Tuesday’s afternoon speech was a bit of a command performance. The vast majority of those in the hall were either FEMA officials or semi-official American Red Cross personnel.
The ARC personnel were arguably proxies for Secretary Napolitano’s intended audience: the American people. But whether Arcan or Feman, most probably nodded gravely at her main message.
So this is a very good time to take stock and talk about how we go about building a more ready and resilient nation. A ready nation is one where communities are prepared for the types of emergencies they are most likely to encounter.
It’s one where federal, state, local and tribal governments are working in harmony with local communities, the private sector, and individuals; taking steps, big and small, to be better prepared for natural disasters they may face. But they also prepare for the seemingly random but deliberate attacks that can occur.
Being resilient means having the plans, the resources and the capacity to bounce back quickly, adapt to changes, and emerge stronger than before when disasters strike. We need to have both readiness and resilience. We think of them like twin strands that make a stronger cable once they are woven together.
The strategic framework I am reading-between-the-lines is that readiness is focused on likelihood, while resilience is especially needed for what cannot be anticipated. And while both the private and public sectors can be ready and resilient, there is a particular need for the private sector to be resilient. The Secretary continued,
…building a resilient nation doesn’t come from a top-down, government-only, command-and-control approach; it comes from a bottom-up approach; it comes from Americans connecting, collaborating; it comes from asking questions and finding new solutions. And it comes from all of us as a shared responsibility….We need ready and resilient communities. And to build these, the country needs you, it needs each individual. It needs you to get involved in your communities on a regular basis—not just in times of crisis—so that taking steps toward readiness and resilience becomes a routine.
The specific measures that the Secretary celebrated and advocated are those that allow victims of disaster to survive without outside help and extend help to others. Depending on the scope and scale of a disaster, individuals and communities may not receive outside assistance for hours or days. Planning to be on your own for three days is a typical rule-of-thumb.
The 8.3 earthquake hit 120 miles south of American Samoa about an hour before the Secretary arrived at Red Cross Headquarters. The first South Pacific tsunami warning was issued by NOAA at 1803 UTC or 1:o3 PM Eastern Standard Time.
Just minutes before the Secretary took to the podium, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center confirmed, “SEA LEVEL READINGS INDICATE A TSUNAMI WAS GENERATED. IT MAY HAVE BEEN DESTRUCTIVE ALONG COASTS NEAR THE EARTHQUAKE EPICENTER AND COULD ALSO BE A THREAT TO MORE DISTANT COASTS.”
Notice the past tense. Ocean sensors being monitored at the NOAA office in Hawaii indicated the tsunami hit Pago Pago, American Samoa about one hour before the confirmation was issued, about eleven minutes after the initial quake. The crest of the tsunami is reported to have ranged between 20 and 30 feet.
According to BBC reports, “American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono said the effects of the tsunami would touch everyone. ‘I don’t think anybody is going to be spared in this disaster,’ he said. Eni Faleomavaega, who represents American Samoa in the US Congress, said the waves had ‘literally wiped out all the low-lying areas in the Samoan islands’. He said the tsunami had struck too quickly for a full evacuation.”
Tuesday night President Obama declared a “major disaster” under the Stafford Act.
American Samoa has about 60,000 residents. The total land area of five islands is a tad larger than Washington D.C. The islands are nearly 2500 miles south of Hawaii. I hope they were ready. There have been, reports suggest, tsunami drills. Given Samoa’s isolation and the apparent impact of the tsunami, they will surely need to be resilient.
The Secretary herself identified this as one of five critically important policy speeches she will give. It was written for a general audience. It was heard –at least in the hall and here — mostly by specialists, geeks, and wonks. I have not found a single mainstream media mention.
I understand the motivation to make resilience sound familiar. As the Secretary points out in her speech, it has a long and honorable pedigree. But as policy and strategy it is new. Partly it is new because in some ways our culture, economy, and infrastructure have become less resilient than was once the case.
Part way through the speech, the Secretary said, “So I’m calling on you—and the President and the First Lady are calling on you—to go one step further, to get involved. And to start that, we’re asking you to raise your hand and ask whenever you are in one of those groups, “What’s our plan?”. You know, the next time your group meets or your staff gathers for lunch, I want you to raise your hand and ask, “What’s our plan?”
Well… here’s my call to action. I invite the readers of this blog — and anyone else you can recruit — to develop the geekiest, wonkiest, most specialized resilience strategy you can. Announce it here, link it here, consult on it here. I will be on the look-out to headline the most interesting contributions. Keep the first draft (executive summary?) at ten pages or less. I will read each one. I will choose what I think are the best three strategies submitted. I will probably ask Chris and Jess for their advice, but I will make the final choice.
I will then buy lunch for all three authors at a Washington D.C. restaurant called Policy (haven’t been there, heard good things, seems appropriate). While eating lunch we will try to craft a common approach to a resilience strategy, report it out here at The Watch, and push it into the Secretary and others anyway we can.
Look, look — over here — I’m raising my hand! What’s our plan?