Monday, August 23, 2010

At last--Adm Allen Defends ICS

Adm. Allen at the National Press Club on Friday finally definitively defended the Incident Command System, and explained to the American people why it is important. He also completely acknowledged that it was difficult for the American people to understand the notion of cooperative response between a responsible party and the government.

This is the first important step to helping elected officials, government responders, the media and the public understand what is at stake if ICS and NIMS are thrown out the window as a result of the administration's role in the Deepwater Horizon event.

Adm Allen, the National Incident Commander, went so far as to call it "trust," something that existed in the response early on, but was severely damaged or destroyed by the political necessity of blame avoidance. He explained that because of OPA 90, the government and the industry have been cooperating in response management for the past 20 years: "It is very hard for the public to understand that a responsible party that is clearly responsible for the event itself could somehow be cooperative in the response to the spill. But as a matter of fact, since 1990, that's exactly the way we've conducted oil spill response in this country."

He also points out that the challenge of cooperation is public perception: It's been challenging at times to create that unity of effort given sometimes what appears to be the rejection of the notion [by] the general public," Allen said.

He is absolutely right. Unfortunately, the public perception of the value and necessity of cooperation was severely impacted negatively by political messaging involved in this spill, the ignorance of the media of OPA 90, ICS and NIMS, and the underlying mistrust in the public of government and particularly big oil companies.

You might ask what this "throwing under the bus" of BP has to do with a national disaster response per NIMS? If politics is allowed to play such a role in the communication about any event, Responsible Party-involved or not, every response partner has to worry. Everyone looks behind their back. No government agency is immune from being thrown under the bus to focus and avoid blame. Look what happened to MMS in this event. Gone. What elected official in a major city is going to trust that when it comes to the blame game being played that they will not find themselves in the crosshairs of the White House or the highest office holding the keys to the response? And, as Adm. Allen suggests, trust is at the heart of effective collaborative response.

The response community who understands NIMS and the concept of Unified Command and collaborative emergency public information needs to fight against the kind of political overlordship that we have seen in this response. We don't need a new national response system as David Gergen suggested. We have a great one. We need to make certain it works by preventing it from being co-opted.

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