COVID-19 Federal Pandemic Response:
The Death of U.S. Homeland Security & Emergency Management Policy
Mr. Arthur J. Simental & Dr. Tina Bynum
April 4, 2020
The federal response to COVID-19 has been nothing short of disruptive and pure chaos to the Homeland Security Enterprise. States are forced to fend for themselves as the Trump Administration refuses to provide support and do what is necessary to protect the nation. This aberration of off the cuff federal emergency response and “make it up as we go mentality” flies against the foundation of all established U.S. emergency and disaster response policy and plans. Pandemics and other major disasters in the United States have been prepared for decades despite the President’s claims that no one could have imagined this. Nothing could be further from the truth. The conclusion of The 9/11 Commission Report was that there was an overwhelming failure of imagination[i]. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security and all federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services have long planned and prepared for all types of natural, technological and man-made disasters – especially pandemics of potentially biblical proportions, like we face today. However, despite billions of dollars spent, years and decades of planning, training and conducting disaster drills across all levels of government and the private sector including healthcare organizations, the Trump Administration’s response from the onset has been to abandon all rational and established Homeland Security & Emergency Management and Public Health Emergency Preparedness policies[ii]. A major example of this is the National Response Framework (NRF), which is 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[iii]. “The NRF is a guide to how the Nation responds to all types of disasters and emergencies”[iv]. A key concept of the National Response Framework, and the National Incident Management System is that all emergencies, even disasters start and end locally and when resources become overwhelmed they request support from higher jurisdictions, in essence, local to county to state, and if the state does not have the resources needed, then the federal government is supposed to step in and coordinate a national, unified federal response to save lives and protect the public. But what we are witnessing is the opposite, a chaotic and uncoordinated federal response, undoubtedly caused by a massive vacuum in federal leadership, and the consequences are real. Over 60,960+ people worldwide to date have died from COVID-19. 7,158+ of those fatalities are in the United States as of this posting on 4/4/2020[v].
This huge departure from Homeland Security and Emergency Management policy disrupts and effects the planning basis that all emergency plans in the United States are based on, especially the assumptions in which federal assistance will arrive within 96 hours after a disaster. Multiple states such as New York and California have pleaded for weeks for federal assistance, only to receive little if any at all. In fact, the President’s response to Governors on a conference call in March was that the states were on their own and then in response to criticism attacked states for needing assistance, as first reported by The New York Times. State Governors are still lacking critical resources despite the President’s claims that thousands of ventilators are being sent to help states. This is an ongoing and continuous need. States are only receiving a fraction of the emergency supply requests they are submitting.
Adding more frustration and confusion is the President’s attitude toward enforcing the Defense Production Act (DPA). He stated in one of his briefings that the private sector was already doing it, so he didn’t need to enact it…but this started very late in the game. FEMA has faced whiplash from the back and forth coming out of the conflicting messages, placing DPA wording into national supply contracts only to retract them a day later[vi]. “The Defense Production Act is the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of materials and services from the U.S. industrial base needed to promote the national defense. DPA authorities are available to support: emergency preparedness activities conducted pursuant to title VI of the Stafford Act; protection or restoration of critical infrastructure; and efforts to prevent, reduce vulnerability to, minimize damage from, and recover from acts of terrorism within the United States”[vii]. Despite having numerous plans, legislation and tools in place that have been developed and created for this purpose, why has the President refused to implement a strong unified federal response still absent today? Why is that only when pressed against overwhelming backlash does the administration do what is needed to stabilize the nation? The President knew there was potential for a pandemic when it started moving out of China in January, yet he did nothing.
Finally, there have been no replacements for jobs that the Trump Administration has scuttled, from stripping the CDC and federal government of their pandemic response professionals, demolishing multiple levels of the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership and eliminating numerous emergency preparedness offices and anti-terrorism programs[viii]. We are left with an uneducated, untrained, unknowledgeable “task force” save Dr. Fauci who is fighting every day to keep us factually informed in spite of Trump’s misinformation and incessant need to hold the press briefings himself. The administration’s incapability to lead the nation is unquestionably because of the lack of training, knowledgeable people and experts behind the wheel. We need experts driving America on a path to safety and security.
When the dust clears in the coming months to a year from the aftermath of COVID – 19 Americans need to critically think if this is an experience they want to go through again, because it will happen again. Pandemics have long held a place in the history of humanity, each unique encounter changing the world. If America wants to prevent, mitigate and lessen future pandemics, particularly ones that threaten to upend life as we know it, then science and experts need to be leading the nation, not politicians.
[i] The 9/11 Commission Report pp.344 – 352. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. (2004, August 21). National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States. https://www.9-11commission.gov/report/
[ii] 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.
[iii] National Response Framework, Fourth Edition | FEMA.gov. (2019, October 27). FEMA. https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/117791
[iv] National Response Framework, Fourth Edition | FEMA.gov. (2019, October 27). FEMA. https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/117791
[vi] Trump and FEMA chief contradict each other on Defense Production Act By Kristen Holmes and Kaitlan Collins, CNN, Retrieved from: https://www.kctv5.com/coronavirus/trump-and-fema-chief-contradict-each-other-on-defense-production/article_e512cee1-9779-59d4-8dbd-2aba58fad11e.html
[vii] FEMA. (2020, March 17). Defense Production Act Program | FEMA.gov. FEMA. https://www.fema.gov/defense-production-act-program
[viii] 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
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 andis 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.