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History 1970s

In the early 1970s, under intense pressure from Governors of the states and others who believed that the concept of separated civil defense and emergency preparedness functions was outdated, the federal level organizations moved toward allowing the dual-use of civil defense funds and equipment to be utilized for natural disaster preparedness. In 1971, the OCD was renamed to the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA), but retained its basic functions, and the OEP remained intact within the Executive Office of the President. DCPA continued to provide 50/50 matching funds for the "dual-use" concept of civil defense/emergency preparedness at the state and local level. The only visible change at DCPA was that their personnel would now assist state and local governments in developing plans for natural disaster as well as nuclear attacks. Despite the relatively peaceful relationship between the Soviet Union and the U.S., the decision was made to maintain a modest civilian defense program. Reorganization Plan # 1, April 20, 1970 transferred the responsibility for the CONELRAD system to the Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP) within the EOP. CONELRAD was also renamed the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). OTP was later absorbed into the Office of Science and Technology Policy, also within the EOP (1978).

On July 1, 1973, Reorganization Plan # 2 took another step backward with the re-delegation of a wide variety of disaster and emergency preparedness activities amongst a tremendous number of disparate federal agencies. All coordination of federal agency response to major disasters was to be housed at the General Services Administration, specifically in the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA), and GSA would also create several other internal divisions for other functions related to emergency preparedness. All coordination of federal disaster relief activities was transferred to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where it was housed in the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. HUD also housed the Federal Insurance Administration (FIA), which had been created in 1968 to provide flood, riot and crime insurance (in the wake of the race riots of the late 1960s). The Defense Department maintained the DCPA in its original form, largely unchanged by the reorganization plan.

The Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 also created two additional emergency preparedness organizations within the Department of Commerce. The National Fire Prevention and Control Administration (NFPCA) was to assist states and localities in the development of fire prevention and control programs, while the National Academy of Fire Prevention and Control (NAFPC) was to develop model training programs for fire service personnel. NFPCA later became the United States Fire Administration in 1978 (still housed in DOC), and the NAFPC and would become the National Fire Academy in that same year.

The 1970s saw a dramatic rise in the number of emergencies and disasters that affected the country's states and localities. The increasing presence of hazardous materials in local communities and in the transportation corridors led to serious hazmat incidents. Chief among them were the Bromine release in Rockwood, TN, in 1977 and the LPG explosion in Waverly, Tennessee, in February of 1978. The years 1973-1975 saw dramatic increases in severe weather damages, especially in 1974, where hundreds of people were killed in a series of violent tornado outbreaks across the Midwest. Major flooding events impacted Tennessee in 1977, there were a couple of major dam failures, and the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant experienced a major malfunction. For a brief period of time, the federal government allowed the states to treat natural disaster preparedness as their primary role with respect to the use of federal civil defense funds. This changed again, however, following the ascendancy of Gerald Ford to the Presidency, and once again, states were required to treat planning for a nuclear attack as their primary function.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and consolidated several dozen, disparate emergency preparedness and civil defense functions into a single entity. Although that sounds efficient, many of these organizations continued to function as their own organization within the new agency, and for many years the "civil defense" and "national security" planners were distinct from those that assisted state and local governments in preparing for and responding to disasters. FEMA and its programs would become the basis for state and local emergency preparedness and civil defense programs for the next 20 years. Like most other states during the early and mid 1970s, the state of Tennessee also came to the realization that preparation for natural and now technological disasters should take priority over population relocations and sheltering surveys. Several of those disasters that attracted the attention of the nation occurred in Tennessee. The TCDA didn't wait until told that they could use funds for other purposes. In 1978, following the floods of 1977, and with the lingering after-effects of the tornadoes in 1974 and the Waverly explosion, the state developed its first "disaster response" document. With the release of the Tennessee Disaster Assistance Plan in 1978, the state now had a formalized process for responding to and recovering from disasters that affected the state. The plan had been under development for almost two years, and had been funded by a $250,000.00 grant from the FDAA (HUD), and was signed by Governor Ray Blanton in June of 1978. Governor Blanton had also issued an Executive Order (18) in 1975 designating the Tennessee Office of Civil Defense as the lead agency for coordinating the state's response to all disasters and emergencies that affected the state or its citizens.

Executive Order 18 also required that each state agency designate an Emergency Services Coordinator (ESC) and an alternate to serve as liaison to the TCDA during disasters and emergencies. Tennessee was the first state to formalize this process, and it allowed TCDA to reach into an agency to find someone who could assist a local community without having to call dozens of people in perhaps several different counties before they could arrange for help. TCDA could now contact this one person, explain to them what was needed, and that one person had the onus and the authority to find someone in his organization that could assist the local community with whatever it needed. The ESC concept continues to this day.

It was also during the late 1970s that TCDA found itself involved in several unique events. Among them was the funeral of Elvis Presley in Memphis in August of 1977. Presley had died unexpectedly, and there was a tremendous crowd presence that began to swell immediately following the announcement of his death. In the days that followed, more and more people surrounded his Graceland Mansion and clogged the roads in the area. With the advent of the funeral, Memphis officials feared that they would not be able to effectively control the traffic and the crowds, and asked for assistance from several state agencies, including the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the Tennessee National Guard. The State Emergency Operations Center was activated and coordinate the provision of almost 1000 state personnel to assist the Memphis authorities.

National Guard involvement in the police and fire strikes in Memphis and in Nashville in 1978 also led to the activation of the state EOC. The SEOC coordinated the provision of troops, law enforcement personnel, and supplies to the city administration in both events.

Sadly, the 1978 explosion at Waverly also represents the only time that a TCDA/TEMA employee has been killed in the line of duty. Mark Belyew, a communications technician was providing radio communications coordination at a command post at the time of the LPG tank explosion in that city. The Planning and Communication Annex building on Houston Barracks is named in his honor. The agency's current director, John White, was also critically injured in that explosion. Coincidentally, the agency had developed a draft hazardous materials response plan prior to Waverly (in response to the Bromine leak in Rockwood), but had yet to enact it. The Planning and Communication Annex building on Houston Barracks is named in his honor.