Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

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.