Emergency Management Association of Tennessee


P.O. Box 1238   Wartburg, TN  37887



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© 2020 by Emergency Management Association of Tennessee

In this document, we describe the history of Emergency Management and the Emergency Management Association of Tennessee.  It encompasses a narrative type description of past, present, and planned activities.

John Riley, Chairman of the Historical Committee

History of Emergency Management and the

Emergency Management Association of Tennessee

Narrative description of past, present, and planned activities. 
Last Update: January 2019 (please delete earlier dated copies) 

1951 - FCDA
1958 - TCDA
1979 - FEMA
1985 - EMAT

The National Security Act of 1947 created the National Security Resources Board (NSRB) to "advise the president on mobilization coordination of the United States" during times of war. The NSRB focused on the buildup of industrial capabilities and the stockpiling of "critical" national security materiel. NSRB also laid the groundwork for the development of CONELRAD, the emergency warning system predecessor to the Emergency Broadcast System (today, it is the Emergency Alert System).

On September 30, 1950, Congress passed the Federal Disaster Relief Act, which was designed primarily to allow the federal government to provide limited assistance to the states during times of disaster. This function was assigned to the Executive Office of the President (EOP).

On December 1, 1950, President Harry Truman created the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) in an executive order [EO 10186] within what was called the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) attached to the Executive Office of the President. OEM's purpose had previously been largely to provide the President with a mechanism to monitor emergencies and disasters that affected the United States and the office offered no direct assistance to state or local governments. Congress recognized this problem and passed the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 [64 Stat. 1245].

In another executive order (EO 10193) on December 16, 1950, the federal Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) was created to coordinate federal mobilization activities, principally for wartime activities. Shortly after, another agency, the Defense Production Administration (DPA) was created by EO 10200, January 3, 1950, to exercise general control of the defense production program.

On January 12, 1951, the FCDA became an independent agency of the federal government and absorbed the functions of what had been called the National Security Resources Board (NSRB).

ODM inherited disaster relief coordination responsibilities in another executive order [EO 10427] on January 6, 1953.

As Cecil Whaley, Director of Plans, TEMA, said, “Confused? No doubt. So was just about everyone else at all levels of government during this period. “The distinction between wartime-type civil defense activities and natural disaster relief activities and their attendant philosophies created friction in many different ways even into the 1980s. Civil defense workers were concerned with the protection of the civilian population from the effects of a hostile attack against the country, had "national security" status, and dealt with critical production issues, etc. CD workers saw disaster relief as an unrelated, benign task best left to others.

In their original incarnation, civil defense programs sought to develop sheltering capabilities to house people in attacked cities. Civil defense planners, however, were also developing mass evacuation plans for supposed targets of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Planners naturally assumed that major cities, defense production facilities, major power plants, etc., would be targeted by the Russians in their attempt to take over the continental U. S., and sought to develop elaborate plans for the evacuation of populations from the threatened areas. Detailed population and traffic routing studies were undertaken at all levels, including Tennessee, in an effort to determine how long it would take to evacuate a city such as Memphis, for example. The entire population of the city of Memphis was to be relocated among some 30 counties in western Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, and northern Mississippi.

There were three main considerations that led planners to believe this would have been a viable option at the time:

1. The massive development and suburbanization of the country's cities had yet to begin in earnest, so there were few massive neighborhoods or population points in any given area outside the main body of the main city,

2. It was generally assumed that there would be a "buildup" of tensions between the United States and Russia (or any other country that might wish to launch an attack). Planners frequently spoke of this buildup in terms of weeks or several days.

3. In a worst-case scenario (i.e., no-notice attack), it would take at least 6 hours for a Russian bomber to reach the radars established by the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) along the northern portion of the country. There were no missiles (at that time) with the capability of reaching the U. S.

All of these combined to suggest to evacuation planners that mass evacuations of large cities could be undertaken successfully in the event of a war with Russia. A great many people at all levels of government believed that such evacuations were not possible, and Congress refused to provide any substantial funding for any civil defense program, let alone funds needed for major relocation studies. A good deal of the funding went toward the development of sheltering programs, including the study of existing buildings for use as shelters, and the development of concepts and guidance for the building of underground shelters at individual homes.

In 1953, under Reorganization Plan #3 (June 12), functions of the former NSRB were removed from FCDA, and along with programs of the existing ODM, FPA, and other disaster and emergency relief responsibilities of the EOP, were consolidated into a new Office of Defense Mobilization, housed within the Executive Office of the President. The FCDA would concentrate solely on preparing the civilian population for a nuclear attack, while the new ODM would assume all responsibilities related to domestic emergency preparedness and development of the nation's civilian capability to ramp up and go to war. The CONELRAD program was transferred to a newly created office called the Assistant Director of Telecommunications, who was to be a part of the new ODM.

During the 1953-1958 period, there continued to be arguments over whether evacuation or sheltering was to be the nation's policy regarding response to a nuclear attack. There was vigorous debate in Congress, in the Executive Branch, and even among individuals charged with the responsibility of managing the civil defense and ODM programs. The public had largely grown tired of civil defense anyway, however, due to the political face put on by the Eisenhower Administration about maintaining a peaceful coexistence with the Russians. That would soon change, however. The development of intercontinental ballistic missile capability and the subsequent launch of the Sputnik satellite, along with the Soviet Union's explosion of a hydrogen bomb once again fueled fears of the potential for a Russian attack on the United States. This time, however, the evacuation planners had to confront the fact that a Soviet missile could reach the U. S. in a few minutes, and that we may not have "several hours" to carry out an evacuation.

In 1958, the major civil defense and emergency preparedness programs at the federal level were reorganized. Under Reorganization Plan #1 [July 1, 1958], the FCDA and the ODM were consolidated into a single agency, the Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization (ODCM), which was to be housed in the Executive Office of the President. It was during this period that the Federal Civil Defense Act was amended to allow the federal government to provide funding for civil emergency preparedness. The federal government would provide 50/50 matching funds to personnel and administration costs for agencies engaged in civil defense preparedness. The concept of joint federal-state-local responsibility for civil defense and attack preparedness was also articulated in guidance distributed by the new ODCM.

Within Tennessee, the newly created Civil Defense Agency (1958) was hard at work in its headquarters office, located in Room 315 of the Cordell Hull Building. Based on direction and guidance from the FCDA, the Tennessee Civil Defense Agency (TCDA) set out to develop massive evacuation plans for the major population centers in the state, Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Tri-Cities, and Alkor (Knoxville-Alcoa). The Governor adopted the policy that TCDA should be the central coordination point for all civil defense actions following an attack and gave TCDA the authority to coordinate all the other state agencies' activities during such periods.

The culmination of this effort led to the publishing in 1958 of the state's first major planning document related to civil defense. Called the Tennessee Operational Survivability Plan, the 10-volume document laid out how the state would respond to a nuclear attack in excruciating detail. The plan called for each of the population centers to be designated a Civil Defense Operational Area (CDOA), each with its own command structure. The Governor and the Civil Defense staff were to be relocated to a facility outside of Tullahoma, Tennessee, and an alternate state Capitol was to be established at the old Ovoca Children's School in the same general area. The plan describes vehicle loads for anticipated evacuation routes, contains letters of coordination for the use of counties in adjoining states, and even details specific guidance on how resources were to be allocated to individual counties through the CDOA organizational structure.

Despite all of these developments, the public at large had begun to grow weary of the "duck and cover" film clips, and the discussions about civil defense at local community group meetings. There was growing realization that an evacuation of major cities in the shadow of a nuclear attack was not feasible, so the primary emphasis continued to be centered on fallout shelters.

In 1961, however, President John F. Kennedy, sensing that the overwhelming majority of state and local governments were doing little if anything to develop a sheltering capability, decided to make civil defense preparedness once again a central issue. Kennedy once again separated out "civil defense" functions and other emergency preparedness functions into two agencies. Executive Order 10952 moved the CD functions into and Office of Civil Defense (OCD) within the Department of Defense and assigned to the Secretary of Defense. A full-fledged nationwide shelter program, funded by the federal government was developed, resulting in engineering studies of existing structures, the acquisition and deployment of shelter stockpiles (i.e., the crackers and other goods one could find in the basements of these so-designated facilities). This moved "civilian" defense into the military arena, but it was widely believed that the Defense Department had the resources to undertake such a massive logistics program associated with the development of the sheltering program.

What remained of the emergency preparedness programs was transferred to a newly created Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), which became responsible for all civilian emergency preparedness activities, including resource utilization, disaster relief, economic stabilization, post-attack rehabilitation, and continuity of government functions. Still we have the separation of CD and other emergency functions at the federal level. In 1968, this office was renamed the Office of Emergency Preparedness.

The Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962 woke everyone up to the renewed possibility of a nuclear attack upon the United States. This incident served to bolster the Defense Department's budget requests for accelerated shelter program development, and this was reflected somewhat in the next budget. Once again, however, the following years would see a dearth of funding for such programs, especially given that with the removal of missiles from Cuba, and the newly developing war in Vietnam, there was once again little interest in the prospect of nuclear attack.

In August of 1966, the Tennessee Civil Defense Agency promulgated the Tennessee Plan for the Management of Resources. This plan was designed to formalize the manner in which critical resources would be managed by the federal, state, and local government following a nuclear attack. In 1964, the federal OCD and OEP offices agreed to the framework for the management of the nation's critical resources following an attack - delegating the management of resources in the aftermath of such an attack. TCDA undertook an extensive review of the state's electrical and telecommunications assets, fuel supplies, food, industrial production assets, etc., and determined how they would be managed following a massive nuclear attack on the U.S., in conjunction with the federal management of nationwide resources. Governor Frank G. Clement signed an Executive Order [#28] on June 23, 1966, designating the Director of Civil Defense as the officer in charge of such coordination and planning efforts within Tennessee, and directed all other state agencies to coordinate their activities with the CD Director. Over the next several years, agency planners would set out developing lists of "critical facilities" that needed to be considered during planning for nuclear attacks and other emergencies that might involve resource shortages. Agency officials also coordinated the massive amounts of data related to the engineering studies and designation of shelters within Tennessee.

In 1967, the TCDA moved into its new emergency operations center, located at the Clement-Nunally Armory in south Nashville. This facility, housed in what is now called Houston Barracks, is the headquarters of the Tennessee Military Department, and the existing successor agency to TCDA, TEMA, still operates from there today in totally renovated facilities.

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 federal Office of Civil Defense 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.

The federal Reorganization Plan #1, April 20, 1970 transferred the responsibility for the Office for the Control of Electromagnetic Radiation (CONELRAD) system to the Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP) within the EOP. CONELRAD was 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, federal Reorganization Plan # 2 took another step backward. It initiated a 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 liquid propane gas (LPG) explosion in Waverly, Tennessee, in February of 1978 which tragically killed 16 first responders and citizens immediately and injured many others. The years 1973-1975 saw a dramatic increase in severe weather damages, especially in 1974, where hundreds of people were killed in a series of violent tornado outbreaks across the Midwest.

Due to the Waverly disaster Governor Blanton had issued an executive order 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. The agency was designated as the only agency allowed to train and validates hazardous materials technicians, specialists, and the teams they formed.

Sadly, the 1978 explosion at Waverly also represents the only time that a TCDA/TEMA employee has been killed in the line of duty. Mr. Mark Belyew, a communications technician was providing radio communications coordination at a command post and was at the site 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 critically injured in that explosion. The agency had already developed a draft hazardous materials response plan prior to Waverly in response to a bromine leak in Rockwood but had not yet enacted it so its enactment was immediate. The Planning and Communication Annex building on Houston Barracks is named in Mark Belyew’s honor.

Blanton’ s 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 in Tennessee.

Major flooding events affected 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, 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 Vice-President 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 did not 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 tornado outbreak of 1974 and the Waverly explosion in 1978, 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, had been funded by a $250,000 grant from the FDAA (HUD), and was signed by Governor Ray Blanton in June of 1978.

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 coordinates the provision of almost 1000 state personnel to assist the Memphis authorities.

The call-up of the National Guard in the 1978 police and fire strikes in Memphis and later in Nashville with the Nashville Prison Strike 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.

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.

Following the Three Mile Island event in March, 1979, 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. Although the surge nationally did not last long, 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, the agency and a wide array of state and local officials and volunteers have undertaken a major exercise to test the plan's effectiveness.

Those within FEMA's civilian programs began to formulate a concept known as "Comprehensive Emergency Management" or CEM. CEM referred 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 could be consistently applied across any type of disaster, whether it was 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.

It had not been long since the Federal Emergency Management Agency had reported that the House and Senate Conferees had agreed on the paltry sum of $152.3 million for civil defense in the Department of Defense Authorization Act of 1983. The joint committee was even considering reverting FEMA to the name “civil defense”, proposing to change the name to the Federal Civil Disaster Agency. FEMA was also facing a reduction of federal funding in the hard economic times. Robert Morris, the acting director, indicated his anxiety to get input from local emergency management officials on problems and issues to build FEMA support (Civil Defense Bulletin, Series 82-8/23).

Then Bhopal happened on December 3, 1984. The “new” threat raised as a skull and crossbones from the Union Carbide plant in the heart of India killing 1,700 Indians immediately and a disputed number between 4,000 and 20,000 over the next few weeks (TEMA HAZMAT Ops Guide, p. 1). The release was methyl isocyanate (MIC), a deadly chemical used in insecticides such as Sevin and Temik. The Bhopal disaster was especially traumatic in Tennessee since the 1978 Waverly disaster was still recent in the minds of Tennesseans and had shaken the state severely (TEMA HAZMAT Ops Guide, p. 1). The issues were recognized in Tennessee as similar due to implications that no guidelines were in place to deal with chemical releases just as there had been few guidelines to deal with the propane threat.

At the national level in the United States, the Bhopal, India incident underwrote the empowerment of the Environmental Protection Agency and pushed it to improve the state of preparedness for accidents of this nature. The nation focused on what kinds of chemicals were being stored in local communities. As a result of the fear generated by the Bhopal 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 public. This would allow community residents to know what kinds of chemicals were being used or stored near their homes, schools, and businesses.

Meanwhile at the state level in Tennessee, the Bhopal and Waverly incidents had already inspired a sweeping array of new laws and new guidelines to “correct” the problem (TEMA HAZMAT Ops Guide, p. 3). Everyone began to discuss emergency management as the focus of preparedness, rather than “civil defense”. From this transition, TEMA and EMAT were both born to meet the new threats. The New Madrid fault was also first identified as a threat to a seven-state area.

Although Tennessee had not been quick to adopt the "emergency management" moniker, the recent disasters changed the pace, and the organization 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 TCDA in the 1960s as an Operations Officer and rose through the ranks to be appointed by Governor Lamar Alexander as the head of TEMA. 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. Many of the concepts developed in Tennessee eventually developed into the National Incident Management System (NIMS) through Suiter’s influence.

The many emergencies in the state encouraged the Tennessee Civil Defense Association to change its name to the Emergency Management Association of Tennessee. The decision was made in a meeting on August 6, 1985 chaired by President Joan Blair of Blount County. EMAT came into being on October 1, 1985. The first officers of EMAT were President Charlie Barnhart of Carroll County, who was previously TCDA President. John Collins of Jefferson County became Vice-President in the new organization. An early meeting was held in the State Emergency Operations Center on September 23rd by incoming officers to transfer the financial torch and take care of other items of business, but terms began on October 1st.

The Emergency Management Association of Tennessee was formally chartered in October of 1985. The Tennessee Civil Defense Association carried its business, finances, officers, and processes into the new organization, lock, stock, and barrel. The new organization needed new energy, new money, and a new focus. Membership was down to 41 active members and even the TCDA newsletter was suspended.7 Events were beginning to happen that demanded federal funding.

TCDA President Charlie Barnhart, although never elected became the first de facto EMAT president. President Barnhart could not attend the September 1985 meeting because of the death of his father, but the EMAT leadership recommended that the president appoint Bob Diehl to update the Constitution’s by-laws in time for a vote in February. This was apparently done (no record) since the by-laws were subsequently adopted. In the business session, it was pointed out that the TCDA 20-year charter had expired in March 1983, so steps were required to obtain a new charter with the new name replacing TCDA.