On Wednesday, June 25, 2008, I testified in front of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection. The hearing, entitled “The Goodyear Explosion: Ensuring Our Nation is Secure by Developing a Risk Management Framework for Homeland Security,” focused specifically on the recent explosion at a Goodyear plant in Texas where a plant worker was killed and several others were injured. The Goodyear explosion was undoubtedly tragic; however there is another lesson to be learned about managing risk. That lesson is one of resiliency.
Several witnesses at the hearing either directly or indirectly emphasized the point that it is impossible to prevent all disaster, whether natural, terrorist, or accidental. This point highlights that managing risk must be coupled with the idea of resiliency – the “bounce back” after a disaster, the capacity to maintain continuity of activities even in the face of threats, disaster, and adversity.
The hearing was a positive step with regards to shifting the mindset of disaster preparedness in the U.S.; however, it seems that it will be difficult for Congress to wrap its head around the idea of resiliency with regards to risk-management.
Congress seems to lack a fundamental thought process: policy initiatives must function on the basis of risk, not politics or so-called “fairness.” Recent measures to institute 100 percent cargo scanning for in-bound cargo as well as out-of-control state homeland security grant spending demonstrate that Congress misses the mark when it comes to notion of risk-based homeland security policies. Resiliency recognizes three fundamental notions (1) not all threats can be prevented, (2) scarce resources should be directed toward the areas most at risked, and (3) when disaster does strike, society must be prepared to continue on.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee expressed discontent over risk-management efforts at DHS. Her strategy seems dedicated to the same old notions of risk – overly-federalized and lacking the notion of resiliency. She did, however, emphasize the lack of a clear legislative mandate from Congress with regards to this issue. Erratic congressional oversight, filled with conflicting priorities, can only impede further progress towards a viable risk-management strategy at DHS.
Congress must provide a clear legislative mandate that ensures that risk management policies are interwoven with the concept of resiliency; or else disasters will continue to serve a crippling blow to our nation’s infrastructure and overall way of life.