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Context of 'November 18, 1988: President Reagan Assigns Wide Range of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities'

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President Nixon signs Executive Order 11490, updating the nation’s secretive Continuity of Government (COG) plans. Under the vague title, “Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to Federal Departments and Agencies,” the order directs government leaders to ensure the continuation of “essential functions” in the event of a crisis. The order grants a wide range of emergency powers to the executive branch. It directs department heads to have emergency plans for succession of office, predelegation of authority, safekeeping of records, alternative command facilities, and other “emergency action steps.” The plans are to be overseen by the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). Conservative writer Howard J. Ruff will express concern over the scope of the order. “The only thing standing between us and a dictatorship,” Ruff writes, “is the good character of the president and the lack of a crisis severe enough that the public would stand still for it.” In 1984, Attorney General William Smith will object to attempts by the Reagan administration to expand the powers granted in the order (see August 2, 1984). President Reagan will officially update the plans in 1988, replacing and expanding Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). [Executive Order 11490, 10/28/1969; Reynolds, 1990]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968-1973)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Trans World Airlines Flight 514, a Boeing tri-jet 727 carrying 85 passengers and seven crew members from Columbus, Ohio, to Washington, DC, prematurely descends and slams into a 2,000-foot-high peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, approximately 50 miles west of the nation’s capital. All 92 people on board are killed. The crash occurs near a highly classified underground installation known as Mount Weather. The incident will draw significant public attention to the secret bunker for the first time since its construction in the 1950s (see 1952-1958). A federal spokesman will refuse to answer questions regarding the complex, but will say the facility is run by the Office of Preparedness, which is responsible for “continuity of government in a time of national disaster.” The Office of Preparedness was formally known as the Office of Emergency Preparedness (see October 28, 1969).
Misunderstanding Blamed for Crash - The National Transportation Safety Board will later rule by split decision that the crash was caused by a misinterpreted instruction given to the pilots by an air traffic controller at Dulles International Airport. The controller alerted the pilots that the flight was “cleared for approach,” which the flight crew incorrectly assumed gave them a clear path to descend to 1,800 feet. Experts will tell the NTSB that the phrase “cleared for approach” is open to misunderstanding. Three of the five board members will fault the plane crew for misinterpreting the command, while the other two will place responsibility on the air traffic controller for not specifically telling the flight to maintain its altitude. [Associated Press, 12/2/1974; Associated Press, 1/22/1976; Emerson, 8/7/1989]

Entity Tags: Mount Weather, Washington Dulles International Airport, National Transportation Safety Board, Trans World Airlines

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Brinkeroff, deputy for national preparedness programs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), outlines plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. In a memorandum later obtained by the Miami Herald, Brinkeroff describes how FEMA and the military would take over the country in the event of a crisis. According to the Herald, the plans include “suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA, appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments, and declaration of martial law during a national crisis.” Although the term “national crisis” is not defined, the Herald will later report that it is understood to mean anything from nuclear war to “violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against a military invasion abroad.” A source will tell the Herald the contingency plan is authorized by an “executive order or legislative package that [President] Reagan would sign and hold within the NSC [National Security Council] until a severe crisis arose.” This may refer to emergency legislation drafted by the Reagan administration to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984) and proposed updates to Executive Order 11490 (see August 2, 1984). The Brinkeroff memo resembles a paper written in 1970 by the current head of FEMA, Louis O. Giuffrida, in which he advocated the roundup and transfer of at least 21 million “American Negroes” to “assembly centers or relocation camps” in the event of an emergency (see 1970). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987]

Entity Tags: Louis Giuffrida, Federal Emergency Management Agency, John Brinkeroff, National Security Council, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a letter to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Attorney General William French Smith strongly objects to martial law plans developed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Smith learns the full extent of the plans upon reviewing a proposal by the Reagan administration to change Executive Order 11490 (see October 28, 1969). The Reagan administration is holding the drafted changes, along with standby legislation to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984), in preparation for any emergency that may require a military-style takeover of the nation’s resources and population. The plans cover a range of crisis situations, including a nuclear attack, natural disasters, and civil unrest. Smith writes: “I believe that the draft executive order raises serious substantive and public policy issues that should be further addressed before this proposal is submitted to the president. In short I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the revised executive order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness.” Smith continues: “This department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an ‘emergency czar’ role for FEMA. Specific policy concerns regarding recent FEMA initiatives include the abandonment of the principle of ‘several’ agency responsibility and the expansion of the definition of severe emergencies to encompass ‘routine’ domestic law enforcement emergencies. Legal objections relate to the absence of presidential or Congressional authorization for unilateral FEMA directives which seek to establish new federal government management structures or otherwise task cabinet departments and other federal agencies.” Despite the objections of the Justice Department, FEMA and the Reagan administration will not abandon the emergency doctrine. Before leaving office, Reagan will dramatically expand the government’s emergency powers and officially override Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987; Reynolds, 1990]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Reagan administration, Robert C. McFarlane, William French Smith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Reagan administration prepares a reserve emergency bill to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act. The legislation, which would be presented to Congress in the event of a crisis, would suspend the Constitution and give the president and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unprecedented powers to combat a disaster. Nationally syndicated columnist Jack Anderson comments, “Since FEMA’s draft legislation is a standby proposal, it will not be offered to Congress ahead of time—when it could be thoroughly debated—but only in the event of a national emergency, when Congress would supposedly be panicked into voting for a dictatorship.” The bill covers a range of emergencies, including nuclear war, natural disasters, financial crises, and civil disturbances. It would grant the government the authority to ration goods and resources, take control of the nation’s manufacturing base, and require all citizens to work in “activities essential to the national health, safety, or interest.” The bill would outlaw striking by workers, and those refusing to work or caught lying about the availability of manpower would be heavily fined or thrown in jail. It would grant the government the authority to seize real estate and personal property considered “necessary for the national defense purpose.” Datamation magazine says the plans would lead to a military takeover of the computer industry. The bill would give the government “unlimited powers to seize computers and plants of high-technology industries and would establish an Office of Censorship to control telecommunications leaving the United States, making it a crime for companies to use secret codes.” [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 9/25/1984; Evening Independent, 10/17/1984]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Reagan administration, Office of Censorship

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Ronald Reagan signs Executive Order 12656, assigning a wide range of emergency responsibilities to a number of executive departments. The order calls for establishing emergency procedures that go far beyond the nation’s standard disaster relief plans. It offers a rare glimpse of the government’s plans for maintaining “continuity of government” in times of extreme national emergency. The order declares the national security of the country to be “dependent upon our ability to assure continuity of government, at every level, in any national security emergency situation,” which is defined as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” The order instructs department leaders to establish various protocols for crisis situations, including rules for delegating authorities to emergency officials, establishing emergency operating facilities, protecting and allocating the nation’s essential resources, and managing terrorist attacks and civil disturbances. The plans are to be coordinated and managed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The presidential order suggests certain laws may have to be altered or expanded to carry out the plans. Although it encourages federal agencies to base the emergency protocols on “existing authorities, organizations, resources, and systems,” it also calls on government leaders to identify “areas where additional legal authorities may be needed to assist management and, consistent with applicable executive orders, take appropriate measures toward acquiring those authorities.” According to the executive order, the plans “will be designed and developed to provide maximum flexibility to the president.” Executive Order 12656 gives specific instructions to numerous federal departments:
bullet The Department of Justice is ordered to coordinate emergency “domestic law enforcement activities” and plan for situations “beyond the capabilities of state and local agencies.” The Justice Department is to establish plans for responding to “civil disturbances” and “terrorism incidents” within the US that “may result in a national security emergency or that occur during such an emergency.” The attorney general is to establish emergency “plans and procedures for the custody and protection of prisoners and the use of Federal penal and correctional institutions and resources.” The Department of Justice is also instructed to develop “national security emergency plans for regulation of immigration, regulation of nationals of enemy countries, and plans to implement laws for the control of persons entering or leaving the United States.” The attorney general is additionally instructed to assist the “heads of federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector in the development of plans to physically protect essential resources and facilities.”
bullet The Department of Defense, acting through the Army, is to develop “overall plans for the management, control, and allocation of all usable waters from all sources within the jurisdiction of the United States.” The secretary of defense is to arrange, “through agreements with the heads of other federal departments and agencies, for the transfer of certain federal resources to the jurisdiction and/or operational control of the Department of Defense in national security emergencies.” The secretary of defense is also instructed to work with industry, government, and the private sector, to ensure “reliable capabilities for the rapid increase of defense production.”
bullet The Department of Commerce is ordered to develop “control systems for priorities, allocation, production, and distribution of materials and other resources that will be available to support both national defense and essential civilian programs.” The secretary of commerce is instructed to cooperate with the secretary of defense to “perform industry analyses to assess capabilities of the commercial industrial base to support the national defense, and develop policy alternatives to improve the international competitiveness of specific domestic industries and their abilities to meet defense program needs.” The Commerce Department is also instructed to develop plans to “regulate and control exports and imports in national security emergencies.”
bullet The Department of Agriculture is ordered to create plans to “provide for the continuation of agricultural production, food processing, storage, and distribution through the wholesale level in national security emergencies, and to provide for the domestic distribution of seed, feed, fertilizer, and farm equipment to agricultural producers.” The secretary of agriculture is also instructed to “assist the secretary of defense in formulating and carrying out plans for stockpiling strategic and critical agricultural materials.”
bullet The Department of Labor is ordered to develop plans to “ensure effective use of civilian workforce resources during national security emergencies.” The Labor Department is to support “planning by the secretary of defense and the private sector for the provision of human resources to critical defense industries.” The Selective Service System is ordered to develop plans to “provide by induction, as authorized by law, personnel that would be required by the armed forces during national security emergencies.” The agency is also vaguely instructed to establish plans for “implementing an alternative service program.”
bullet The Transportation Department is to create emergency plans to manage and control “civil transportation resources and systems, including privately owned automobiles, urban mass transit, intermodal transportation systems, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.” The Transportation Department is also to establish plans for a “smooth transition” of the Coast Guard to the Navy during a national security emergency. The Transportation Department is additionally instructed to establish plans for “emergency management and control of the National Airspace System, including provision of war risk insurance and for transfer of the Federal Aviation Administration, in the event of war, to the Department of Defense.”
bullet The Department of the Treasury is ordered to develop plans to “maintain stable economic conditions and a market economy during national security emergencies.” The Treasury Department is to provide for the “preservation of, and facilitate emergency operations of, public and private financial institution systems, and provide for their restoration during or after national security emergencies.”
bullet The Department of Energy is to identify “energy facilities essential to the mobilization, deployment, and sustainment of resources to support the national security and national welfare, and develop energy supply and demand strategies to ensure continued provision of minimum essential services in national security emergencies.”
bullet The Department of Health and Human Services is instructed to develop programs to “reduce or eliminate adverse health and mental health effects produced by hazardous agents (biological, chemical, or radiological), and, in coordination with appropriate federal agencies, develop programs to minimize property and environmental damage associated with national security emergencies.” The health secretary is also to assist state and local governments in the “provision of emergency human services, including lodging, feeding, clothing, registration and inquiry, social services, family reunification, and mortuary services and interment.” [US President, 11/18/1988]

Entity Tags: US Department of Agriculture, Selective Service System, US Department of Labor, US Department of Defense, US Department of Commerce, Ronald Reagan, National Security Council, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Transportation, US Department of the Treasury, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Justice, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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