Although we can say with near certainty that new outbreaks of disease and catastrophic natural disasters will occur during the next several years, we cannot predict their timing, locations, causes, or severity. We assess the international community needs to improve surveillance, early warning, and response capabilities for these events, and, by doing so, will enhance its ability to respond to manmade disasters.James R. Clapper Director National Intelligence Testimony, January 31, 2012
The intelligence chief’s comments regarding the Iranian threat were considerably more circumspect, “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”
Yet Senators, the media, and perhaps General Clapper himself gave much more attention to the possible Iranian threat than the probable threat of natural catastrophe and pandemic. The front page headline in the Washington Post was “U.S. spy agencies see new Iran risk.”
The same day the DNI was testifying on Capitol Hill, Mike Dunaway was making a presentation to a FEMA-hosted audience in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In late 2008 and early 2009 a reasonable sample of respondents answered a series of questions regarding their perceptions of relative threats to continuity of private sector operations, profitability or survival.
A couple of the survey findings stood out for me: Among 19 threats identified, the lowest perceived threat was “geologic disaster (earthquake, mudslide, volcanic action)”. The survey was conducted prior to the earthquake-and-tsunami in Japan and none of the respondents were in California. Perceptions will vary by time and place.
Also low on the list of threats was “interruption in supply or delivery chain.” Several firms reeling from the loss of Japanese and Thai suppliers might answer differently. But I don’t doubt the survey findings reflect general attitudes. (Dr. Dunaway’s dissertation is chock-full of interesting findings.)
As addressed in two posts last Thursday and Friday, the President has signed-out a National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security. I appreciate Alan Wolfe and Bill Cumming commenting here on the posts. Most friends, colleagues, and perhaps an adversary or two, decided to communicate more privately. Below are a sample of the comments received.
“Just words on paper, very unlikely to really influence supply chain policy.”
“Despite a bow to resilience, this is a security strategy.”
“Lots of cargo and logistics talk, not much recognition of how the supply chain is really something new and different.”
“Though better than the earlier draft, it still seems to be mostly focused on security and less on resilience. However, I know from direct experience it is not easy to write about resiliency, and perhaps being secure is one of the first parts of being resilient.”
“Stalking horse for new (costly) regulations.”
“While it is a national strategy, it feels quite federal/global to me. I’m not sure if many state and/or local folks could conceive how they could contribute to helping realize the goals outlined. It is my belief that a resilient supply chain, like many things, starts and ends in localities around the world.
“C-suites will ignore and deploy their minions to be sure “efficiency” always trumps “resilience,” no matter how inefficient it may be to have a catastrophic collapse of supply chains.”
“The private sector is paramount. It seems to me that much, though certainly not all, of the role of government will be to encourage, support, oversee and in some instances force the private sector to do things. Left to themselves, I think other forces will drive the private sector to not do some of what has to be done to reduce risk and enhance resiliency.”
“To give this the status of a presidential strategy is sort of amazing. It’s made me stop to think. But I feel a bit like a Catholic must feel when it’s announced the Pope has convened a major meeting on an aspect of doctrine I had really never thought of before.”
“What am I supposed to do? I don’t know enough about supply chains to even start a conversation with private sector peers. Besides which private sector peers? These are not the security and EM guys I usually work with.”
“(The strategy is) better than I would have bet. But while behind closed-doors the operators agree it is a real issue, how do you convince CEOs, CFOs, and Boards of Directors? Japan didn’t persuade. Thailand didn’t persuade. White House stationary is easy to ignore. The only things these masters-of-the-universe understand is a swift kick in you know where… and by then it will be too late.”
Perceptions will vary by time and place. But there is a strong tendency to give more attention to external threats than internal vulnerabilities. There is more concern regarding possible evil intent elsewhere than accident, neglect, and denial close at hand. We see the splinter in the eye of the other much more quickly than we recognize the log in our own eye.