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History 1980s

With the creation of FEMA in 1979, the federal government consolidated several dozen emergency-related programs spread across a multitude of departments into a single entity. Its function was supposed to be the coordination of federal response to disasters and the provision of planning and programmatic assistance to state and local governments in the development of mechanisms to protect the civilian population from all threats. The consolidation of these programs, however, was only cosmetic in nature. Those personnel who had been associated with national security issues remained compartmented, and FEMA directors through the first Bush administration steered the agency toward "black" and "secret" national security programs such as continuity of government, relocation of executive branch personnel, etc. Response to civilian disasters and assistance to state and local governments took a back seat to these programs.

Those within FEMA's civilian programs, however, began to formulate a concept known as "Comprehensive Emergency Management" or CEM. CEM refers to the responsibility for managing response to all types of disasters and emergencies through the coordination of multiple agencies or entities. One of the concepts of CEM was the division of emergency activity into four "phases", specifically mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. These phases can be consistently applied across any type of disaster, whether it is man-made, natural, or even attack-related. The Integrated Emergency Management System (IEMS) was also developed during this period. IEMS emphasized the application of "all-hazard" planning for responding to disasters, and FEMA began to allow state and local agencies to focus primarily on natural and technological disasters that affected their communities, and allowed them to relegate nuclear attack planning to the back burner.

In 1984, a methyl isocyante leak in Bophal, India, killed thousands of people and focused attention in the United States on what kinds of chemicals were being stored in local communities. As a result of the Bophal tragedy and several high-profile chemical events that occurred in the United States, the U. S. Congress passed the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act in 1986 (SARA). SARA required any facility that manufactured, used, stored or processed certain kinds and quantities of chemicals to report information about them to local and state emergency officials, and this information was to be made available to the general public. This would allow community residents to know what kinds of chemicals were being used or stored near their homes, schools, and businesses.

Disasters, of course, continued to occur and began to attract much more intense media interest. Major hurricanes such as Hurricane Hugo and earthquakes such as those in Loma Prieta focused attention on the shortcomings in federal assistance to state and local governments. The overwhelming scope of these events focused attention on the need for a federal "response" role - a concept foreign to the recovery role that FEMA had long played. FEMA began work on a Federal Response Plan for a Catastrophic Earthquake in California. Over time this would evolve into a full-fledged, national government response plan known simply as the Federal Response Plan, or FRP. Unfortunately, the FRP had not been implemented prior to the landfall of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The federal response to this event, perhaps more than any other, focused attention on the need for FEMA to "reinvent" itself.

Tennessee, of course, followed the lead of the federal government in moving towards the all-hazard, integrated approach to emergency management. Programs were developed to assist local governments in developing emergency management plans and capabilities. This included a full-blown training program, and the development of the first, truly-integrated emergency plan for the state. This plan was known as the Tennessee Emergency Management Plan, or TEMP. The 1986 document became the basis for all emergency management plans and programs with the state and this remains the case today. A copy of the Introduction and Basic Plan for the 1986 document is available in the last frame of this section.

Following the Three Mile Island event, the nation's attention had been focused on preparedness for emergencies at nuclear plants. The implementation of NUREG 0654 by FEMA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission required states to prepare detailed emergency plans for events the nation's nuclear facilities. Tennessee was the first state to comply with the publishing of the Multi-Jurisdictional Radiological Emergency Response Plan for the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant (MJERP). The Sequoyah Nuclear Plant was operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and in order to acquire its license to operate, TVA had to work with the state and local governments to develop an off-site response capability that protected populations and farmland from radiological contamination. Every year since, TEMA and a wide array of state and local officials and volunteers have undertaken a major exercise to test the plan's effectiveness.

Tennessee was slow to adopt the "emergency management" moniker, however. It wasn't until 1984 that the name of the agency was officially changed to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Also in 1984, TEMA got its first civilian director. The appointment of Lacy Suiter marked not only the first time a civilian headed the agency, but he also became the first internal employee to head the agency. Mr. Suiter started with the agency in the 1960s as an Operations Officer, and rose through the ranks to be appointed by Governor Lamar Alexander as the head of the agency. Mr. Suiter would go on to serve three governors (from both parties), and then became an Executive Associate Director of Response and Recovery at FEMA, following President Clinton's appointment of James Lee Witt as the Director of FEMA.