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Fed Emergency Communications Center Struggling

A GAO report outlines challenges facing the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center, including a lack of authority, and an inability to prove its value to stakeholders.
A federal center for coordinating government agency disaster recovery efforts has hit some bumps in the road as it tries to improve how government agencies communicate in times of national crisis, according to a progress report about its efforts.

Members of the Emergency Communications Preparedness Center said they are having difficulty getting agencies to comply with its recommendations, mainly because they have no authority to force them to do so.

This and other concerns were raised in a report released by the Government Accountability Office, which reviewed the ECPC's charter and interviewed officials from member agencies.

The ECPC was formed in 2007 in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to serve as a clearinghouse for the sharing of emergency communications information during a national crisis. Its charter was approved last October.

The group is required to submit an annual assessment to Congress regarding the preparedness of government agencies to communicate effectively in a crisis.

One key problem the ECPC faces is that it cannot direct or require federal, state, or local agencies that play key roles in emergency communications to take any actions in response to its recommendations. This, obviously, hinders its chances of achieving its goals to coordinate government emergency response efforts, the group reported.

"ECPC's goal of providing input and recommendations regarding the establishment of interoperability and operability goals must be carried out in the absence of compulsory authority," according to the report. "However, our prior work has shown that coordination is critical when an entity does not have the authority to compel others to comply with its requirements."

Other challenges outlined in the letter include an inability to prove its value to stakeholders, coordinating with the various agencies with which it must work, and maturing as a government agency.

To help remedy some of the difficulties the group is having and to try to get all of its member agencies on the same page, EPCP officials plan to incorporate some goals, objectives and best practices into an EPCP Program Management Plan.

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