Water from the Passaic River overruns its banks and floods neighborhoods following Hurricane Irene in Paterson, New Jersey, August 31, 2011. Floodwaters finally started to recede from areas of the northeast devastated by Hurricane Irene but many communities were still underwater on Wednesday and relief workers battled cut-off roads and raging rivers to deliver emergency supplies. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group (NSPG) was an outgrowth of the 9/11 Commission tasked with monitoring the implementation of the broad policy recommendations issued by the 9/11 Commission. Among the commission’s original findings were:

Emergency response agencies nationwide should adopt the Incident Command System (ICS). When multiple agencies or multiple jurisdictions are involved, they should adopt a unified command. Both are proven frameworks for emergency response. Regular joint training at all levels is…essential to ensuring close coordination during an actual incident.

The NSPG now finds that this never happened. Many communities throughout the United States do not yet have a unified plan for multi-jurisdictional coordination in the face of a significant terrorist event or natural disaster. Too many incidents litter our recent memory (9/11, Hurricane Katrina) where the chaos surrounding tragedy is only compounded by the frustration felt in the difficulties of providing a coordinated and efficient response.

The NSPG report noted that the “executive branch also must ensure that all federal departments and agencies relevant to disaster mitigation and response be involved in disaster planning.” While improving the federal response to large disasters is integral to meliorating the prolonged suffering of a community, the immediate response to disaster falls largely on the shoulders of state and local agencies.

In that context, the NSPG urged community leaders and local jurisdiction heads to forge ICS protocols consistent with those laid forth by the 9/11 Commission. “Our discussions…indicate that many metropolitan areas, with multiple agencies responding to a disaster, still have not solved the problem of a unified command structure. This is a political problem that in most cases must be addressed by state and local government.”

America has made tremendous strides since 9/11 in the effort to secure its residents from the scourge of terrorism and the fallout of disaster. Unfortunately, much work remains to be done.