What Businesses Should Know About the Disaster Recovery Framework

November 1, 2011

Something’s new on the disaster recovery front. On September 27, 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unveiled the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). 

The president charged the Department of Homeland Security with developing integrated national planning frameworks covering prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery in coordination with other federal departments and agencies.  A Presidential Policy Directive requires the frameworks to prepare the country to deal with the greatest risks to national security including terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters. 

The frameworks together will comprise the National Preparedness System. Also, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act required FEMA to develop a “national disaster recovery strategy.” 

The NDRF meets both requirements.

Many years ago, the federal government, with FEMA in the lead, created the Federal Response Plan, the predecessor to today’s National Response Framework. The Federal Response Plan established the functional areas in which federal agencies would organize to respond to major disasters and emergencies. It called the 15 functional areas “emergency support functions.” 

The NRF formally recognized that disaster response included not just federal players but also state, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. It told non-federal players how the federal agencies would operate to respond to a disaster and broadly described capabilities. 

State and local emergency management agencies around the nation have organized their disaster responses in similar fashion, sometimes with variations. For example, some have added a “private sector emergency support function” to coordinate planning and response with the private sector. Those companies that assist with disaster response are probably familiar with this.

The federal government has had no similar structure for recovery. 

As many of you know, disaster recovery is not the same as disaster response. It involves different players and takes longer.  While disaster response activities may take weeks or months, disaster recovery can take years. Look at how long recovery took from the 1994 Northridge earthquake or the on-going recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005, and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. 

Recovery requires different players and different skill sets. Recovery takes something other than an emergency management/response mindset, and many emergency managers will agree. 

While governments have roles, such as planning and zoning decisions, building permitting, and perhaps incentivizing certain actions like business retention and affordable housing creation, disaster recovery generally happens because of private sector decisions regarding insurance claims and coverage, rebuilding and other location decisions, investment, financing, employment, and so on. 

Non-governmental organizations also play important roles such as in providing social services, job training, and affordable housing.

Now the federal government has the makings of a structure and approach for recovery. While it has tested the approach in several disasters, it is really in its infancy. 

The National Disaster Recovery Framework  is designed to provide a common understanding of roles, responsibilities, and resources available for effective recovery. It establishes six “recovery support functions (RSFs)”

  • Community Planning and Capacity Building (Coordinating agency: FEMA)
  • Economic (Coordinating agency: Department of Commerce/Economic Development Administration)
  • Health and Social Services (Coordinating agency: Department of Health & Human Services)
  • Housing (Coordinating agency: Department of Housing & Urban Development)
  • Infrastructure Systems (Coordinating agency: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
  • Natural and Cultural Resources (Coordinating agency: Department of the Interior)

It is within the structure of the NDRF that federal agencies plan to work together at disaster recovery locations. 

In addition to a coordinating structure, the NDRF adopts nine guiding core principles, defines roles and responsibilities for coordinators and stakeholders, and provides guidance for pre- and post-disaster recovery planning. The NDRF makes clear that all of this is to support state, local, and tribal governments.

Over the next six months or so, FEMA plans to hold listening sessions around the country and build out the NDRF with operating plans. Expectedly, this will trickle down and be adopted in some manner by state, local, and tribal governments. 

Many of those governments that have engaged with the business community to plan for disaster response will likely want to engage the business community in pre-disaster planning for recovery, following the NDRF.

What is the connection to the private sector?

  • The national RSF coordinators have the responsibility to ensure coordination and communication with private sector organizations, as well as state, local, and tribal governments and nongovernmental organizations.
  • The NDRF strongly encourages innovation by the private sector and others identifying tools and resources in pre-disaster planning to support and sustain disaster mitigation and recovery efforts.
  • It recognizes well established public-private partnerships as a factor and a driver of successful disaster recovery.
  • It encourages “Communities to seek out, interface and coordinate successfully with outside sources of help, such as surrounding governments, foundations, universities, nonprofit organizations and private sector entities – a key element in rapid recovery.”
  • It recognizes the critical role the private sector plays in establishing public confidence after a disaster by getting back to operations.  Local government leadership and the business community working together pre-disaster to develop a conceptual recovery plan also will likely boost community optimism.
  • Of course, the Economic Recovery Support Function focuses largely on health and well-being of the private sector.
  • The NDRF contains important pre- and post-disaster checklists that can be helpful tools for businesses and suggestions for planning activities for businesses.

It is clear through the NDRF and other vehicles that the federal government sees the business community as a partner in recovery more than ever before.