Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ford Obtains FEMA Pledge For New Madrid Earthquake Training Exercises

WASHINGTON - The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) informed Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has scheduled a comprehensive initiative to help local, state and federal officials plan for a catastrophic earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The statement came in response to a letter sent by Congressman Ford to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff in September urging the development of such a plan. In a statement, Congressman Ford said:

"I am encouraged to hear that FEMA is working with the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC) to develop a plan for the people of Memphis. Unfortunately, FEMA admits that it is not currently prepared to respond to a major earthquake in the New Madrid zone. I expect that, by working with the experts at CUSEC, FEMA will be able to avoid the mistakes it made in response to Hurricane Katrina."

A copy of the letter from the Department of Homeland Security follows:

The Honorable Harold E. Ford, Jr.
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative Ford:

On behalf of Secretary Michael Chertoff, thank you for your letter requesting a coordinated effort to help federal, state and local officials to prepare for potential catastrophic earthquakes along the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shares your concerns that current federal disaster response capabilities may not be sufficiently robust to successfully address the potential effects of a catastrophic disaster in the NMSZ.

FEMA has embarked on a catastrophic disaster planning initiative designed to assist federal, state and local partners develop capabilities to affect an appropriate, timely and efficient response to such a catastrophic disaster. Earlier this year, FEMA began coordinating with the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC) to develop meaningful catastrophic disaster response plans for the NMSZ.

In this initiative, FEMA and CUSEC will focus on three cities in the NMSZ: Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; and Cairo, Illinois. Through facilitated workshops, FEMA and CUSEC member states will address: search and rescue, transportation, staging and distribution of critical resources, temporary shelter/housing, hazardous materials, security, debris removal, temporary medical care, fire, and critical infrastructure protection. The individual communities will determine the focus for planning and exercising.

FEMA is working with the federal, state and local participants and CUSEC, to schedule activities, including exercise related activities, necessary to carry out this initiative. In cooperation with affected state and local governments, this initiative will identify high risk areas and examine loss estimates for a catastrophic incident, current disaster response capabilities, anticipated response shortfalls, and comprehensive planning strategies for addressing such shortfalls.

Catastrophic planning initiative products will include incident-specific response plans for pre-selected geographic regions within the NMSZ, based upon loss estimating models and capability inventories of affected local, state and federal responders. Additional products will include: a planning template useful for other catastrophic incidents, anticipated response contingencies beyond the National Response Plan, and proposed legislation and/or executive action to facilitate catastrophic disaster response.

In the future, FEMA will keep you apprised as it finalizes the schedule of NMSZ activities within the states and CUSEC.

I appreciate your interest in the Department of Homeland Security, and I look forward to working with you on future homeland security issues. If I may be of further assistance, please contact the Office of Legislative Affairs at (202) 205-4412.


/s/ Pamela J. Turner
Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs

More: Read more on Congressman Ford's efforts in disaster preparedness here!