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Department of Military Affairs
Office of Justice Assistance
The State of Wisconsin and local governments share emergency management responsibilities that can be critical for saving lives, protecting infrastructure and property, and minimizing costs from natural or man-made disasters and hostile action. The Department of Military Affairs is the lead state agency for planning and responding to emergencies. Its Division of Emergency Management—commonly called Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM)—coordinates federal, state, local, and private emergency management activities statewide. The Office of Justice Assistance (OJA) disburses most Department of Homeland Security grants to fund emergency management activities, while counties have primary responsibility for coordinating emergency management activities within their borders.
Severe winter storms, flooding, and other recent events have raised questions about the effectiveness of emergency response efforts and whether federal emergency management funds have been spent appropriately. Therefore, at the request of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, we:
Federal Grant Awards
OJA is awarded the largest share of Wisconsin’s federal emergency management grants from the Department of Homeland Security. It distributes these funds to WEM, other state agencies, local governments, technical college districts, and American Indian tribes.
The Department of Homeland Security also awards certain grants directly to WEM and to local governments. In addition, federal disaster funds are awarded directly to disaster victims and to WEM, which distributes them to state agencies, local governments, and nonprofit organizations.
OJA administered five programs
Homeland Security Grant Program
funds may be used to prepare for,
prevent, respond to, and recover
from terrorism and other disasters.
Most Homeland Security Grant
Program expenditures were for
equipment such as radios, security
cameras, and emergency medical
supplies. Program rules allow the
funds to be spent for a wide variety
of emergency management purposes.
We found that the funds were used
Performance Grant Program funds
are made available to county and
tribal emergency management
departments for planning, training,
equipment, and other purposes
including local staffing, travel,
office operations, and other
administrative costs. We reviewed
Local governments and others
received a total of $99.8 million
directly from the Department of
Homeland Security over the past
five years, including
In that year, the Assistance to
Firefighters Grant Program provided
To assess compliance with program
rules, we contacted eight fire departments
and one EMS organization
that accepted a total of 12 grants
Communications technology that allows easy radio communication among jurisdictions is a high priority for emergency responders because it is essential for responding to and managing emergencies efficiently.
Wisconsin does not currently have an interoperable communications system that would allow all emergency responders statewide to communicate with one another during a large-scale emergency. However, four regional interoperability initiatives have been established under the leadership of local governments to improve communications among emergency responders.
OJA is implementing Wisconsin’s
Interoperability Plan, which
anticipates that the basic
infrastructure for a statewide
communications system will be
operational in 2011. OJA has relied
on federal emergency management
OJA anticipates that the basic
infrastructure will initially provide
radio coverage in
Equipment costs are still unknown but are expected to vary among local governments. Local governments will also share the system’s ongoing maintenance costs. Those costs and how they will be allocated have not been precisely determined by OJA.
Ten of the 26 grant recipients we contacted had concerns with the system, including that:
Planning for Emergencies
Responsibility for emergency management is decentralized. The Wisconsin Homeland Security Council advises the Governor and coordinates the State’s emergency management efforts with those of local officials. In addition, more than ten key councils, committees, and work groups provide input to state and local emergency management officials.
State emergency management officials must manage and integrate this advice. In particular, WEM and OJA must continue to coordinate their efforts as they manage funding from the Department of Homeland Security.
The Wisconsin Emergency Response Plan was developed by the Adjutant General. WEM is currently updating the plan so that it follows the Department of Homeland Security’s recommended format.
However, WEM has not yet completed and shared all sections of the plan with all county and tribal emergency management departments, nor has it yet implemented an electronic system for tracking all emergency management resources statewide, although it expects to do so later in 2010. Such a system would be particularly useful during large emergencies involving multiple counties.
While the State and local governments have made progress in improving some aspects of emergency preparedness, responses to two recent and significant natural disasters indicate that additional efforts are needed, particularly to achieve interoperable communications among all responders to large emergencies.
In addition, an improved and formalized process for analyzing responses to specific emergencies could help the State and local governments to increase accountability and the likelihood that Wisconsin is prepared, particularly for large-scale emergencies involving multiple jurisdictions.
Our report includes recommendations for: