COVID-19 Federal Pandemic Response:
Failing National Emergency Management System
Mr. Arthur J. Simental & Dr. Tina Bynum
April 4, 2020
COVID-19 continues to greatly impact states and run rampant across the nation, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The Trump Administration’s own report concedes that the truth is COVID-19 may be around for the next 12-18 months[i]. Despite spending billions of dollars since Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 to prepare for emergencies and disasters including pandemics, many communities find themselves asking why was the federal government not prepared for this?
Since the onset of COVID-19, the Trump Administration has failed to act in every reasonable way ignoring the warnings by the Intelligence Community, multiple National Security Council and Homeland Security Advisors, and federal agencies[ii], and further disregarding decades of emergency preparedness planning established to prevent the uncoordinated and disjointed federal response piecemealed together with little regard for expert or scientific guidance[iii]. Only recently have we seen the Trump Administration shift and change direction in the face of overwhelming backlash and economic turmoil, issuing a national disaster declaration activating the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA[iv], initiating the Defense Production Act,[v] albeit only minimally, after much debate and dismissal over its need, and issuing a memorandum to cover the federal cost of national guard deployments in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Michigan[vi]. Many of these actions were taken far too late and required immense pressure from state governments and the medical community for the White House to act.
One of the most significant issues contributing to this global crisis is the continued lack of mass testing and critical medical supplies. There is a great need for ventilators and personal protective equipment such as face masks, gloves, gowns, and disinfectant supplies as COVID-19 continues to devastate states and healthcare systems across America. Governors have been requesting emergency supplies and resources for weeks. The President’s administration has been reluctant to provide the needed federal support until recently, and has told states to get the equipment to fight COVID-19 on their own[vii]. States and healthcare systems are in a free-for-all in competition against other states, FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the federal government for these critical emergency supplies.
The reluctance to provide emergency federal support and assistance to states goes against the very foundation that the national emergency and disaster response system is based on[viii]. A major example of this is the National Response Framework (NRF), the federal doctrine established in 2008 as a result of the poor response to Hurricane Katrina, that indicates how all stakeholders, especially the federal government, are supposed to deal with emergencies, including a pandemic. The NRF has been discarded and replaced with an ad-hoc plan by the White House COVID-19 Task Force that regularly changes from week to week, even daily at times in the aftermath of White House Press briefings[ix] and led by the Vice-President with no experience in emergency management, much less any medical knowledge necessary to manage a pandemic. In light of the underwhelming response and reluctance to do what is needed to protect the public and provide assistance to states in the face of this emergency, perhaps the nation needs to consider new approaches to how we handle future emergencies and disasters. Clearly, the absence of federal leadership has had a major impact in responding to COVID-19. Compounded by the Trump Administration eliminating jobs and stripping funding from the CDC and federal government of their pandemic response professionals, this administration additionally demolished multiple levels of the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership and eliminated numerous emergency preparedness offices and anti-terrorism programs[x]. There is an undeniable lack of training and knowledgeable people and experts leading the nation during this global crisis.
If states and local governments must fend for themselves and are unable to rely on federal support and assistance, then we need to go back to the drawing board and redesign our national emergency and disaster response system to ensure this never happens again and that we can effectively prepare for, mitigate and lessen the impact of all future pandemics and disasters. States need to be considering options to develop permanent funding sources, developing local and state response capabilities and supply chains, and lastly conducting systematic resilience activities so that their communities are prepared for future disasters sans the federal government “support.” COVID-19 has demonstrated the greatest need, secondary to managing the immediate crisis, is to be having these conversations now and putting frameworks, plans, funding, resources and actions into place even now to make sure a true national response can happen and that this absolute incompetence never happens again.
[i] U.S. Virus Plan Anticipates 18-Month Pandemic and Widespread Shortages (2020). Baker, P. and Sullivan, E. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-plan.html
[ii] Washington Post: US intelligence warned Trump in January and February as he dismissed coronavirus threat (2020). Kelly, C. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/20/politics/us-intelligence-reports-trump-coronavirus/index.html; Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), CDC Situation Summary (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html#anchor_1580064337377 ; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Determination that a Public Health Emergency Exists (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.phe.gov/emergency/news/healthactions/phe/Pages/2019-nCoV.aspx ; COVID-19 Warnings Ignored: A Timeline of Trump’s COVID-19 Response (2020). Miller, T. Retrieved from: https://thebulwark.com/warnings-ignored-a-timeline-of-trumps-covid-19-response/
[iii] Trump considers reopening economy against experts’ advice (2020). Todd C., Murray, M., Dann, C. and Holzberg, M. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/trump-pits-his-gut-against-his-own-health-experts-n1167486 ; The Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act 1988, amended in 2006 and again in 2018 with the Disaster Recovery Reform Act. The National Incident Management System 2004, The National Response Framework which is the federal doctrine established in 2008 as a result of the poor response to Hurricane Katrina. Project BioShield Act of 2004. The Public Health Service Act 1944, the latter amended the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act reauthorized in 2006, 2013 and most recently in June of 2019.
[iv] Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak (2020). The White House, Presidential Proclamation. Retrieved from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-declaring-national-emergency-concerning-novel-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-outbreak/ ; FEMA, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.fema.gov/coronavirus
[v] Trump uses Defense Production Act to order GM to make ventilators (2020). Fredericks, B. Retrieved from: https://nypost.com/2020/03/27/trump-uses-defense-production-act-to-order-gm-to-make-ventilators/
[vi] Memorandum on Providing Federal Support for Governors’ Use of the National Guard to Respond to COVID-19 (2020). The White House, Presidential Memorandum. Retrieved from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/memorandum-providing-federal-support-governors-use-national-guard-respond-covid-19-3/
[vii] Trump Told Governors to Buy Own Virus Supplies, Then Outbid Them (2020). Fabian, J. Retrieved from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-19/trump-told-governors-to-buy-own-virus-supplies-then-outbid-them
[viii] National Response Framework, Fourth Edition | FEMA.gov. Retrieved from: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/117791
[ix] National Response Framework, Fourth Edition | FEMA.gov. Retrieved from: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/117791
[x] David Willman (2019) Trump administration gutted anti-terrorism programs. Bipartisan officials want an explanation. Retrieved from: https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2019-09-05/bipartisan-congressional-officials-trump-administration-cuts-anti-wmd-terrorism ; Did Trump try to cut the CDC’s budget as Democrats claim?: ANALYSIS (2020). Alesse, L. Retrieved from: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-cut-cdcs-budget-democrats-claim-analysis/story?id=69233170 ; Shake-up at Homeland Security goes beyond Nielsen’s exit (2019). Long, C. & and Colvin, J. Retrieved from: https://apnews.com/88d0c24ce4504a5fb31a0f09dca7fc89
Arthur J. Simental, M.S.
Mr. Arthur J. Simental is an Adjunct Instructor and the Founder of C&S Resiliency Solutions Ltd. Mr. Simental has nearly a decade of service in Government, Homeland Security & Emergency Management and Emergency Services. Mr. Simental served at the local, county, regional, state level and in the private and non-profit sectors in healthcare, space & defense, security and education working with critical infrastructure facilities.
Mr. Simental possesses a Master of Science in Homeland Security, Emergency Management and Public Health from Colorado Technical University, a Bachelor of Arts in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Military University, an Associate of Applied Science in Homeland Security/Emergency Management from Pikes Peak Community College, and an Undergraduate Certificate in Cybersecurity from Colorado State University.
Dr. Tina Bynum
Tina Bynum, D.M., M.P.A.
Dr. Tina Bynum is the University Program Director for the College of Security Studies at Colorado Technical University. She presently serves on the editorial review board of the Journal for Homeland Security Education and is a member of the University and Agency Partnership Initiative (UAPI) at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) at the Naval Postgraduate School. Dr. Bynum co-authored Homeland Security: Safeguarding the U.S. from Domestic Catastrophic Destruction (2016), and The United States Department of Homeland Security, An Overview (2Ed, 2010). Dr. Bynum also authored a chapter, Whistleblower or Traitor? in Logan, K. G., Homeland Security and Intelligence (2017, 2 Ed).
Dr. Bynum holds a Doctorate of Management – Homeland Security from Colorado Technical University, a Master of Public Administration and a BA in Psychology from the University of Colorado.
Dr. Bynum served as the Associate Director of Operations and Educational Programs at the Center for Homeland Security, part of the National Institute of Science, Space and Security Centers at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She also served as the Associate Director for the CU-Trauma, Health and Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where she developed a peer support program for first responders to help them build resilience, cope, and recover from traumatic occupational experiences.
Dr. Bynum teaches courses in criminal justice, emergency management, public administration, and homeland security. A retired firefighter and emergency medical technician, she also volunteers as an emergency response planner for her community.