Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 27, 2009

Preparedness, Readiness, Resilience

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 27, 2009

Late Friday the DHS Press Office issued the following:

Janet Napolitano will deliver a speech emphasizing the nation’s shared responsibility for preparedness at the American Red Cross Hall of Service. Her remarks—marking the conclusion of National Preparedness Month—will focus on the important role that citizens must play in building a national culture of readiness and resilience.

In a statement released on September 11, the Secretary offered,

Together, we must build a culture of resiliency and guard against complacency, so we are better prepared for terrorist attacks or disasters of any kind.

We can discern in these and other remarks the Secretary’s effort to build on the  framework she set-out July 29 at the Council on Foreign Relations,

Now, a wise approach to keeping America secure should be rooted in the values that define our nation—values like resilience, shared responsibility, standing up for what is right

This Tuesday it will be interesting to read if and how the Secretary continues this public exploration of policy and strategy fundamentals.

The Secretary — and most of the policy community — tends to be threat-oriented.  Her early effort to avoid overusing the “T word” was attacked and ridiculed.  She learned a lesson.

Despite ritual bows of obeisance to all-hazards or all risks or “disasters of all kinds”, terrorism captures the predominance of attention.  Again, from her July speech in New York,

So how do we secure our homeland and stay true to our values? We do it with four levels of collective response. It starts with the American people. From there, it extends to local law enforcement, and from there up to the federal government, and then finally out beyond our shores, where America’s international allies can serve and do serve as partners in a collective fight against terrorism.

My understanding of human history — or just US history — suggests that the use of violence to achieve political purposes is a chronic condition. With ongoing care the risk can be significantly reduced, but it will not be eliminated.

I am even more certain we cannot eliminate flood, wildfire, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, pandemic… we could go on.  These risks will persist and will from time-to-time emerge in their most extreme form.

In the October Harvard Business Review, three experts discussing risk-in- general propose,

Low probability, high-impact events that are almost impossible to forecast — we call them Black Swan events — are increasingly dominating the environment… Instead of trying to anticipate low-probability, high-impact events, we should reduce our vulnerability to them. Risk management we believe, should be about lessening the impact of what we don’t understand — not a futile attempt to develop sophisticated techniques  and stories that perpetuate our illusions of being able to understand and predict…

This is what many of us mean when we write and talk about resilience.

I perceive Secretary Napolitano has an intuitive sense that we can usually do more about our vulnerabilities than our threats.  She knows this from very personal experience.

But whenever she has begun to explore the policy implications of this  insight, she has been accused of not being sufficiently attentive to some specific threat. 

We should certainly know our specific threats: al-Qaeda, H1N1, or  the chemical plant next door. When possible we should remove or reduce the threat.  But threats innately tend to surprise us.  So… we should expect to be surprised.  If we are serious about such an expectation, we will give increased attention to reducing our vulnerabilities — not only to a specific threat or threats, but  — to a range of risks.

If you have time to listen to the Secretary — especially if you are in the hall — on Tuesday, please share with the rest of us what you hear.  As soon as I can, I will provide access to the transcript.  Then let’s examine the balance of attention given to threat or vulnerability: preparedness for the worst we can imagine or resilience in face of what we never imagined.

I am not suggesting we need to choose between threat analysis or vulnerability analysis.  We need both.  But in my experience we are much more attentive to threats (that can be difficult to combat) and much less attentive to vulnerabilities, that are often entirely within our ability to reduce or mitigate across a range of risks.


The Secretary will be speaking at  2:oo pm (eastern) Tuesday, September 29, American Red Cross Hall of Service, 1730 E Street Washington, D.C.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 27, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

There is a devastating and fundamental flaw in the effort to focus on citizen preparedness. Why? None of the 15 planning scenarios cover regulated industries many of which are targets. The current Secretary is the third lawyer and by now should know that she has little in the way of regulatory or standard setting authority under the current DHS charter and various statutes and Executive Orders. Why? Because the Bush Administration paradigm for Homeland Security was not really focused on resilience which was identified as far back as PD-63 in May 1998 as requiring an interface with the private sector even though as discussed on this blog 85% of Critical Infrastruture may be in the private sector and may be not. Much of it however is regulated or established with federal guidance and funding that still over 8 years after 9/11 still fails to focus on how resilience can be enhanced in private sector and other critical infrastructure systems. Even as this is written the spin doctors are telling the American people that the vaccine issues arising in the current Pandemic Flu situation are driven not by governmental failures but by the private sector. It is a scandal that NO domestic manufacturing of flu, the state and condition of the Public Health and medical system to handle surge requirements or the stresses of a Pandemic (look at ventilator quantity, availability, allocation and surge production or lack thereof e.g.)! So why no substantive and detailed request from the Administration to deal with the already identified deficiencies revealed by a flu that all are lucky if does not mutate and become more virulant. The Secretary is doing the easy stuff that really won’t change anything substantial about the way the system works without hard work, in detail, by her and her staff. She continues to play it all ways on other key issues also instead of making sure that documentation of real world situations and events result in the tough lessons learned needed for leadership. Again a real blueprint was layed out in September 2003 for citizen preparedness by CSIS in a study conducted by Amanda J. Dory captioned “CIVIL SECURITY–Americans and the Challenge of Homeland Security”! My simple question is HAS ANYONE IN THIS ADMINSTRATION read this report? Sounds like Adminstrator Fugate may have given his speeches. Hoping so.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 28, 2009 @ 1:05 am

This post prompted me to review how “Resilience” fit into “Preparedness” during the life of DHS so far.
Although not much rationale appeared publically a memo appeared in November 2005 in DHS annoucing the creation of several organizations, including a new “Preparedness Directorate” removing most of the Preparedness Programs, functions, and activities from FEMA {operating as the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate after March 1, 2003]!
When PKEMA became effective on March
31, 2007 some elements of the Preparedness Directorate established under the 2SR reorg by Secretary Chertoff returned to the “new” FEMA and its new “Administrator.” But at the same time a new National Protection & Programs Directorate was born that retained most of the actual FTEs of the Preparedness Directorate which was headed by an Under Secretary George Foresman during its brief life. Now the NPPD includes a variety of programs, functions, and activities including COG and COOP, the NCS, CIP and certain other items. Oddly many in that Directorate when given their choice decided not to return to the “new” FEMA so now wondering how both elements of Preparedness have survived, thrived, or otherwise achieved their goals since March 31, 2007! I continue to hear rumors and some documentation of difficulties in the programs, functions, and activities housed in both elements of “Preparedness” both in FEMA and NPPD! With the third anniversary approaching within 6 months at the end of this week wondering what is what? Rand Beers heads the NPPD and Craig Fugate the FEMA. What are the cooperative and collaborative links between the two elements of DHS? Is resilience a major theme of both and what is the respective staffing and budget of both components on Preparedness and Resilience. Hoping this blog and its readers can inform US as well as perhaps subject worthy of oversight by Congress, it General Accountability Office and perhaps the DHS/OIG.

Comment by Pat Longstaff

September 28, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

I will wait for the transcript of the speech, but I hope the Secretary will have the courage she has displayed in the past and talk about resilient communities that take primary responsibility (the ability to respond) for their futures. Only they know their unique capabilities and can plan for unknown (and unknowable) dangers wisely and well. It is a betrayal of democracy to underestimate them.

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