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Before an assembled audience of invited guests and American Red Cross personnel, DHS Sec. Napolitano rolled out her most definitive description of what American preparedness and resilience should be.  Heralding the successful close of National Preparedness Month 2009, she went to great lengths to stress that preparedness is not just DHS’ job or that of FEMA’s.  Rather it is a “shared responsibility” that every American, community, enterprise and organization are owners of.

Referencing classic as well as current examples of American history to describe the spirit and actions of resilience, Napolitano delivered a number of key points to help frame the content and character of a national resilience strategy.  These included

  • We need to leave behind the notion that security is a purely government role and function – it is not. Security is a shared responsibility of public and private sectors which citizens must be engaged.
  • Disasters can happen anytime, anywhere and no community is immune from threats or events that cause disruption
  • Acts of terrorism occurring in America are a reality we have to learn to live with, prepare for,and plan how to respond.  Terrorism is not just a big-city problem.  It’s every community’s problem.
  • A resilient nation does not come from a government run program.  It is a bottom-up approach that involves all.
  • America’s history is not written by the tragedies that have occurred to us. Rather its history is written in how we responded to these events and rose from them.  (This had to be my favorite part of her speech.)

While there was nothing controversial about the speech or its contents – it was well written and a thematic homerun in framing the national vision for resilience and preparedness, however, I have to say I was disappointed that there was not more offered in terms of talking about the private sector and its role in national resiliency and preparedness.

While it is true that the words “private sector” were mentioned several times in her remarks and it’s true that they were described as “an important partner” and “public and private sectors need to work together to advance the preparedness and resilience mission,” part of me wanted to hear the Secretary offer more definitive direction to the part of our country in which our economy, technological innovation and future are critically dependent on.

I thought the speech was remarkably vacant on those points and missed the mark when addressing the roles, responsibilities and prescriptive actions our private sector needs to be taking to be resilient and prepared.

I am fully cognizant that a speech like what was offered at the Red Cross can not cover everything in exhaustive detail but with nine months into her position as Secretary, it’s time to start asking, “Where’s the beef?” in terms of guidance to the private sector on these issues.

Since taking office, the Secretary has spoken forcefully, eloquently and exhaustively at every opportunity about the roles of citizens and communities in the building of a more resilient America.  What she has said about those audiences has been right on the money but when it comes to the private sector the words and rhetoric don’t seem to get below the cruising altitude of 37,000 feet.

That has to change if the well-crafted and well-articulated vision that was shared in today’s remarks is to have any meaning and lasting effect.

Maybe it was a conscious decision to avoid getting into specific direction to the private sector.

It has not gone unnoticed by the private sector or homeland security observers that a number of major positions specifically dedicated to the private sector remain vacant (e.g. Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection; Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector; FEMA’s Director for it’s Private Sector Office, etc.).  While these posts are all currently filled with good people performing these duties in an “Acting” capacity, the fact that they remain unfilled by permanent replacements does not help build the confidence or relationships between DHS and the private sector that can help them both succeed in their daunting responsibilities.

Nor has it gone unrecognized that more than two years after the enactment of the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act, DHS is still trying to figure out what to do about the PS-Prep Program as required by Title IX of the law.

The Secretary and Administration are hitting all the right notes in terms of vision and prescriptive measures for citizens and communities when talking about resilience and preparedness, but it’s time it really started talking to the private sector on these issues beyond the offered rhetoric and platitudes.  It’s time for details because if you’re going to be resilient and prepared – details matter.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More