Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 8, 2011

PPD-8 for dummies or, if you prefer, a crystallization of key concepts

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on April 8, 2011

Previous drafts of the new Presidential Policy Directive were twenty and more pages long.  One aspect of PPD-8 that I especially appreciate is its brevity: six pages.   What would a one-page wonder — about 450 words — look like?

Below is how I imagine the President might talk to us in person about this PPD.  The quotation marks indicate where I have drawn directly from the Presidential Policy Directive.


National security and homeland security are complicated, complex, and multi-layered.  Still choices must be made. In terms of preparedness I am choosing to give particular priority to “terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters.”

While there is good cause for these four threats to receive particular attention, we cannot be sure when, where, and how our nation might be threatened.  As a result, in planning, training, resourcing, and exercising to be prepared we should take a capabilities-based — rather than a threat-based — approach.  This means developing a strategic understanding of our vulnerabilities and the operational/tactical requirements that extend across threats.  This means being risk ready, rather than preoccupied with any particular threat.  Specialization has real limits in dealing with uncertainty, complexity, and chaos.

“Everyone can contribute to safeguarding the Nation from harm.”  And we need everyone’s help.  I don’t care if you call this all-nation, whole of nation, whole community, or whatever. We need to involve as meaningful a cross-section of our nation as possible.  For too long we have treated the public as potential victims to be served rather than active and resilient citizens. When and where the people are prepared, the nation will be prepared.

To engage as many as possible, I am asking John Brennan and Janet Napolitano to work with others to articulate “a national preparedness goal that identifies the core capabilities necessary for preparedness and a national preparedness system to guide activities that will enable the Nation to achieve the goal.”  (FEMA’s National Preparedness Directorate has already begun this process.)

We want broad-based ownership of the goal and common capabilities.  We want a goal that will bind us together, survive election cycles, and drive autonomous decision-making across jurisdictions, across agencies, and across the public, private, and civic sectors.  If the goal-setting and capabilities identification are done well, rigorously, and inclusively it will have traction and amplification that will never emerge from the words of a Presidential Policy Directive alone.

Once we have the goal and common capabilities articulated, this administration is committing itself to implementing a national preparedness system to support achieving the goal and common capabilities.

Whatever the goal and common capabilities — and this capabilities-based approach is non-negotiable — “the national preparedness system shall include a comprehensive approach to assess national preparedness that uses consistent methodology to measure the operational capabilities at the time of assessment, with clear, objective, and quantifiable performance measures, against the target capability levels identified in the national preparedness goal.”

A key element of the national preparedness system will be an annual  National Preparedness Report.  If delivered with integrity, the Report should serve to regularly refocus our attention and encourage sufficient resourcing.

The way I view preparedness is as a balanced, integrated approach “to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from those threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the nation.”

Next: Looking at some interesting definitions and how PPD-8 is distinct from HSPD-8

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Comment by Arnold Bogis

April 8, 2011 @ 10:58 pm


Please define “capabilities-based approach” in this context.

What I infer it meaning leads me to think the maximum of maximums model is simply a dream…

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 9, 2011 @ 2:17 am

The premise of the PDD-8 is that almost nothing is known about current capabilities and a “capabilities-based approach” must be developed. I defer to others on that conclusion but certainly the wording does appear to indicate that almost no metrics exist on current capabilities. I do note that Booze Allen or SAIC maintains some sort of inventory data base for FEMA and a WEB page on some kind of capability inventory. Last I checked almost none in FEMA understood how that site and data was maintained by FEMA funding except that its existence is clearly contracted for by FEMA. Apparently designed and utilized by a number of First Response/Public Safety organizations.

Comment by AGH

October 10, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

The technical problem is measuring criticality in some meaningful way so that we understand where the risks really are and protective mitigations can be taken. This deals with risk, resilience, and the effective allocation of limited resources.

The political problem is that the “criticality metrics” are being used to allocate grant money between the states. DHS/IP wants there to be not too many and not too few critical facilities (or systems) identified by the methodology — especially as compared to other infrastructure sectors. Having too many or too few critical entities causes them political problems in that it shows that they don’t have a defensible methodology for allocating their grant money. They don’t see the technical problem at all or the convolution with the political problem. They only see the political problem. And they wonder why you (scientists) won’t just fix it for them.

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