helping to make measuring regional excellence in FEMA programs a success.  And a precedent for all of the programs that depend upon achieving regional excellence for their success. 

Bill Dodge is looking for a few good regions that are interested in designing regional charters to strengthen their capacity to address tough common challenges.  He is the former Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils, author of Regional Excellence, and is writing a new book on regional charters.