Nearly Two Years After 9/11, the United States is Still Dangerously Unprepared and Underfunded for a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack, Warns New Council Task Force

Nearly Two Years After 9/11, the United States is Still Dangerously Unprepared and Underfunded for a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack, Warns New Council Task Force

June 29, 2003 1:45 am (EST)

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Overall Expenditures Must Be as Much as Tripled to Prepare Emergency Responders Across the Country

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Full Text and the Executive Summary of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared.

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June 29, 2003 - Nearly two years after 9/11, the United States is drastically underfunding local emergency responders and remains dangerously unprepared to handle a catastrophic attack on American soil, particularly one involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-impact conventional weapons. If the nation does not take immediate steps to better identify and address the urgent needs of emergency responders, the next terrorist incident could be even more devastating than 9/11.

These are the central findings of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force on Emergency Responders, a blue-ribbon panel of Nobel laureates, U.S. military leaders, former high-level government officials, and other senior experts, led by former Senator Warren B. Rudman and advised by former White House terrorism and cyber-security chief Richard A. Clarke. This report marks the first time that data from emergency responder communities has been brought together to estimate national needs.

The Task Force met with emergency responder organizations across the country and asked them what additional programs they truly need— not a wish list— to establish a minimum effective response to a catastrophic terrorist attack. These presently unbudgeted needs total $98.4 billion, according to the emergency responder community and budget experts (See attached budget chart.)

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Currently the federal budget to fund emergency responders is $27 billion for five years beginning in 2004. Because record keeping and categorization of state and local spending varies greatly across states and localities, the experts could not estimate a single total five-year expenditure by state and local governments. Their best judgment is that state and local spending over the same period could be as low as $26 billion and as high as $76 billion. Therefore, total estimated spending for emergency responders by federal, state and local governments combined would be between $53 and $103 billion for the five years beginning in FY04.

Because the $98.4 billion unmet needs budget covers areas not adequately addressed at current funding levels, the total necessary overall expenditure for emergency responders would be $151.4 billion over five years if we are currently spending $53 billion, and $201.4 billion if we are currently spending $103 billion. Estimated combined federal state, and local expenditures therefore would need to be as much as tripled over the next five years to address this unmet need. Covering this funding shortfall using federal funds alone would require a five-fold increase from the current level of $5.4 billion per year to an annual federal expenditure of $25.1 billion.

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“While we have put forth the best estimates so far on emergency responder needs, the nation must urgently develop a better framework and procedures to generate guidelines on national preparedness,” said Rudman, who served as Task Force chair. “And the government cannot wait to increase desperately needed funding to emergency responders until it has these standards in place,” he said.

The Task Force credits the Bush administration, Congress, governors and mayors for taking important steps since 9/11 to respond to the risk of catastrophic terrorism, and does not seek to apportion blame about what has not been done or not done quickly enough. The report is aimed, rather, at closing the gap between current levels of emergency preparedness and minimum essential preparedness levels across the United States.

“This report is an important preliminary step in a process of developing national standards and determining national needs for emergency responders,” said Council President Leslie H. Gelb, “but the report also highlights the need for much more work to be done in this area.”

The Independent Task Force, Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared, based its analysis on data provided by front-line emergency responders— firemen, policemen, emergency medical workers, public health providers and others— whose lives depend upon the adequacy of their preparedness for a potential terrorist attack.

The study was carried out in partnership with the Concord Coalition and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, two of the nation’s leading budget analysis organizations.

Jamie Metzl, Council Senior Fellow and a former National Security Council and Senate Foreign Relations Committee official, directed the effort. The Task Force drew upon the expertise of more than twenty leading emergency responder professional associations and leading officials across the United States. (A list of participating associations is attached below.)

The Task Force identified two major obstacles hampering America’s emergency preparedness efforts. First, because we lack preparedness standards, it is difficult to know what we need and how much it will cost. Second, funding for emergency responders has been sidetracked and stalled due to a politicized appropriations process, slowness in the distribution of the funds by federal agencies, and bureaucratic red tape at all levels of government.

To address the lack of standards and good numbers, the Task Force makes the following recommendations:

  • Congress should require that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work with state and local agencies and officials and emergency responder professional associations to establish clearly defined standards and guidelines for emergency preparedness. These standards must be sufficiently flexible to allow local officials to set priorities based on their needs, provided that they reach nationally-determined preparedness levels within a fixed time period.
  • Congress should require that the DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services submit a coordinated plan for meeting identified national preparedness standards by the end of FY07.
  • Congress should establish a system for allocating scarce resources based less on dividing the spoils and more on addressing identified threats and vulnerabilities. To do this, the Federal government should consider such factors as population, population density, vulnerability assessment, and presence of critical infrastructure within each state. State governments should be required to use the same criteria for distributing funds within each state.
  • Congress should establish within DHS a National Institute for Best Practices in Emergency Preparedness to work with state and local governments, emergency preparedness professional associations, and other partners to share best practices and lessons learned.
  • Congress should make emergency responder grants in FY04 and thereafter on a multi-year basis to facilitate long-term planning and training.

To deal with the problem of appropriated funds being sidetracked and stalled on their way to Emergency Responders, the Task Force recommends:

  • The U.S. House of Representatives should transform the House Select Committee on Homeland Security into a standing committee and give it a formal, leading role in the authorization of all emergency responder expenditures in order to streamline the federal budgetary process.
  • The U.S. Senate should consolidate emergency preparedness and response oversight into the Senate Government Affairs Committee.
  • Congress should require the Department of Homeland Security to work with other federal agencies to streamline homeland security grants to reduce unnecessary duplication and to establish coordinated “one-stop shopping” for state and local authorities seeking grants.
  • States should develop a prioritized list of requirements in order to ensure that federal funding is allocated to achieve the best possible return on investments.
  • Congress should ensure that all future appropriations bills for emergency responders include strict distribution timelines.
  • The Department of Homeland Security should move the Office of Domestic Preparedness from the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security to the Office of State and Local Government Coordination in order to consolidate oversight of grants to emergency responders within the office of the Secretary.

The Task Force on Emergency Responders is a follow on to the Council’s highly acclaimed Hart-Rudman Homeland Security Task Force, which made concrete recommendations last October on defending the country against a terrorist attack.

Established in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan membership organization, publisher, and think tank, dedicated to increasing America’s understanding of the world and contributing ideas to U.S. foreign policy. The Council accomplishes this mainly by promoting constructive debates, clarifying world issues, producing reports, and publishing Foreign Affairs, the leading journal on global issues.

Full Text and the Executive Summary of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared.


Warren B. Rudman (Chair)
Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison
Former Senator, New Hampshire

Charles Graham Boyd
Chief Executive Officer and President, Business Executives for National Security
Former Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command

Richard A. Clarke (Senior Adviser)
Senior Adviser, Council on Foreign Relations
Chairman of Good Harbor Consulting, LLC
Former Senior White House Adviser

William J. Crowe
Senior Advisor, Global Options
Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

James Kallstrom
Senior Executive Vice President, MBNA America
Former Director, Office of Public Security for the State of New York

Joshua Lederberg
President-Emeritus and Sackler Foundation Scholar, Rockefeller University
Nobel Laureate

Donald Marron
Chairman, UBS America and Chairman, Lightyear Capital

Jamie Metzl (Project Director)
Senior Fellow and Coordinator for Homeland Security Programs, Council on Foreign Relations
Former National Security Council aide
Former Senate Foreign Relations Committee official

Philip A. Odeen
Former Chairman, TRW, Inc.

Norman J. Ornstein
Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

Dennis Reimer
Director, Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism
Former Chief of Staff, USA

George P. Shultz
Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow, the Hoover Institution,
Stanford University; Former Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Labor, and Director, Office of Management and Budget

Anne-Marie Slaughter
Dean, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

David Stern
Commissioner, National Basketball Association

Paul Tagliabue
Commissioner, National Football League

Harold E. Varmus
President and Chief Executive Officer, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Nobel Laureate

John W. Vessey
Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

William H. Webster
Partner, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency
Former Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Steven Weinberg
Director of the Theory Group, University of Texas
Nobel Laureate

Mary Jo White
Partner and Chair of the Litigation Department, Debevoise & Plimpton
Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Emergency Responders Five-Year Unmet Needs Budget (FY04-FY08)*

Response Area


Estimated Five-Year Cost

Fire Services

Strengthen hazardous materials preparation and response, and EMS, including equipment and training.

$36.8 billion

Urban Search and Rescue

Prepare fire departments and EMS for technical rescue and enhance FEMA’s national search and rescue teams.

$15.2 billion

Hospital Preparedness

Upgrade communications, personnel protective equipment, mental health services, decontamination and training for hospitals.

$29.6 billion

Public Health

Enhance CDC and epidemiological services; upgrade state and local public health department capacities to respond to terrorism.

$6.7 billion

Emergency 911 Systems

Implement a national emergency telephone number system with effective first responder deployment capacity.

$10.4 billion

Interoperable Communications

Ensure dependable, interoperable communications for first responders.

$6.8 billion

Emergency Operations Centers

Provide physical and technical improvements in emergency operations centers.

$3.3 billion

Animal/Agriculture Emergency Response

Develop regional and state teams to respond to emergencies and enhance lab support capacity.

$2.1 billion

Emergency Medical Services Systems

Improve state and local EMS infrastructure including mutual aid, planning, and training.

$1.4 billion

Emergency Management Planning and Coordination

Enhance basic emergency coordination and planning capabilities at state/local levels.

$1 billion

Emergency Response Regional Exercises

Fund annual regional exercises.

$0.3 billion



$113.6 billion

Undesignated offsets from federal grants**

($15.2 billion)



$98.4 billion

* These budgetary figures are based on estimates provided by the Emergency Responders Action Group. Where possible these figures have already been reduced to account for anticipated federal spending in relevant response areas.
**This assumes a thirty percent match by state and local governments.

Emergency Responders Action Group
Participating Organizations

American College of Emergency Physicians
American Hospitals Association
American Veterinary Medical Association
Century Foundation
Council of State Governments
County Executives of America
International Association of Chiefs of Police
International Association of Emergency Managers
International Association of Fire Chiefs
International Association of Fire Fighters
International City County Management Association
Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organization
National Association of Counties
National Association of County and City Health Officials
National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians
National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems
National Emergency Numbers Association
National Fire Protection Association
National League of Cities
National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism
National Sheriffs’ Association
National Volunteer Fire Council
Trust for America’s Health
United States Conference of Mayors

Contact: Lisa Shields, Vice President, Communications, (212)434-9888


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