Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 1, 2009

Resilience: new wine in an old or new skin?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 1, 2009

Last summer in a dim bar near the Capitol I was pushing resilience as a first-principle of homeland security.  A wise woman with long experience in mitigation and disaster response worried aloud about both  the concept and the word-choice.  “It sounds like a cute brand for a California wine,” she remarked.

I was drinking sauvignon blanc.  She was, I think, drinking scotch.  Maybe that tells you enough — too much — about each of us.

Last week the PSD-1 Review recommended, and the President’s decision referenced, creation of a Resilience Policy Directorate within the new National Security Staff. At a briefing on the study the co-chairs called the new directorate a “center of gravity” for state, local, tribal, and private sector engagement in homeland security policymaking.

In her remarks at the Homeland Security Policy Institute briefing on the entire study, Dr. Michele Malvesti indicated the new Directorate will address issues including, preparedness, response, infrastructure protection, continuity, training, and exercises.

In a follow-on discussion with an individual involved in drafting the PSD-1 Study I am told, “it is only an organizational construct at this point.  We still need to have the right people and the right policy direction in order to move resiliency policy forward.”

W. Edwards Deming argued that while people are  crucial, it is the management system — especially goal-setting, measures, and sanctions — that either empowers or subverts people’s performance. Is resilience just a re-branding of an old and undistinguished wine; is it a new way of staffing the typically ad hoc White House role in responding to natural disasters? Or is it — could it be — a fresh approach to prevention, mitigation, training, education, public engagement, and strategic risk-readiness?

As of June 1, it is an open question. The question will be answered as the new Directorate’s people are selected and the policy direction is set-out both explicitly and implicitly.  The opportunity exists for new wine in a new wineskin (or even a single malt scotch in a vintage oak barrel).  But a combination of crises, inertia, and neglect could easily conspire to produce satisfaction with the thin, sour wine of the past.

Last summer — and before and since — I advocated resilience as an organizing principle around which homeland security, not just the Department, could be helpfully organized.  Here again and without the benefit of an alcoholic beverage is the pitch:

Our goal is resilience.

We recognize natural, accidental, and intentional hazards will be experienced. But we can take steps now to maximize our physical, institutional, economic, technological, psychological, and constitutional resilience.

We seek to prevent harm. We will be vigilant and disciplined in assessing threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences. We will be vigorous in working together to reduce our vulnerabilities and preempt or deter the threats confronting us.

When prevention is not possible, we will take action to mitigate the consequences of harm. We will make the modest but sustained investments needed today to avoid unnecessarily catastrophic consequences tomorrow.

When prevention fails, we will be effective in response. We will be fully prepared to take collaborative action to reduce harm and speed recovery. We will demonstrate the courage and competence of a free people who care for one another.

We will manage recovery so as to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

I see resilience not just as an organizational construct, but as a linch-pin of policy. Push back.  Refine.  Redefine.  Redirect.  Given the very present opportunity, please address how resilience can become an effective center of gravity — not just for state, local, tribal, and private sector contributions — but for the field of homeland security.

(If reference to old and new wine in old or new skins is unfamiliar, please see origin here.)

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Comment by Arnold

June 1, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

Just as a first cut at reaction to your post, I think (unfortunately) resiliency has become, or is bordering on becoming, just another buzz word.

The problem is not the larger goal/strategic idea you suggest, but that everyone defines it differently. Some include response, while others object to the inclusion of response. Should it mean long-term infrastructure maintenance? Or does it “end” before one reaches the long term recovery phase (at least the White House NSS involvement, as suggested by the participants in the HSPI event)?

The idea, and attempts at coordination in the White House, is an important step. But given the small size of the White House Staff overall, and the inclination to worry about what’s in today’s inbox, I would not place too much emphasis on a national strategy at the feet of what will hopefully be a group of experienced and savvy staff members–but unfortunately likely a small group able to handle only a slice of the bigger pie.

How to tackle that bigger pie is the question–because while the federal stakeholders need to drive this effort, it will be for nothing if it doesn’t truly understand the needs/role/strength/weaknesses of all the other participants (state, local, tribal, private citizen, NGO, and business, etc.).

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 1, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

Well as ususal have a slightly different take on resilience. Resilience results from the careful integration of scientific, engineering, and technical decisions from the beginning of a NEW or OLD technology or system. Obvious that options may be broader with new technology and systems. In other words a bottom up not a top down approach. For example, patent awards might be made not just on an advance of the state of the art or business system but whether the patent achieves more resilience in the patented item from outside influences that end with it being a destructive advance. Probably not worded very well but I think you get the idea. I think the White House level office needs to go beyond the notion that energy is the be all and end of resilience to looking at not just supply chains and systems and logistics but also concepts such as “Just in Time” that might have enormous potential costs as well as benefits. One example from near my current location. IN 1940 there were over 100 vegetable canneries in the so-called Northern Neck and Middle Pennisula of Virgian basically the tidewater area east of Richmond and Fredericksburg. Today noon. Another example! 1940 virtually no bottled water usage in the US. Today almost despite the deptression drop in bottled water consumption a significan factor in supplying drinking water day to day and in emergencies. Okay obviously or not so obviously these two examples of food and water might conjure up quite an interesting discussion of resiliency. My concept is simple. Assume in crisis management situations that money cannot buy either time or adequate supplies of many key inputs. Perhaps not even adequate labor supply. So how will the US operate and sustain its overseas and international soft and hard power! My point is that the US government really no longer collects adquate statistical data nor has the staff to determine how the country really works and many many interested parties are determined that the federal government really has no idea of how they are making money! Result not just off book financial instruments but off books systems and supply chains that perhaps have unique importance in Crisis management. So let’s work to establish some first principles of resiliency and include quantitattive analysis, systems analysis, and operations analysis. Do I know exactly what I am talking about NO! But what resilience really dictates is recovery, redundancy, interoperabiltiy and security. The four horsemen of resiliency? Is a three-day supply of food nationally adequate when you look to how long turnover is for supermarket restocking? Oh and one othe big factor or perhaps two–should all analysis and assumptions include Canada and Mexico in calculations. I say yes but others would say no.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 1, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

One further thought! In the old days of FPC-6 issued by GSA Federal Preparedness Agency [one of several predecessors of FEMA] that document required analysis of mobilization and resource preparedness by breaking down all governmental and private organizations into those that were claimants for resources and those that were providers of resources. Does this have any utility for resiliency. In 1940 just to again pick a base date as in post comments earlier, STATE and LOCAL government and its employees and contractors were less than 5 million perhaps less than 3 million. Today STATE and Local government is a fierce claimant with operational staff totally almost 40 million employees and contractors. AS the federal government rather than Paul Light’s numbers I would use the number of 10-12 million federal employees and contractors or grant adminstrators. Perhaps some overlap with STATE and LOCAL. Are these resource claimants or providers?

Pingback by Resilience Policy Directorate: important, urgent, and open to definition | Homeland Security Watch

June 2, 2009 @ 5:38 am

[…] Saturday reader comments (and here) have ranged from skeptical to expansive.  There is a shared recognition that […]

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 2, 2009 @ 7:07 am

In regard to bottom-up, not top-down. Yes. Absolutely. Resilience is almost always the result of a complex distributed system of largely independent parts interacting in a manner that optimizes overall capacity. But the “top” can nurture and exploit this characteristic or can resist, complicate, and dilute it.

There is a centralizing tendency in every seat-of-power that is self-defeating, dangerous, and nonetheless perennial. One of the potential benefits of the Resilience Policy Directorate is as an advocate of organic, decentralized, innately resilient — truly federal — policy.

For this purpose and in this context,the unavoidable fact that the RPD will be small is helpful. This should discourage the ambition to accumulate “insider” authority and, instead, encourage RPD staff to empower the provinces and private sector as the most effective means of advancing the RPDs power-base. Strikes me as a Madisonian method for encouraging virtuous outcomes from selfish interest.

And while it is now almost a cliche, we can also recall Margaret Mead’s aphorism, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I don’t perceive we are disagreeing as much as we are just exposing different stances — personalities? — on how to engage reality.

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