Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 17, 2013

Post-Sandy: Investing in resilience

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2013

Last Friday the NYS 2100 Commission released its report: Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure.   It is a helpful contribution and provides a very constructive level of detail.

The report also offers a meaningful framing for investing in resilience in New York and well beyond. The following long quote is from the c0-chairs’ foreword:

While the response to Sandy continues, work needs to begin now on how we build back better – in a way that increases New York’s agility when responding to future storms and other shocks. Building back better demands a focus on increased resilience: the ability of individuals, organizations, systems, and communities to bounce back more strongly from stresses and shocks. Resilience means creating diversity and redundancy in our systems and rewiring their interconnections, which enables their functioning even when individual parts fail.

There is no doubt that building resilience will require investment, but it will also reduce the economic damage and costs of responding to future storms and events, while improving the everyday operations of our critical systems. In a time of fiscal constraints, the positive sign is that inexpensive policy changes will be as critical as the financial investments we make. Hard infrastructure improvements must be complemented by soft infrastructure and other resilience measures, for example, improving our institutional coordination, public communication, and rapid decision making abilities will make us better able to recover from the catastrophic effects of natural disasters. In many respects, New York is ahead of the game in this regard. In recent storms, including Irene and Sandy, we have successfully embraced the notion of “failing safely,” accepting the inevitability of widespread disruptions and tucking in to protect our assets to the extent possible.

We cannot prevent all future disasters from occurring, but we can prevent failing catastrophically by embracing, practicing, and improving a comprehensive resilience strategy. As New York and our neighboring states continue to recover from the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy, we have a narrow but distinct window of opportunity to leverage the groundswell of consciousness.

I have delayed and hesitated to post on this report because, with all its strengths, it fails to sufficiently address a fundamental aspect of resilience.   The co-chairs foreshadow this issue in writing, “Hard infrastructure improvements must be complemented by soft infrastructure…”

Achieving resilience involves a different way of thinking, choosing, and behaving. There are a whole host of trade-offs. I agree with the report’s authors that the trade-off’s are worthwhile. But this will not be obvious to everyone. Resilience emerges — or not — from families, neighborhoods, and communities. It unfolds from dialogue and relationships, or not at all.

The NYS 2100 Commission report does a great job identifying and seeding the hard infrastructure topics that need to be discussed and engaged. But how will the dialogue be started and sustained? How will a soft infrastructure be cultivated that is sufficient to enable hard infrastructure decisions?

The current report reads as a set of recommendations to be implemented by the widely-respected and honored philosopher-kings of a latter day Kallipolis (Plato’s “Beautiful City” in The Republic).  New York is, for me, a beautiful place, but last time I looked its politics were more complicated than this.

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2 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 17, 2013 @ 9:35 am

About time! With three different commissions it will be of interest to see how their efforts relate to each other and solve problems. Deadlines for final reports for all are February this year.

What is important to understand is that FEMA has paid many times over for not just the change in thinking but about related issues. Little known is that FEMA funded up to $10B to restore the undersground interchange below the WTC after 9/11/01 and FEMA and others spent the initial $40B and more appropriated for recovery after the event. And that area flooded from Sandy, not a superstorm and not a hurricane.

Governor Cuomo is an interesting study clearly interested in stepping up to the Presidency in 2016!
He was HUD Secretary under Clinton. Perhaps little known to outsiders HUD since its creation in 1966 and early leadership under Secretary Robert Weaver following its creation it became one of the most heavily lobbied departments in Washington. Controlled by the Banking Committees on the HILL it was a money bags for middlemen including mortgage bankers. I spent 5 years in HUD in the late seventies lawyering for the OIG, the Federal Insurance Administration, and FDAA [Federal Disaster Assistance Administration]!
HUD was a deeply corrupt operation led by a huge number of political appointees many also personally corrupt. Oddly the two female HUD Secretaries, Carla Hills and Patricia Roberts Harris did the most to shut down the corruption. Neither had close ties to the HOUSING Authorities of the nation or the FIRE sector. That probably was a fluke in that the need for a female cabinet member might well have been the reason for their appointments.

One example of HUD’s corruption is the elimination of the FHA Minimum Property Standards which were designed to help ensure the decent, safe, sanitary housing that is HUD’s real charter mission.

So the NY State Commission efforts are just hortatory words at this point. Cuomo understands that his SANDY performance may help or doom his canidacy for the President. Same with Christie.

Strangely another potential Republican Governor [former] as candidate Jeb Bush has deep and rich experience in disasters. He understands that Florida and other threatened states need resiliency as much as NY State.

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February 13, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

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