For Immediate Release: Mar 13, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Our Strategic National Risk Assessment Is Missing
Agencies Play Hot Potato on Responsibility for Required All-Hazard Analysis
Washington, DC — A key part of America’s preparedness posture has fallen through the bureaucratic cracks, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Even a PEER Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit has yet to uncover the federal agency that possesses the current version of the Strategic National Risk Assessment, the analytic tool designed to guide decision-making on civil defense, disaster recovery, infrastructure investment, and related matters.
In 2011, President Obama directed creation of a formal national preparedness program featuring a Strategic National Risk Assessment. That assessment is a purely quantitative tool to support an all-hazard, capability-based approach to any potential natural and human-caused catastrophe – from hurricanes to terror attacks. An unclassified version completed in 2015 has yet to see the light of day.
On September 1, 2017, PEER submitted a FOIA request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the 2015 assessment report, including its technical findings and implementation plan. FEMA responded that the risk assessment was not within its “purview” even though it has a web-center dedicated to the topic. FEMA directed the request to the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD). When PEER followed up with NPPD, that agency replied in a December 12, 2017 email “your request belongs to FEMA, not NPPD.”
When PEER again contacted FEMA, the agency replied, “This case number is closed.” Unable to get resolution, on January 25, 2018, PEER filed a FOIA suit against the Department of Homeland Security, which houses both agencies. On March 2, 2018, DHS filed an utterly opaque answer to the PEER suit.
“This inability to locate our national risk assessment suggests that America’s preparedness program is no longer informed by facts and analysis,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that this all-inclusive assessment addresses factors, such as climate change impacts, that now raise political hackles. “We hope our Strategic National Risk Assessment is not another political casualty of a regime rooted in ‘alternative facts.’”
FEMA’s own National Preparedness Goal highlights the role of the Strategic National Risk Assessment by declaring: “All levels of government and the whole community should assess and present risk in a similar manner to provide a common understanding of the threats and hazards confronting our Nation.” (Emphasis added)
The Strategic National Risk Assessment provides a factual foundation for hazard prevention, avoidance, response, recovery, and mitigation. To that end, it is supposed to be in the hands of emergency managers, infrastructure operators, public health planners, insurance companies, and other stakeholders.
“How can we design a thoughtful infrastructure or disaster recovery plan without an objective risk assessment for current and planned facilities?” asked Ruch, noting both the risk assessment itself and its technical foundations need to be publicly available so that the basis for any conclusions is subject to critical review. “Without a shared understanding of the hazards we face, America must navigate an ever more perilous future without a roadmap.”
The next step in the PEER suit is a status conference before the federal district court judge assigned to the case with the Justice Department, representing Homeland Security in the PEER suit, to resolve this mystery or to establish a briefing schedule.