Though discussion over whether protection or emergency management should receive fiscal priority has been ongoing for many years, reforms in response to 9/11 changed the whole debate. Following the 9/11 terror attacks, the administration of George W. Bush, with the permission of Congress, defined presidential disaster declaration authority as a national security instrument, thus drastically changing federal emergency management.

Many of those reforms increased presidential authority and created new categories of incidents, defined under National Special Security Events, which then became eligible for funding. The talk does not revolve around whether protection or disasters should receive funding; rather all major disasters, emergencies, and catastrophic incidents as declared by the President are incidents of national significance. Presidents now possess almost unencumbered authority to mobilize federal and state resources.

Added to the rise in presidential authority was a restructuring of organizations and departments liable for emergency management. This restructuring also occurred after 9/11. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emegency Management Agency (FEMA) was transferred into the DHS. This placed FEMA under the direct supervision of the secretary and deputy secretary of Homeland Security. In 2003 Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5 was issued, which involved developing a National Response Plan and National Incident Management System.

There are several reasons why reforms in emergency management happen after an event instead of before. The first reason is that emergency management is disaster- and event-driven. The all-hazards model is predicated on generic scenarios that need to be adapted to suit specific localities and types of disasters. All-hazards planning focuses on developing capacities and capabilities that matter when the going gets tough. In other words, it doesn’t zero in on every single threat but instead ensures we have the training, supplies, and leadership to address a broad range of emergencies.

The plethora of agencies and resources that need to be coordinated varies with each disaster type and site. The resources available (i.e., funding, training, etc.) in California will presumably not be equivalently available in Maine. Therefore, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to plan for each scenario in every locality. While the all-hazard model addresses the broadest range of disaster types and allows for cross-training, it also means holes in policies, plans, or safety measures might not become evident until after a disaster has occurred.

The second reason reforms happen after an event is that reforms often reflect the changes in disaster types and political climate. What constitutes a disaster, available funding, and governmental authority has changed dramatically since the 1950 Federal Disaster Relief Act. Reforms plan to address new threats and reflect the changing views of politicians and society.

Additionally, the political nature of reforms is relevant. Politicians and, therefore, the presidents realize that their public image is usually intertwined with the success or failure of the federal government’s ability to reply to a catastrophe.

All of those aspects make it difficult to make changes. Many of the reforms aim to reduce the extent of disasters or prevent them altogether. Unfortunately, disasters will still occur, at which point those liable for emergency management become a reactive force.