Governors and mayors should be placing terrorism on the higher end of the disaster management and overall state planning spectrum, suggests the Executive Session on Domestic Preparedness (ESDP).

Made up of domestic preparedness specialists, elected officials, federal agency representatives, and academics, the ESDP convenes semi-annually at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

“After 9/11, many [elected officials] were forced to confront a relatively new issue under incredibly tight deadlines and with very high stakes,” says Robyn Pangi, a research associate with the ESDP. “Our goal [is] to provide them with some practical thinking points to assist them with the challenge of domestic preparedness.”

The ESDP recommends officials reassess their jurisdictions and re-evaluate their domestic preparedness plans. A memo, “Preparing for Terrorism: What Governors and Mayors Should Do,” was developed to address issues for elected officials to consider as a starting point to thinking about domestic preparedness, and highlights components of a comprehensive preparedness strategy, outlining state and local government priorities for change.

According to the ESDP, components of a comprehensive preparedness strategy should include:

  • Assess the threat.
Elected officials should recognize that terrorism is a threat to homeland America. They should assess the threat to their own jurisdictions and familiarize themselves with the spectrum of threats, as well as prepare commensurate to the threat assessment.

  • Prepare to meet the threat.
Elected officials should identify an adequate level of preparedness, harden soft targets where possible and develop robust emergency management plans based on an “all-hazards approach. Additionally, officials should encourage emergency managers to acquire equipment that has multiple purposes, and build sustainability into program design.

  • Expand training and practice.
Elected officials should educate first responders, public officials and the public, and practice executing those plans.

  • Coordinate key resources.

Elected officials need to create — or, if one already exists, support — a high-level counterterrorism coordinating role. They should actively promote interagency coordination. Additionally, officials should be able to communicate with policymakers, advisors and the public. They should facilitate intelligence sharing, and maximize the use of federal resources.

As the U.S. government and elected officials reorganize their strategies, members of the ESDP are now focusing on helping officials make that transition — from the once hypothetical, to the now realistic.

Juliette Kayyem, executive director for the ESDP says that the report, fifth in the “Perspectives on Preparedness” series, provides insight of federal, state and local officials who have been working on domestic preparedness long before Sept. 11. “What we want to tell mayors and governors, many of whom have never had to address terrorism before,” she says, “is that they do not have to re-invent the wheel.”

According to Pangi, “Many of these folks have been thinking hard about the issues involved in domestic preparedness for years,” she says. “Initially they battled for budgets and struggled to convince skeptics that terrorism was a real threat. Now they are scrambling to fulfill mandates, modify plans and train first responders.”

In the memo, the ESDP stresses the importance of domestic preparedness being a critical part of any state’s overall disaster management planning. As a starting point, the ESDP highlights priorities for change, including:

  • Medical and public health.
Elected officials should improve public health monitoring and surveillance systems, expand medical surge capacity and evaluate available stocks of pharmaceuticals.

  • Communication.
Elected officials should strive to improve communication systems, mandate interoperable communications and develop a public affairs plan.

  • Cross-Jurisdictional and Cross-Professional Coordination.
Officials should promote widespread adoption of the incident management system and fortify mutual aid agreements within metropolitan areas and with neighboring states.

  • Contingency planning.
Elected officials should build and maintain a backup of crucial resources, establish a comprehensive legal framework, and implement training standards for skills specific to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) response.

The ESDP brings together experts with operational experience in diverse professional fields that are essential to domestic preparedness. The memo, distributed to the National Governors’ Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and several members of Congress, has been echoed in speeches made by policymakers. “Although I certainly can’t say that the ideas were taken directly from the paper, we feel that the ideas embodied in the paper have influenced the public debate and provided inspiration for dialogue in relevant circles,” Pangi says.

The ESDP is a U.S. Department of Justice-funded project. For information, visit

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