The impact of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 on the public works community

Larry Lux
President, Lux Advisors, Ltd.
Plainfield, Illinois
Chair, APWA/IPWEA Task Force

In late 2002 Congress passed the Homeland Security Act. This act greatly reorganized the federal government on a scale not seen since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947. Twenty-two federal departments and agencies and over 177,000 federal employees were joined together to create the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an agency with a mandate to reduce the nation's vulnerability and to prevent terrorist attacks. The one-department concept unifies and strengthens the nation's ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from domestic disasters and emergencies in an all-hazards context. In February 2003, the President signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5) to provide guidance to DHS and other federal agencies on implementing requirements of the Homeland Security Act.

Under HSPD-5, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the coordination of the federal preparations, response and recovery from terrorist attacks, major disasters and other designated emergencies. Additionally, HSPD-5 directed the Secretary to create two specific documents: a National Incident Management System (NIMS) and a National Response Plan (NRP). The intent of these two documents is to provide a single, comprehensive national approach to incident management.

National Incident Management System
NIMS was published on March 1, 2004 and is the guiding document for incident management across America. NIMS is intended to provide a standard system for federal, state, local and tribal governments to work together to prepare for and respond to incidents. NIMS is based on the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS), which is a time-tested and proven Incident Command System (ICS).

There are six components included in NIMS:

  • Command and Management
  • Preparedness
  • Resource Management
  • Communications and Information Management
  • Support Technologies
  • Ongoing Management and Maintenance

Since the responsibility for responding to and managing any domestic incident falls on local government, the Act requires the Secretary to provide to public and private employees from all response agencies the necessary training and other assistance to prevent, prepare for and respond to all types of incidents.

Critical Components of NIMS. The key component of NIMS is Command and Management. This component mandates the use of the Incident Command System (ICS) by all entities and their personnel involved in domestic incident management (including public and private public works agencies).

From a public works perspective, the next important component is Preparedness. This component recognizes that responder ability is significantly enhanced if they have worked together prior to an incident. NIMS outlines advance preparedness measures such as planning, training, exercises, qualifications and certification of personnel, and equipment acquisition.

NIMS is supported by an Integration Center (NIC) that is responsible for developing and facilitating national standards for education and training, communications and equipment, typing of resources, and the qualifications and credentialing of response and management personnel. Each of these components will have a significant impact on public works agencies and employees across the United States.

Since the public works role in response is primarily a supporting role, public works personnel and resources have often been overlooked in emergency and disaster training and exercises. As a result, many inaccurate assumptions are frequently made regarding public works response capabilities during routine incidents, thereby causing delayed or ineffective response. The lack of training and field practice places the public works industry well behind the curve in many incident management areas. As public works leaders, we must make sure that we are actively engaged in developing, promoting and participating in training and exercises that are conducted in our communities. This will become even more crucial as the new standards for education and training are developed by DHS.

With respect to communications and equipment, we need to identify and document our needs, secure grants and direct funding to acquire the necessary equipment and training. We also should undertake a national initiative to work with equipment designers and manufacturers to develop new and specialized equipment for use during major incidents and events, particularly terrorist events. APWA has been an active participant in the DHS "Resource Typing Project," but more still needs to be accomplished in this area, especially with respect to equipment and training.

Perhaps our weakest area is in the qualifications and certification of our personnel. While our personnel are generally expertly prepared and well-trained for their day-to-day jobs, unlike our colleagues in other disciplines (law enforcement, fire, EMS, building officials, finance officers, planners, etc.) we do not have a peer review process that issues credentials certifying the competencies and training of public works professionals. I believe that eligibility for future funding for training, exercises, equipment and other critical items may be directly tied to qualifications and certification of personnel and agencies.

National Response Plan
The National Response Plan (NRP) is intended to integrate various prevention, preparedness, response and recovery plans into an all-disciplines, all-hazards approach. The NRP is also intended to provide the structure and mechanisms for national level policy and operational direction for federal support to state, local and tribal incident managers, and for exercising direct federal authorities and responsibilities.

The initial draft NRP was published for comment on September 30, 2003 and, following significant changes and revisions, the Interim NRP was published on February 25, 2004. This interim plan is still undergoing review and revision with issuance of the final plan anticipated before the end of 2004.

The NRP is based on the Federal Response Plan (FRP) that was mandated by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (PL93-288, as amended). The NRP clarifies and expands federal agency roles and clarifies the role of DHS in domestic incidents. The NRP will supersede the Initial NRP, the Federal Response Plan (FRP), and will umbrella other federal documents, such as the National Contingency Plan.

Many of the familiar concepts and mechanisms associated with each of these plans are carried over into the NRP, such as the Emergency Support Functions (ESFs). The NRP uses the NIMS as a foundation and incorporates the NIMS concepts, principles and processes, applying them to a national structure.

One interesting new feature of the NRP is the establishment of a national framework for assessing domestic incidents and for coordinating interagency incident management efforts in events that are considered "Incidents of National Significance." These fall into the following primary categories:

  • Credible threats, indications or acts of terrorism within the U.S.
  • Major disasters and emergencies as defined by the Stafford Act
  • Catastrophic Incidents—incidents with extraordinary levels of casualties and damage that severely disrupt the population, economy, infrastructure or environment
  • Unique situations, such as when a federal agency acts under its own authority or the event exceeds the parameters of other established federal plans, events of regional or national importance that involve one or more federal agencies, such as use of the National Contingency Plan.
  • National Special Security Events (e.g., Super Bowl, World Series, political conventions)

NIMS-NRP Relationship
The NIMS and the NRP are designed and intended to be complementary documents. The NIMS establishes an organization and process for incident management, with standards for training, certification and resource typing. Using NIMS as a foundation, the NRP establishes the national organization structure and the procedures for activation and application of federal resources during "Incidents of National Significance."

Together they provide a standardized framework that ensures that federal, state, local and tribal governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations work in partnership to support domestic incident management regardless of cause, size, or complexity (all-hazards).

The NIMS and the NRP introduce several concepts, requirements and standards that may be unfamiliar to many public works professionals and thus will require that we take an aggressive and proactive position to become involved in the process. We must secure the necessary training and education that will allow us to fulfill the demands that the systems impose on our employees. And we must take advantage of existing certification opportunities and develop new public works-specific certification programs for both employees and managers.

This can be accomplished by joining with your professional colleagues from other disciplines and becoming involved in county, state and federal emergency management agencies and disaster-related training and exercise programs.

The DHS/FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI) offers a wide variety of Independent Study Courses on the basic and advanced concepts of Emergency and Disaster Management. You can earn college credits, CEUs and/or Military Reserve Retirement points by taking and passing any of these free-of-charge courses.

EMI is now offering a new online course that will teach you everything you need to know about NIMS. Visit for more information on this and the other EMI Independent Study Courses.

Many state Emergency Management Agencies or Departments of Homeland Security also offer comprehensive training courses and exercise programs to public employees. Check your state website for more detailed information.

Additional information on NIMS and the NRP can be found at

Larry Lux is a former member of APWA's Board of Directors as well as the Leadership and Management, Emergency Management, and International Affairs Committees. He currently chairs the APWA/IPWEA (Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia) Task Force. He can be reached at (815) 886-6909 or at