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Has The Federal Emergency Response Improved 9 11 Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4209 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The United States is confronted by many kinds of emergencies every day, emergencies which require prompt actions from emergency responders. These responders may come from different parts of the same local authorities or may come from other authorities. They may come from State or Federal agencies. Nevertheless, despite having come from different authorities and agencies, they need to effectively communicate and work together to get their desired results. The failures of the Federal government during the 9/11 attack serves as an awakening call to all. The 9/11 attack which has struck the whole country emphasizes that there is a need to continuously improve incident management. The history of Federal response procedures indicates that Federal planning concentrates too much on how Federal agencies communicate to one another during such emergencies. However, it did not completely concentrate on incorporating the different levels of government to manage incidents. It did not plan on appropriate working relationships prior to, subsequent to, and all throughout the crisis. Subsequent to the 9/11 attack, endeavoring to provide better incident responses, incident management principles must be revisited to develop a better response framework.

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This paper will provide a review on how the Federal Response Framework was implemented during the 9/11 attack. In doing so, the paper will explore the history of Federal response procedures, the Federal response to terrorism and the National Response Framework. This paper will also discuss the lessons learned from the 9/11 attack and the improvements made since the terrorist attack.

History of Federal Response Procedures

The current National Response Framework is a product of a long history of natural and man-made disasters, where existing response procedures were revisited and reassessed consequently following a disaster. The federal government’s role in emergency response dates back following the event in 1802 when a Portsmouth, New Hampshire was raged by a large uncontrolled fire. Immediately in 1803, the federal government launched the federal role with The Congressional Act of 1803 (Foster, 2005). A century followed characterized by many natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, to which the federal government attended to.

During the 1960s to the early 1970’s, United States faced massive disasters which required major federal response and recovery operations. Thus, legislation were increased to address the concerns that natural disasters bring forth, such as the National Flood Insurance Act in 1968 and the Disaster Relief Act in 1974, to name a few (FEMA, 2009). At this point, however, emergency response procedures were still fragmented. There were more than a hundred federal agencies involved in providing assistance to state to local governments in the event of a disaster. Moreover, many programs and policies within the state and local level were too similar resulting to redundancy as well as compounding the complexity of the federal government’s efforts in responding to disasters.

The National Governor’s Association considered cutting the number of agencies to which the state and local government needed to coordinate with. They approached President Jimmy Carter to centralize federal emergency functions (Foster, 2005). With an attempt to improve and streamline federal emergency functions, President Carter signed an Executive Order that created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA became responsible for “coordinat[ing] the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror” (FEMA, 2009). In 1988, the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act was passed, which launched a system wherein a Presidential disaster declaration of an emergency prompted federal financial and material assistance to be released to state and local governments. This act became known as the Federal Response Plan and FEMA has the primary responsibility of coordinating at least 25 government and non-government agencies.

The first few years of FEMA emphasized the complexity of emergency management as FEMA faced many unusual disasters and emergencies such as the contamination of Love Canal, Cuban refugee crisis and disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant (FEMA, 2009). Other disasters it faced were the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. When James Witt became the new FEMA director in 1993, Witt instigated reforms within the agency that reorganized disaster relief and recovery operations to an “all-hazards” model to make it more efficient, emphasizing on preparedness and mitigation and customer service.

After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, Homeland Security Act of 2002 was passed, which required the consolidation of “existing federal government emergency response plans into a single, coordinated national response plan” (U.S. Congress, Cited from Lindsay, 2008, p. 3). The act also created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) merging at least 20 agencies into a single department, including FEMA. FEMA, despite being under DHS, still maintained its authority to administer the provisions of the Stafford Act as well as its designation as the forefront agency for the country’s response plan.

In December 2004, DHS issued a successor to the Federal Response Plan, entitled the National Response Plan (NRP). The NRP attempts to incorporate all levels of government in a common incident management framework (US Government Printing Office, 2009). Implemented during Hurricane Katrina, the NRP still proved to be inadequate. Nine months after Katrina’s landfall, several changes were made to the NRP, which integrated the preliminary lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, DHS published the National Response Framework (NRF) as a guide to how the nation conducts emergency and disaster responses. The NRF replaces the 2004 NRP and revised 2006 NRP (US Government Printing Office, 2009).

Federal Response to Terrorism

Responding to a terrorist act, whether it involves a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agent or weapon, entails a wide array of complexities to state and local responders. The current system requires that local police, fire and emergency personnel first respond to the disaster (Haddow, Bullock & Coppola, 2006). If the incident overpowers the capabilities of the local responders, they may turn to the state government for assistance and when it becomes too immense for the local and state responders, eventually, they turn to the federal government for assistance. Accordingly, federal agencies may assist through deployment of various teams (GAO, 2000).

Figure 1: Relationship between crisis management and consequence management

(Larson and Peters, 2001, p. 258)

The Federal Response Plan and Terrorism Incident Annex states that the Terrorism Incident Annex endeavors to improve the nation’s “ability to respond rapidly and decisively to terrorism directed against Americans wherever it occurs, arrest or defeat the perpetrators using all appropriate instruments against the sponsoring organizations and governments, and provide recovery relief to victims, as permitted by law” (Larson & Peters, 2001, p. 259) The Terrorism Incident Annex visualizes a possible flow from crisis management activities to consequence management (See figure 1). Larson and Peters (2001) indicated that the difference between crisis management and consequence management is that crisis management involves “measures to identify, acquire, and plan the use of resources needed to anticipate, prevent, and/or resolve a threat or act of terrorism” whereas consequence management, on the other hand, “includes measures to protect public health and safety, restore essential government services, and provide emergency relief to governments, businesses, and individuals affected by the consequences of terrorism” (Larson & Peters, 2001, p. 257).

National Response Framework

Effective March 22, 2008, the National Response Framework superseded the National Response Plan. The NRF lays out the guiding principles which facilitate all response associates to prepare for and provide an integrated emergency response towards disasters and other emergencies. It institutes an all-inclusive, national, all-hazards approach to domestic incident response. The NRF defines the key principles, roles and structures that systematize how the country responds as one nation. The NRF is built upon the National Incident Management System (NIMS) which provides a standard command and management structure that directly applies to response activities. Accordingly, this system presents a reliable, national template that allows Federal, State, tribal and local governments as well as the private sector and NGOs to collaborate in the preparation, prevention, response, recovery and mitigation of the effects of the incidents regardless of its size, cause, location and/or complexity (US Government Printing Office, 2009).

This NRF is needed by, and incorporates under, the larger National Strategy for Homeland Security or “Strategy” which serves to lead, systematize and unite the country’s homeland security efforts. This strategy mirrors an improved understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States. It integrates the different lessons learned from exercises and actual disasters. In addition, it expresses how our nation can ensure enduring success through strengthening homeland security. Furthermore, it presents a general framework through which the entire nation should direct its homeland security efforts in achieving the following goals:

Prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks.

Protect the American people and our critical infrastructure and key resources.

Respond to and recover from incidents that do occur.

Continue to strengthen the foundation to ensure our long-term success (US Government Printing Office, 2009, p. 12).

The NRF is primarily concerned with the third goal which aims to respond to and recover from incidents that do occur. The Strategy necessitates an NRF that facilitates the strengthening of the foundation built for an effective national response, which swiftly evaluate rising incidents, take preliminary actions, develop operations as needed and instigate recovery actions in stabilizing the area. Furthermore, the Strategy also necessitates that the NRF be clearly written, easy to understand and designed to encompass a national scope as it meets the needs of State, local, and tribal governments and the private sector and NGOs, as well as the Federal Government. The Framework is designed to answer and support the Strategy, which must work together impeccably to national, State, tribal, and local preparedness activities.

The 9/11 Attack and Emergency Procedures Implemented

According to the 9/11 Commission Report (2004), the emergency response at the Pentagon was, in general, effective. The response constituted a combination of local, state and federal jurisdictions. The Arlington County Fire Department served as the incident commander, for obvious reasons on the nature of the event, whereas other agencies involved had different roles. The Department of Justice, on the other hand, became the lead federal agency in charge. Moreover, Arlington County and all bordering and surrounding jurisdictions became involved one way or another during the response procedure.

The series of events of the terrorist attack started around 9:37 am when the west wall of the Pentagon was hit by a hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757. Immediately, the building and the airplane was damaged, killing all 64 people in the plane and 125 people inside the Pentagon. Additionally, there were six people also seriously injured and mobilized to area hospitals.

The 9/11 Commission Report justifies the success of the emergency response for three reasons. Firstly, emergency responders were able to build strong professional relationships with one another. Secondly, the Incident Command System was appropriately implemented. And lastly, there was a pursuit of a regional approach to response. Accordingly, many of the fire and police agencies involved had extensive previous experience when it came to collaborating on regional events and training exercises (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004).

Several local, regional, state and federal agencies immediately responded to the incident. Along with the county fire, police and sheriff’s departments, there was the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Fire Department, Fort Myer Fire Department, the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the FBI, FEMA, National Medical Response Team, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and a number of military personnel from the Military District of Washington. Arlington County Emergency Communications Center also communicated with other fire departments from Fairfax County, Alexandria and the District of Columbia for further assistance with the incident.

By 9:41, command was already established and the incident command post has already presented a clear picture of the crash site and how to access it. By 9:55, there was an evacuation order of the Pentagon by the incident commander because of the preliminary assessment of a collapse of the building. By 9:57, the building partially collapsed; nevertheless, no first responders were injured. By 10:15, the incident commander ordered a full evacuation of the command post because of warning that another hijacked plane is fast-approaching to the site.

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The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) noted that the evacuation order was well communicated and well coordinated. In fact, the 9/11 Commission Report stated that a vast number of civilians below the impact zone were able to evacuate the towers. This evacuation was facilitated significantly by the amendments made by the Port Authority in response to the 1993 bombing as well as the training of both Authority personnel and civilians after that incident. The stairwells of unaffected floors remained lighted, whereas other stairwells had glow strips to the handrails and stairs. General evacuation time was approximately less than one hour on September 11 for those who were not trapped or suffering physical disabilities, compared to almost four hours during the 1993 bombing.

Nevertheless, there were many problems that arose from the incident. Challenges to which are considered as failures and lessons learned during the 9/11 attack are outlined in the succeeding section:

The Challenge of Incident Command

The Incident Commander is “responsible for the management of the City’s response to emergency; If the incident is so multifaceted that no one agency immediately stands out as the Incident Commander, OEM will assign the role of Incident Commander to an agency as the situation demands” (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004, p. 319). To some extent, the Mayor’s directive for incident command was implemented during the incident response as the FDNY became the lead response agency during the incident.

However, the problem was that response operations lacked the type of integrated communications and unified command contemplated in the directive. According to one of the experiences of the first responders to the 9/11 attack, “Almost all aspects of communication continue to be problematic, from initial notification to tactical operations. Cellular telephones were of little value… Radio channels were initially oversaturated… pagers seemed to be the most reliable means of notification when available and used, but most firefighters are not issued pagers” (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004, p. 314).

Command and Control within First Responder Agencies

In any kind of unified incident management system, all participants must possess command and control over its own units and sufficient internal communications. However, during the 9/11 incident, first responder agencies lacked command and control over its own unit and adequate internal communications. FDNY, for example, lacked the experience in responding to an incident like the 9/11 terrorist attack. FDNY was incompetent in organizing the number of units dispatch within the complex (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004). This may be partly caused by the breakdown of internal communications wherein their radios had limited capabilities in a high-rise environment such as that of the WTC. Moreover, there was confusion over the assignation of the different frequencies to the personnel involved. Finally, the FDNY command post died down when the South Tower collapsed, compromising the department’s capability to comprehend the status of the incident response.

Another example is the Port Authority’s insufficient standard operating procedures and efficient radios to facilitate multiple commands to respond effectively. Many officials while under the tunnels and airports reported that they were not able to understand instructions issued. Moreover, command and control was further complicated when senior Port Authority Police officials decided to participate in frontline rescue operations (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004).

NYPD also faced some, although relatively fewer, command and control and communication issues. The department, with its extensive experience in mobilizing thousands of officers during key events necessitating crowd control, was able to adapt more easily to an immense devastating event such as that of the 9/11. However, it is unclear whether NYPD officers were fully well coordinated (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004).

Lack of Coordination and Collaboration among First Responder Agencies

The Commission reported that there was insufficient comprehensive coordination between NYPD, FDNY and PAPD personnel as they ascended the towers. Information sharing became a critical issue during the 9/11 attack. FDNY officials reported their difficulties in their decision-making due to insufficient information given by the NYPD aviation. NYPD aviation, prior to the collapse of the tower, had already warned at 9:51 that large pieces from the South Tower seemed to fall, which could pose considerable danger to people below. It was only after the tower’s collapse where FDNY received this message due to internal breakdowns in commnication. This lack of real-time intelligence resulted to more lives lost. The lack of coordination between NYPD, FDNY and PAPD was also evident in terms of searching the complex for civilians as there was redundancy in searching specific floors and areas.

Radio Communication Challenges

Mentioned earlier, FDNY had significant deficiencies in terms of radio communication. Three factors attributed to the ineffectiveness of communication. First, the effectiveness of communication through the radios were significantly reduced due to the high-rise environment. Second, too many units attempted to communicate to tactical channel 1 at 10:00, overwhelming the frequency. Lastly, many firefigters were on the wrong frequency whereas others simply lacked radios in general (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004).

Protective Technologies

The experiences of the first responders during the 9/11 rescue operation illustrated the significant deficit in terms of protection. The responders reported that their personal protective equipments (PPE) hindered their ability to do their jobs. Their overall PPE proved to be incapable of protecting them such that other equipments performed better than others. Head protection as well as high-visibility suits performed well, whereas protective clothing and respirators were not very effective. Protective clothing did not provide enough protection against biological and infectious disease hazards, heat from the fire and demanding physical environment. Moreover, the material used was not light and flexible enough to move through and fro confined spaces. Eye protection, although offering protection against direct impact, did not provide any protection to persistent dust at the site (Jackson, et al., 2002).

Improvements since 9/11 Attack

Perhaps one of the most significant improvements made since the 9/11 terrorist attack is the issue on airport security which involves preparation to mitigate the risks of terrorism. Airport security has become much tighter than ever (Dempsey, 2007). Travelling has become more secured as access has now been rigorously restricted. One can no longer go straight to the gates and fly. Passengers have to wait in long lines before one can actually go in, whether flying domestically or internationally. Appropriate documents must be presented and authenticated as well (i.e. passports, government issued IDs, and plane tickets). Aside from documents, people as well as their belongings have to undergo vigorous scrutiny and inspection through security screeners and X-ray machines. Dangerous items such as guns, knives, corkscrews and other sharp objects are no longer allowed to be brought inside the airports. Baggages are more frequently searched in random, whereas passengers are performed pat downs (Dempsey, 2007). Airplanes are also made more secure than ever, with their hardened cockpits and federal air marshals to ensure the safety of the passengers and guard terrorist acts.

Endeavoring to identify possible terrorists and smugglers and prevent them and their baggage from entering the secured parts of the airport and the airplanes, airport officials conduct profiling of passengers. This system develops a personality profile of the traits of terrorists and smugglers and attempts to match the passengers to the profile. Once a passenger matched a certain terrorist or smuggler profile, he or she is detained and subjected to appropriate search and questioning (Dempsey, 2007).

Furthermore, all passengers now undergo explosive detections through conducting profiling, visual and physical inspections and canine inspection wherein trained dogs are used in recognizing explosive vapors. Airports now also use different kinds of state-of-the-art x-ray machines and explosive-odor detection devices (Dempsey, 2007).

Assessment of the Federal Response Framework after the 9/11

One of the major disasters that hit the country, subsequent to the 9/11 attack, was Hurricane Katrina during 2005. Four years after the terrorist attack of 9/11, the country was hit by a major hurricane. Despite efforts made on equipping the country to minimize the risks of terrorist plots, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina illustrated how unprepared the country still is. Federal response procedures at the time, even after the 9/11 attack still proved to be inadequate and ineffective. There was lack of preparation within all levels of government (Sellnow, Ulmer, Seeger, & Littlefield, 2008). In addition, there was also a lack of coordination and collaboration among the different agencies involved in the incident (Sellnow, et al., 2008). During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA was incapable to streamlining the agencies involved and produce timely response and results (Sellnow, et al., 2008). Furthermore, there was a lack of communications and situational awareness (Sellnow, et al., 2008).

Farber and Chen (2006) asserted that the problems encountered during the Hurricane Katrina response were not born and/or ended during and after Hurricane Katrina. The failures during the incident response indicate that local, state and federal government still need to work together to continuously improve the system.


The challenges of different kinds of disasters confront our country every now and then. These challenges continue to test the character and perseverance of American people. History illustrates a long line of failures in emergency management. Nevertheless, as we fail to respond appropriately towards it, we constantly learn from our mistakes and attempt to continuously improve. The 9/11 attack and Hurricane Katrina was an awakening call telling the country to be more prepared to incidents such as these. To answer whether the federal response procedures have improved since the 9/11 attack, there are certainly improvements especially in terms of securing the country from terrorist attacks. Significant changes in airport security proved to be effective in mitigating the risks of terrorism within the country. However, it should be noted that this is not enough. Further planning and training still need to be done for the country to be fully prepared.


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