The Importance of Follow-Through in Disaster Planning

The Purpose of the National-Level Exercises

A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General revealed a failure on the part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to track and manage corrective actions in the face of failures observed while completing the National-Level Exercise — which is carried out every two years in the U.S. The National-Level Exercise is used to assess the ability of the U.S. to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a large disaster on U.S. soil. It is FEMA’s area of responsibility to track and manage any corrective actions that might stem from these national exercises, as well as to pass any lessons learned throughout their organization. The report, issued on September 2012, was aimed at determining whether FEMA has done their part in all this.

How the Process Works

When done correctly, once FEMA has identified a problem, an improvement planning process is implemented to attempt to correctly identify and correct any failures detected through the use of After-Action Reports. Once these problem areas are resolved, and a fix is found, the corrective actions should be put into place and further validated through testing, mainly through using these corrected actions in further exercises. Once completed and validated as workable actions, they become lessons learned and are spread throughout FEMA’s organizational structure.

Failure to Connect

Instead, what has been found to be true according to the September 2012 report is that less than 40% of the corrective actions identified through the National-Level Exercises have been completed. It has further been found that these failures are in large part due to program management. Another finding revealed that FEMA failed to validate corrective actions taken to assure that the organization was indeed effective at answering failures found during the exercises. Furthermore, the organization failed to implement lessons learned throughout the FEMA organization, the report stated.


The importance of following through cannot be overstated in the face of such failures. Without the correct validation and spreading of any lessons learned, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. This, in turn, leads to unnecessary loss of property, and even worse, the potential loss of human life.

For more information about the Department of Homeland Security Office’s report on FEMA, visit: