Article Archive
The National Response Framework offers an adaptable approach to coordinating emergency response in a major incident
Volume 23, No. 1

Before becoming head of the U.S. Fire Administration in May, Gregory B. Cade served as chief of the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department. He explained how as chief he might have availed himself of the proposed National Response Framework (NRF), a comprehensive, national, all-hazards approach to domestic incident response.

"Say I had a tank truck that overturns and spills its hazardous contents into a waterway that drains into the Chesapeake Bay," Cade said. "You could potentially have an incident that is local but because it involves a navigable waterway it automatically brings in the state and federal government."

Now take that the same incident and place it in a corn field in Kansas. The results may be of local and state interest, but not necessarily involve a federal response. An emergency response designed for a hazardous waste spill in Virginia Beach may not make good sense in Topeka, and vice versa.

The NRF offers a more adaptable approach than previous federal plans for coordinating the various levels of government response to an emergency or disaster, Cade said.

"Depending on the location and the complexity, it's just a matter of what other assets are going to be brought to bear," Cade said.

The NRF, successor to the National Response Plan, presents an overview of key response principles, roles and structures that guide emergency response. It describes how communities, states, the federal government and private sector responders can apply these principles for a coordinated, effective response. It also describes special circumstances where the federal government exercises a larger role, including incidents where federal interests are involved and catastrophic incidents where a state would require significant support.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, DHS undertook a revision of the existing Federal Response Plan which largely dealt with the government's responsibility for disaster response. The new plan focused more on incident management to coordinate government response. Hurricane Katrina forced further revisions of that plan in response to repeated federal, state and local requests for a streamlined document that was shorter, less bureaucratic and more user-friendly.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency working group brought together a cross section of the fire service and other first response organizations to study the plan. In March, DHS took charge of producing a final draft of what would become the National Response Framework. Built around an 84-page core document, the framework outlines federal, state and local roles in emergency response. That document and others was recently the subject of a 30-day public comment period.

"The idea behind it is to give the responders the ability to expand or contract the response depending on what the needs are," Cade said. "The framework itself is more of a guide as opposed to a written set of plans. It offers a basic overview that can be taught to responders, telling them where to get the resources needed."

Aside from elected and appointed government officials, the framework provides a tool that can be utilized by private sector participants as well.

"It would be absolutely appropriate for them to use the framework in dealing with incidents involving chemical plants or oil refineries," Cade said. "Obviously, industrial fire brigades would be the incident commanders but would certainly draw on their regional and state fire department partners as well. Federal assets might be needed for some of it."

The NRF includes this text to address the role of the private sector:

"Private sector businesses play an essential role in protecting critical infrastructure systems and implementing plans for the rapid restoration of normal commercial activities and critical infrastructure operations in the event of disruption. The protection of critical infrastructure and the ability to rapidly restore normal commercial activities can mitigate the impact of a disaster or emergency, improve the quality of life of individuals and accelerate the pace of recovery for communities and the nation. The private sector, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in particular, contributes to response efforts through engaged partnerships with each level of government to assess potential threats, evaluate risk and take actions as may be needed to mitigate threats."

Before being appointed FEMA's assistant administrator in charge of the U.S. Fire Administration, Cade served from 1998 to 2007 as chief of the 900 personnel Virginia Beach Fire Department with a $38 million operating budget. He also oversaw the VA-TF2 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. As chief, he operated 19 fire/rescue stations covering 311 square miles of land and 35 miles of Atlantic and Chesapeake coastline out to the international line.

He urged industrial fire chiefs to visit the NRF Resource Center at and download a copy of the NRF for review. Individuals who wish to submit comments can obtain a comment form and instructions for submission at the web site.

"What we are trying to do is get people looking at it, to see how they might fit into it and how it might be useful to them," Cade said. "We're hoping that the people who will be the end users will look at it and say 'Yeah, that makes sense.'"


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