The National Response Framework:

Have you read it?

CarolinaFireJournal - Mark Reese
Mark Reese
04/23/2012 -

If you have worked in public safety for several years, you know how plans and policies change on a daily and weekly basis. It is no different when it comes to national policies, especially related to disaster preparedness, hazard mitigation and response. Depending on your discipline, fire, EMS or law enforcement, you may feel that “our emergency manager keeps track of those things,” “why do I care?” We are in a new world now. Everyone has skin in this game.


There were many lessons learned at the first responder and government leadership level about what worked and did not work after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The “old” response plan that was used for many years was called “The National Response Plan (NRP).” It was issued in 1992. The National Response Framework is the “new” plan and it was issued in 2008 after numerous requests for change to be made to the NRP.

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who works in public safety about emergency management topics. I mentioned the National Response Framework (NRF), to him and I was shocked to hear him reply, “What is that?” “I have never heard of it.” Then, I realized that he was probably not alone, and that many first responders probably have not been introduced to the document at all.

National Response Framework

The NRF is designed to be used by public safety agencies and first responders, the private sector, government agencies and non-government agencies, like the Red Cross, called NGOs. It follows the new theme of preparing for “all hazards” that may occur like a large storm, or a hurricane, or a terrorist attack. On page one, the following statement says it all, “This National Response Framework is a guide to how the Nation conducts all-hazard response.”

The NRF brings terms that we use every day, like the Incident Command System, ICS, into everyone’s office under the NRF. This way, we are moving towards consistent policies and procedures that everyone understands from coast to coast.

When a local business leader and his/her staff take the time to read the NRF they had better understand what happens in a large emergent event so they can integrate more effectively to help with preparedness and recovery. This level of understanding is also more important now because every town, city and state must deal with their own emergencies first. A Disaster Declaration has to occur before the federal government sends any resources to an affected region. This statement from page five of the NRF speaks volumes: “Resilient communities begin with prepared individuals and depend on leadership and engagement of local government, NGOs, and the private sector.”

One comparison that I like to use when I explain the NRF is the voluntary guidelines that firefighters use every day from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Wherever you go in the United States, you will find consistency and continuity in all elements of fire fighting activities because of these NFPA guidelines. The national guidelines for disaster response, like the NRF, are similar. The goal is to get everyone on the same page.

To help everyone better understand the NRF, the Department of Homeland Security, HLS, also created an online resource center called the NRF Resource Center at This site has a PDF version of the NRF for you to download to your computer. The NRF document itself is not volumes in length. It is less
than 100 pages and it is broken into sections that clearly define roles, responsibilities and common terms used. It is not a long read.

What Are the Expectations of Local Government?

In emergency management and preparedness, we talk about being “resilient” by engaging in preparedness and mitigation activities so the monetary damage from a disaster is minimized. Remember, your town, city or county has to pay the bill first and ask for reimbursement after the event.

There has also been a campaign by FEMA to build “Resilient Communities.” The NRF is inclusive when it comes to local governments; they are part of the team. Preparedness does not just fall onto the backs of police, fire and EMS anymore. Your mayors, county commissioners and other civic leaders are part of the overall team in the NRF.

The NRF has a great section titled “Framework Unpacked” early in the document that outlines each of the five chapters. The chapters are:

  1. Roles and Responsibilities
  2. Response Actions
  3. Response Organizations
  4. Planning: A Critical Element of Effective Response
  5. Additional Resources

It is easy to follow and identify where your discipline or position, like a mayor, fits into the framework.

What Can I Do to Make a Difference?

Your first goal as a first responder is to get your own copy of the NRF. Download it, read it and get familiar with the plan. If someone asks you “what is the National Response Framework?” you should be able to tell them what it is and what it means to them.

Your next goal, especially if you have a leadership role in your organization, should be to encourage your co-workers to do the same. Read it and become familiar with it. Have briefings and shift training about the NRF. Be proactive and involved.

If you are involved in community education or public education programs, PUB-ED, develop your own briefing program about the NRF and demonstrate how your department is involved in disaster preparedness and response. This is also a perfect time to show off your special teams like HAZ-MAT and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR). The average citizens do not always know what their local firefighters and first responders do besides the obvious.

Emphasize personal accountability when you interact with your community, Encourage being prepared for an emergency. Talk to your citizens about having enough supplies on hand for 72 hours because your department will be involved in rescues and response if your community is impacted.

Final Thoughts

The world as we know it has changed. The landscape has moved from preparing for “all hazards” to preparing for “all threats” and we must ensure we are ready to meet that challenge whenever it happens.

The NRF is a step in the right direction to have uniformity across the country in a document that includes everyone at the local and state levels as well as the private sector. Emergency preparedness is everyone’s business now. So, ask yourself this question: have you read it?

Mark D. Reese is a retired Sgt. from the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene, Oregon. He was also a volunteer firefighter and EMT with McKenzie Fire and Rescue in Walterville, Oregon. Reese has a BA in Management and he has graduated from numerous Emergency Management courses as well as the FEMA Professional Development Series, PDS. He is currently an Emergency Management graduate student at American Military University.
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