RC#15 "Teams of Leaders" – Potential Disaster Operations Force Multiplier Part 2/4

Part 2 of 4 of a discussion of the Team of Leaders (TOL) concept presented in America’s Army: A Model for Interagency Effectiveness by Zeb Bradford and Frederic Brown.
   By Dag K.J.E. von Lubitz and James E. Beakley (adapted from an article in review for publication in an on-line peer review journal)


The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (White House, 2002) signed by President George W. Bush in November 2002 created a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tasked specifically with the security of the United States and its territories.  The new Department was to consist of FEMA and a number of other principal components.  In the atmosphere of “guards, gates, and guns” prevailing after 9/11 (e.g., Fickes, 2005; Flynn, 2007), FEMA’s role as a premier disaster management agency was relegated to the second rank (Ward and Wamsley, 2007).  Its director lost the cabinet-rank status, and the Agency, not quite an orphan, but definitively a “foster child,” saw decrease of its funds (Harrald, 2007), and the demoralization and loss of its personnel that followed soon thereafter (Cooper and Block, 2006, Tierney, 2007).

         FEMA’s plight notwithstanding, with the mandate provided by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5, DHS embarked on the development of a comprehensive National Incident Management Plan (NIMS) followed by National Response Plan (NRP).  Despite criticism for its rigidity and centralization of effort, NRP was ultimately adapted in the end of 2004 (Harrald, 2007).  Together, NIMS and NRP defined the US doctrine of disaster management with NIMS specifying its operational aspects, and NRP integrating federal resources and capabilities into a unified, “all hazards – all disciplines” plan (DHS, 2004).  Neither was fully implemented or completely understood by all actors in the morning of on the 29th August 2005.  The collision of Hurricane Katrina with the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi marked the nadir of FEMA (Harrald, 2007; Tierney, 2007).

         In the aftermath of the damage caused by Katrina and the two rapidly following hurricanes Rita and Wilma, accusations of ranging from racism to incompetence, centralized management, and lack of inter-agency collaboration have been leveled at DHS, with the brunt of their ferocity directed at FEMA  (Dyson, 2006; Cooper and Block, 2006).  The traumatic experience of Katrina resulted in a series of performance-improving steps, the most important of which was the replacement of NRP with the national Response Framework (NRF). Although NRF incorporated many lessons learned from the events following Katrina, its release for public comment incurred a series of accusations of lacking substance, excessive centralization, and bypassed Congressional intents (Selves, 2006; see also Hsu, 2007; Jackson, 2007).  Nonetheless, after a statutory period for public comment NRF was officially adopted on March 22, 2008 as the current overarching disaster management doctrine of DHS (FEMA, 2008)

         While Incident Command System (ICS) and NIMS provide tactical and operational guidelines, NRF identifies five essential principles the pivotal elements of the new doctrine (Table 1). The emphasis on inter-agency collaboration – “engaged partnership” – and on the lowest possible jurisdictional level of effective response (“tiered response”) are probably the most significant aspects of NRF.  Still, already at this very early stage of NRF’s existence, a major caveat with the potential for seriously affecting everything else emerges: the issue of collaboration.


         The problem of effective (if not harmonious) collaboration among and within governmental agencies has been recognized and studied by several authors (Northcote Parkinson, 1957; Barth, 1963; Alter, 1980; Kaarbo and Gruenfeld, 1998; O’Brien, 2008).  The issue is pervasive and has a powerfully adverse impact on all efforts whose complexity level extends beyond that of an “actionable memorandum.”  With DHS comprising of several echelons (agencies, Table 2) and the priorities skewed toward proactive homeland security measures, the status FEMA – a distinctly reactive agency (one can respond to an earthquake or a hurricane but not prevent their occurrence) – shifted from a “foster child” to one that is recognized but still neglected (Tierney, 2007; Kimery, 2008: see also DHS-OIG 08-35; GAO, 08-646T, 2008).  Moreover, the organizational efficiency of DHS itself depends on collaboration of other agencies (e.g., Departments of Justice, Defense, Transportation, Health and Human Services, etc.) tasked with providing the required support.  Considering that “the support agencies” operate within their own bureaucratic structures, concentrate on their own priorities and missions, often compete for funds or political significance (e.g., Boin et al., 2005), and manage their business within own cultures and hierarchical and strictly vertical chains of command, collaboration among the involved actors may turn out to be inadequate, possibly even impossible, in times of major crises (Lagadec, 1993; McIntyre Peters, 2008; Partnership for Public Service, 2008).  Hence, even if concepts such as “engaged partnership” and “tiered response” (FEMA, 2008) are among the pivotal aspects of NRF, their loose definition combined with the intra- and inter- dependencies of DHS introduce internal and external seeds of a potential disaster are built into the operational structure of DHS 






Engaged partnership


Collaboration and cooperation based on shared trust, confidence, and effective, unfettered communication




Tiered Response


Incident management at the lowest possible level of jurisdiction with external support when required



Scalability, flexibility, and adaptability of operational capabilities



The nature and intensity and of response must be measured, adequate, and suitable to the incident




Unity of Effort through Unified Command*


Efforts of all participating actors must focus on management of the incident and be based on cross-jurisdictional and cross cultural principles




Readiness to Act


Immediate response based on clear understanding of involved risks, implementation of NIMS doctrine and principles, and effective communication based on suitable technological platforms and social procedures



*)  Inclusion of the statement that “Each participating agency maintains its own authority, responsibility, and accountability” makes the concept of “unity of command” nearly meaningless, and significantly dilutes ICS principles.  Inclusion of “unity of command” statement in NRF has unquestionably  military background, but the concept, as defined, does not apply well (also noted in the document footnote by the authors of NRF themselves), and ought to be replaced with a clearly defined “unity of effort.”     


















National preparation for-,

management of-, and recovery after disasters of all kind; management of Natl. Flood insurance Program




US Secret Service


Presidential/VIP protection, financial fraud, cyber- and  telecommunications infrastructure protection



US Citizenship and Immigration Services



Administration of immigration and naturalization



US Coast Guard (USCG)


Maritime, inland waters, port security plus other duties



US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)



Border protection and customs


US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)



Maintenance of border, economic, transportation, infrastructure security









National Protection and Programs


Advancement of Department’s risk-reduction mission



Science and Technology


DHS-relevant research and development on technologies/capabilities




DHS’ budget, finance, HR, procurement, IT, facilities, performance assessment














Policy formulation/coordination


Health Affairs

 Medical preparation/response 


Operations Coordination

 Daily monitoring of US security status, liaison and coordination within DHS and state governors 


Domestic Nuclear Detection

 Nuclear detection at all levels of government and private sector 


Intelligence Analysis


Intelligence operations/threat


         Nobody knows how NRF will function when confronted with a major disaster.  For that matter, nobody really knows how ICS NIMS would have functioned following Hurricane Katrina.  Mandated by HSPD 5, ICS NIMS was in the process of national implementation when the hurricane struck, and a lot of work needed to be done before its full functionality would be in place (Rubin, 2007).  However, the reality of ICS NIMS is not very remote from that of Incident Command System (ICS), the latter practiced nationwide by several responder agencies for many years, but with particular intensity and success in California (Buck et al., 2006; Tierney, 2007).

         ICS has been subjected both to criticism by social scientists (Wenger et al., 1990; see also Quarantelli, 1998a) and either full or conditional approval by practitioners (e.g. Buck et al., 2006; Cole, 2000).  The divergences in approval rest probably with the way in which ICS (and, for that matter, NIMS) are perceived: social scientists seem to view it as a comprehensive “doctrine” encompassing the full spectrum of disaster management, while the practitioners appear to consider ICS either as “grand tactics” or a “tactical field manual” that concentrates on response rather than other aspects of disaster management continuum (Etkin and Davis, 2007).  A recent study (Buck et al., 2006) confirms this conclusion by pointing out that in all instances ICS has been properly understood and implemented, the concept provided an efficient tactical platform for disaster response activities, and also facilitated communication among all involved actors.  On the other hand, in cases where such understanding was either partial or missing, the efficiency of response declined.

         It might be, therefore, that, even if justified, the criticism of organizational response to, and the management of consequences of Hurricane Katrina bypasses a crucial aspect: the event represents the “worst case scenario” of a major disaster taking place at the time of “organizational transition,” when actors are not fully conversant with the approaches under current implementation, misunderstand them, and, even if best-intended, create confusion by the calamitously mixing “the old and the new.” Consequently, the already relatively weak collaborative links break down, vertical hierarchies predominate, and the intended “unity of effort” inadvertently transforms into discordance of chaos (see also Tierney, 2007).

         In a seminal survey of practitioners, academics, and emergency management consultants Carol Cwiak (2008) showed that nearly 53% of all responders considered “all actors collaboration, coordination, communication, build(ing)/maintain(ing) relationships” as the most important aspect of emergency management.  One of the participants in the survey defined collaboration as “emergency managers create and sustain broad and sincere relationships among individuals and organizations    to encourage trust, advocate a team atmosphere, build consensus, and facilitate communication (Cwiak, 2008, p. 18, our emphasis).  While NIMS and NRF stress similar attributes as essential for efficient and effective management of disasters, the complex nature of agency interactions and their inherent separateness mitigate against such relationships.  Moreover, in major disasters, problems are compounded not only by a wide range of individual agency bureaucracies, but also by jurisdictional rules and regulations of participating states, local communities, and private actors.  Therefore, while the “top-down” doctrine of NRF (and the subordinate operational doctrine of ICS NIMS) provides guidance – the framework – to the manner in which disaster management ought to be conducted, the practical application of these principles needs to be found not through the hierarchical interactions of bureaucracies but through peer-to-peer and bottom-up contacts.

         It has been recently proposed that implementation of the strategic management principles may provide a suitable solution to problems discussed above (Choi, 2008).  The orderly, long-range process has been successfully applied to even very large, complex, and globally distirbuted business organizations (e.g., Wickramasinghe and von Lubitz 2007).  However, we do not believe strategic management is ideally suited to the disaster management continuum.  While suitable for the preparatory (prodrome) stage (e.g, von Lubitz et al, 2008a), it appears to have little relevance to the chaotic phases of disaster response and the early recovery period.  A much greater applicability of strategic management can be found during the later, more structured period of community rebuilding.  Moreover, it must not be forgotten that many of the agencies which participate in the disaster response operate under non-emergent conditions within their own widely disparate cultures and managerial frameworks (e.g. Quarantelli, 1988b; Rutkowski et al., 2008; Buck et al., 2006; see also Reason, 2000).  To assure operational functionality of strategic management during emergencies, these cultures and management styles would have to be subjugated to common standards.  As the existing evidence from large scale disasters that required joint effort of federal, state, and local agencies clearly indicates, such conformity is virtually unobtainable (National 9/11 Commission; Buck et al., 2006; Cooper and Block, 2006).  Even more importantly, although HSPD-5 mandates DHS with homeland security and instructs the supporting agencies (e.g., Departments of Defense, Justice, or Health and Human Services) to cooperate with DHS, the Directive also assures that the independent authority of these agencies remains unaltered.  Since cooperation is not equivalent to the abandonment of pre-existing and well-established cultures and managerial practices, the support agencies can be expected to continue, essentially by default, to employ these practices as the basis for interactions with DHS.  Consequently, it seems unlikely that strategic management principles applied to the extremely complex environment of homeland security/disaster management will solve the most critical problem: interagency (or even inter-jurisdictional) cooperation and collaboration before, during, or after a major disaster.  The likely solutions need to be sought elsewhere.

Next: Part 3 – The “Team of Leaders” Concept

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