ABSTRACT

DoD and the Problem of Mega-Catastrophes   [open pdf - 120KB]

This report is part of chapter one of five chapters in the series: Threats at Our Threshold: Homeland Defense and Homeland Security in the New Century: A Compilation of the Proceedings of the First Annual Homeland Defense and Homeland Security Conference. The following is taken from the introduction of the report: "The organizers of this conference made a strange choice in selecting me to advance the argument that the Department of Defense (DoD) ought to take the lead role in responding to catastrophes. For the overwhelming majority of incidents that may confront the U.S. response system in the future, I believe that the current, civilian-led system is structurally sound (and in many respects, ideal). The same civilian-led system also provides the best framework for building the sort of response system necessary for what I will call 'normal catastrophes' --that is, catastrophes on the scale of Hurricane Katrina. But the United States should plan for the unlikely possibility that a catastrophe of a vastly larger scale may strike. In such a 'mega-catastrophe,' DoD will face unwanted but ineluctable pressures to temporarily assume the lead of U.S. response operations. That is not a particularly desirable thing. Still worse, however, is the prospect that DoD would take the lead without having planned for the challenges it will confront, including the imperative to return leadership responsibilities to civilian officials as rapidly and effectively as possible. My argument is built around a typology of very bad events, ordered in terms of their destructiveness: 1) major disasters (as defined in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act); 2) normal catastrophes (as defined by the National Response Plan and its Catastrophic Incident Annex); and 3) mega-catastrophes, which differ qualitatively from normal catastrophes in ways that will require a different architecture for the response system, and a different role for DoD."

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Threats at Our Threshold: Homeland Defense and Homeland Security in the New Century: A Compilation of the Proceedings of the First Annual Homeland Defense and Homeland Security Conference
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