Posts Tagged ‘resilience’

Resilience Rising

February 5, 2010

The Department of Homeland Security unveiled its first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review this week and the Policy Daddy is happy to see that his worst fears have not been realized. In fact, the concept of resilience is a central piece of the QHSR and looks poised to take its rightful place as a fundamental pillar of U.S. homeland security policy.

The goal of reformers to place facets like preparedness, response and recovery that are associated with resilience on equal terms with prevention and security has been achieved with this document. It states “All homeland security activities must be built upon a foundation of ensuring security and resilience, as well as facilitating the normal, daily activities of society and interchange with the world.”

The report represents the most extensive attempt by the federal government to define what exactly “homeland security” entails. It is also the best effort to date in determining how governments at all levels can work together with other actors such as private entities, non-profits, and the general public. The review specifically calls for a shift from top-down management to engaging all stakeholders. It states that DHS is currently undergoing a “bottom-up” review to align its work and structure with the missions and goals outlined in the review.

It acknowledges the lessons learned from Katrina in not adequately preparing for unpreventable disasters. Preventing terrorism cannot be the sole goal of homeland security.

The five missions of the homeland security enterprise identified in the review are:

  • Preventing terrorism and enhancing security
  • Securing and managing our borders
  • Enforcing and administering our immigration laws
  • Safeguarding and securing cyberspace
  • Ensuring resilience to disasters

Under “Ensuring resilience to disasters” the four goals are:

  • Mitigate hazards
  • Enhance preparedness
  • Ensure effective emergency response
  • Rapidly recover

The review also sets out the vision for homeland security as “A homeland that is safe, secure and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”

It should be noted that the goals and outcomes for resilience prescribed in the review are not as comprehensive or ambitious as those enumerated in the draft version presented for the National Dialogue on the QHSR last year. Hopefully this has more to do with space considerations in a document that already spans past 100 pages, as opposed to curbing the aspirations for resilience.

In an encouraging sign, the missions in the FY 2011 Budget that DHS presented this week are in line with those expressed in the review, and resilience is very prominent in that budget as well. It is one thing for a review document to set forth recommendations, but expressing them in the budget bodes well that DHS is indeed serious about resilience.

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Whither Resilience?

January 17, 2010

The blog Homeland Security Watch asked a key question this past week that few others have been asking – Where is the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review? While this question may seem only relevant to policy wonks and bureaucrats in DC, the possible reasons for its delay and what the document ultimately says will have far-reaching implications for how the United States prepares for and responds to major threats.

The QHSR, as it is known, was mandated by the 2007 law which implemented most of the recommendations of the commission that examined the 9/11 attacks. This is the first QHSR since the inception of the Department of Homeland Security and the associated apparatus erected as a result of 9/11 and, as such, is the first thorough assessment of U.S. homeland security. The findings and recommendations of the report will be extremely influential in shaping homeland security policy moving forward.

The QHSR was supposed to be delivered to Congress on December 31, 2009. But nary has a word about it been uttered, much less any document produced. A very likely motive for the deferral was the attempt to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. The affair has caused a great deal of hand-wringing and reassessing when it comes to security.

If this is indeed the case, then an important follow-up to the QHSR question is: What will become of resilience?

The concept of resilience has been gaining traction in recent years. Experts such as Stephen Flynn have persuasively argued that resilience should have equal weight to prevention in U.S. homeland security policy. Basically, resilience involves the ability of the country to quickly bounce back from a catastrophic event. The pillars of resilience are preparing for, responding to, and recovering from a calamity, as well as protecting against likely threats. The intent is not to supplant the focus on preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, but to complement it. Resilience entails a recognition that not all catastrophes, namely natural disasters, can be avoided. Policy Daddy has provided a handy primer on the subject with links to references.

President Obama embraced resilience as a candidate and in the early days of his presidency. Judging from the National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, an unprecedented online discourse that allowed Americans to view and comment on the work of the study groups preparing the QHSR, resilience was poised to advance front and center in a new U.S. homeland security strategy.

The question now is whether the Christmas attempt has derailed the progress towards resilience and if the conversation will again be dominated by a single-minded and unrealistic focus on preventing every threat. So far, the outlook is not promising.

The partisan finger-pointing, intensified “security theater” and general hysteria caused by the failed effort have exposed our true vulnerability as a nation. In compounding our political divisions and altering our routines, we hand our enemies an important victory. The lesson for those who seek to harm us is that they merely have to make a half-hearted attempt to attack us and our ensuing over-reaction will inflict sufficient damage.

If resilience has fallen victim to a young Nigerian with explosives in his underwear, this will signal a decisive defeat in our quest to emerge from the shadow of 9/11 as a stronger, more secure nation.

A major benefit of resilience is that it taps into the perseverance and enterprise of the American people. Instead of seeing citizens merely as potential victims, a focus on resilience enlists all of us in preparing for and responding to disaster. In a recent column David Brooks laments that the focus on centralized institutions trying to protect us from everything is trumping a resiliency mindset.

I share Brooks’ concern. As a parent, I, of course, want to protect my children as much as possible. Yet I also want them to grow up with a realistic understanding that terrible things can happen, and that no entity can completely protect them. I want them to have the resourcefulness to handle emergencies and the resolve to persevere in the face of adversity. That spirit has made this nation strong and successful, but I worry that we could lose it. I fear that more than any terrorist.

There is hope that the benefits of a resilience-based approach will still be recognized. If one recent high-profile event could defer consideration of resilience, perhaps another can get it back on track. The earthquake in Haiti and subsequent response underscores the fact that natural disasters can be more destructive than terrorist acts, and that an approach that emphasizes preparedness, response and recovery is critical. The quick and ardent response of not only the U.S. government, but also its people, illustrates that a resilience vision can not only unite the disparate agencies of DHS, but also drive the American people.

Creating a Climate for Change in 2010

January 2, 2010

The year 2009 ended on an uncertain note regarding climate change. The conclusion of the recent climate summit in Copenhagen produced an accord that fell well below the expectations that the year began with, although it saved the event from complete failure and set the stage for possible advances in the near future. As 2010 dawns the way forward for achieving concrete solutions is unclear. What is needed is a shift in the myopic focus on mitigating climate change to developing a comprehensive U.S. energy and climate strategy that entails environmental sustainability and energy resilience.

The chaos that seemed to reign during much of the proceedings in Denmark has convinced many observers such as Thomas Friedman that the current approach is not working. The Copenhagen Accord reached between countries including the U.S., China, India, and Brazil, although derided by many because it is non-binding, saved the summit from a collapse on the scale of the Seattle world trade talks in 1999. This achievement cannot be underrated, seeing as the WTO and the movement towards multilateral trade have yet to fully recover from the Seattle debacle. Shortly after the agreement was reached, President Obama spoke of the vital role of technological innovation in moving forward.

Maybe some of those combating climate change will finally have the revelation that the largest emitters of carbon are the fastest growing economies, who are all vying for global economic supremacy. Reframing the movement as creating new global markets for cleaner technologies will get these economies to compete against each other to create and adopt carbon-reducing innovations. Recasting the issue will be essential to building public support for changing energy habits, which is really what it all comes down to.   

It is no small irony that the Copenhagen climate conference ended as Washington, DC braced for a major snow storm. Many in the region paid little attention to the details of the accord as they dug out of over a foot of snow. This is the time of year when many Americans sarcastically ask “What happened to global warming?” while struggling though freezing temperatures. In order to achieve a real breakthrough, advocates must recognize the conditions that the average person/family faces and how that will color their views on the issue. This is most evident when it comes to the economy in the wake of the economic collapse that has affected everyone. For the foreseeable future, when the average American hears of “green” they will be thinking of money.

Most Americans have difficulty fathoming how a two degree increase in global temperatures will spell calamity or the urgency of reducing the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 385 ppm to 350 ppm. Instead of relying so much on complex and abstract scientific calculations and disaster scenarios that strike many as melodramatic, climate activists should speak to the concepts that Americans value and understand the most, such as innovation, entrepreneurship, competition, and resilience.

With the fate of cap and trade legislation in Washington appearing bleak at this point, looking beyond the beltway will provide clues as to how to get Americans behind energy reforms. Emerging “smart grids” in Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas underscore how innovative technologies will vastly improve energy efficiency and facilitate greater use of renewable energy while empowering consumers and actively engaging them. The people of Greensburg, Kansas have demonstrated their resilience by not only rebuilding their town after it was devastated by a tornado in 2007, but pledging to make it a “green” town by building structures to LEED standards and using wind power. Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship to create a modern, cleaner, and more resilient energy regime that enhances U.S. security and economic competitiveness are ideas that Americans instinctively are attracted to.

Perhaps the difficulties at Copenhagen will convince more advocates that a new approach is needed.