DHS Seeks to Create Higher Standards of Readiness

The human being always looks down when he is examining another person’s standard; he never finds one that he has to examine by looking up. ~ Mark Twain

For more than a year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been working on what is described as “an accelerated plan” to implement Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 (HSPD-8), titled National Preparedness. The primary HSPD-8 objective is to establish and implement the short- and long-term policies needed to strengthen the nation’s entire first-responder community.

In the development of a unified, national, all-hazards preparedness strategy, it seems obvious, one of the first goals, in theory, should be to establish workable methods for improving and accelerating the release of federal assistance to local, state, federal, and tribal governments.

Another high-priority goal should be to develop an overall plan of action to strengthen the preparedness capabilities throughout this entire community of interest. In practice, however, it seems that DHS is focusing – initially, at least – on expanding the margins and redefining how national preparedness training programs should and will be developed, and implemented, through a meaningful and balanced investment of taxpayer dollars.

The question arises, therefore: How does one connect HSPD-8 and the standards developed for a first-responders training program to achieve a useful measure of readiness?

Some of the complexities involved in the creation of useful, and workable, standards have their origin in the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Domestic Preparedness Program, which was created in accordance with the provisions of Public Law 104-201 (the National Defense Authorization Act). A major goal of that program was to improve domestic preparedness by providing selected cities the training and equipment they would need to more effectively manage the consequences of possible terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

The authorizing legislation designated the Department of Defense (DOD) as the lead agency in what obviously would have to be a major collective effort, and identified the other federal government offices and agencies that would be participating. The U.S. Army’s Chemical and Biological Defense Command was the first agency tasked to design a “train-the-trainer” program that could build on the existing knowledge and capabilities of the local first responders (fire, law enforcement, medical personnel, and hazardous materials technicians) who would have to deal with a WMD incident during the first hours.


Since then, each service has attempted to develop its own unique training program, rather than rely on a standardized approach. This has led to the growth of a bumper crop of training issues, problems, and complications. One result is that today, more than three years after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States is still unable to accurately measure either the overall level of national preparedness or the probable level of local and national response capabilities when (not if, it is always emphasized) there is another terrorist attack.

A reasonably thorough examination of the 9/11 Commission report www.9-11commission.gov/ and Arlington County After-Action Report validates the concerns many officials, at all levels of government, have voiced about the lack of standardization. The bottom line is that DHS now has an even more difficult job to complete, but only a short period of time within which to improve on, consolidate, and reconcile the programs already created by a number of other agencies.

One of the principal focal points as the agency seeks to fully implement HSPD-8 is to establish readiness metrics and other tools that can be used to support the national preparedness goal. This encompasses, among other things, the development of standards for preparedness assessments and strategies, and the creation of a workable system to support the assessment of the overall U.S. ability to respond to major events and incidents, especially those involving acts of terrorism. Success can be demonstrated, at least in part, when readiness equates to effective and efficient plans, training, and exercises.

For first-responder offices and agencies that developed, purchased, or received homegrown train-the-trainer programs and/or independent-contractor packages, the solutions they now possess can soon become outdated. HSPD-8 dictates that these types of first-responder training programs, when fully executed, must be in alignment both with the standardization guidelines set forth in the directive and with the national preparedness goals also set forth in that document. Governmental and nongovernmental standards-making bodies will therefore have to consult closely with one another in order to apply or develop nationally accepted standards.


One of the many objectives set for American National Standards Institute (ANSI) workshops that have been developed is to identify existing standards. Those include, but are not limited to: standards under development; gaps in the standardization of training programs for first responders that will be dealing with WMD events; and any existing or required conformity-assessment programs.

ANSI’s first-responders training workshops will seek to capture this information in a matrix structure and classify the standards in accordance with DHS Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) guidelines, and will include the following sectors in the matrix:

  • Private sector
  • Law enforcement
  • Fire service
  • Public works
  • Public health
  • Emergency medical services (pre-hospital)
  • Hazardous materials
  • Public information
  • Health care
  • State and local emergency management

Customizing the standards appropriate to each of these sectors should ensure that the relevant content and accepted methods of delivery comply with the training standards necessary for the first responders in each sector to perform their assigned missions. The standards also will have to be embedded, by service designation, in the tasks associated with the Universal Task List (UTL), In a perfect world, the HSPD-8 readiness metrics system should be able to support the assessment of the nation’s overall preparedness to respond to major events, especially those involving acts of terrorism. However, herein lies the Gordian’s knot created by HSPD-8. It is almost paradoxical that, although many questions raised when the umbrella term “achieving readiness” is discussed are simple to state and easy to understand, the answers to those questions require a deeper and more intricate understanding of the assessment “platforms” used and the politics behind them.

In that context, a theoretically balanced investment means standardization within, and taking cognizance of, the following:

  • The development of a standardized national WMD exercise assessment methodology (covering joint jurisdictional responses – i.e., local, state, federal, and tribal, as well as joint civil-military);
  • A standardized extent of play that encompasses the UTL taxonomy;
  • Taxonomy that connects UTL tasks with the organizations participating in each task; and
  • A supporting standardized corrective-action process in which each of the discrepancies noted will address deficiencies-of policy, organization, training, materials/ equipment, leadership, personnel, and facilities-in the response programs of the local, state, federal, and tribal governments participating.

To achieve a standard level of readiness, participants must have the analytical tools necessary both to streamline the time it takes to produce requirements and to ensure the accuracy of the information needed to connect the dots.

As DHS looks downward in its efforts to develop appropriate standards for national use, it must recognize that the first-responder organizations at lower levels of government are looking upward for guidance, while at the same time collaboratively developing their own standards for national preparedness.

Ashley Moore

Ashley Moore



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