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Defining Resilience for America's Critical Infrastructure

“If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” – Henry Kissinger

On July 19, 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce hosted the first meeting in its Business Horizon Series. The event featured a Keynote Address by the Former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, the release of the Chamber’s Transportation Performance Index, a panel discussion and extended question and answer period that provided Private Sector, Subject Matter Expert and Administration perspectives on the condition of the nation’s infrastructure and what was needed to correct it.

Among other issues, the event highlighted:

  • Private Sector, infrastructure and local authorities are far ahead of the Government in understanding the dangers inherent in the condition of American infrastructure(s) and the urgency of rebuilding them as the foundation for creation and maintenance of resilient businesses and communities and a resilient nation.
  • Despite near-continuous pronouncements on the topic of resilience and even the creation of an office focused on resilience within the National Security Council, the Administration, citing the difficulty of doing so, decided not to define the term (resilience) in its latest Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-8: National Preparedness.

While the first of the above highlights is on-target, the second is not. It is precisely the difficulty of nationally defining resilience that should compel the government to do so. Deciding not to define resilience and its application to the Nation’s infrastructure condemns America to continuous validation of Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.”

Given human nature and the influence inherent in grant-enriched Federal Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) programs, the vacuum created by the deliberate absence of an operational definition of infrastructure resilience has been filled largely with an evolution of functionally stove-piped CIP efforts. Adding the words “and resilience” to CIP does not instantiate resilient infrastructure(s).

The word resilient, first defined in 1824, means: “Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture.” The actual practice of infrastructure resilience is not defined. Consider the following as both an operational definition and goal for infrastructure resilience: “The predictable provision of essential infrastructure products and services.”

In a departure from historic, sector-centric CIP efforts, this definition and goal can comprehensively empower individuals, infrastructure providers, businesses and communities across the nation to work in both their individual and collective best interests. They can do so by focusing on the three core elements of resilience: criticality; time; and capacity identification and integration.

In practice, all those with a stake in the performance of America’s infrastructure will:

  • Continuously assess what is important;
  • Determine how long they are willing to be without what is important; and then
  • Create alternative capacities to deliver what is important within the time they have decided they, their customers and constituents can be without what is important.

Ironically, the American Resilience Assessment recommended by the Homeland Security Advisory Council in its June 27, 2011 Community Resilience Task Force Report provides the vehicle to collect and triage the nation’s infrastructure resilience requirements. Coherent risk and performance-based investments in America’s infrastructure foundations can then be made.

Resilient individuals, businesses, communities, and a resilient America cannot be built upon decayed, exploitable and consequence-amplifying infrastructure(s), no matter how much protection is in place. From the national perspective, the Federal Government has always had, and continues to have, all the means necessary to quickly craft and implement resilience-based infrastructure and national preparedness policies and programs. Further, it can empower state and local authorities and the private sector to implement those policies and programs.

Resilience is not: new, a threat, difficult, a concept or an evolution of current iterations of Cold-War Era CIP efforts. Resilience is advanced, pragmatic, risk-based, time-driven, operationally proven, nationally comprehensive, and compatible and an objectively measurable performance metric and sustainable operating condition. Its materialization augments CIP efforts and leverages the power derived from America’s hard won freedoms and our citizens pioneering spirit, creativity, agility, and technological superiority. In the process of making infrastructure resilience a national reality, we will continuously build a safer, stronger and more secure nation and, in the process of doing so, ensure a better life and future for this and generations of Americans to follow.

Jeff Gaynor blogs on critical infrastructure and national resilience. Read More
  • Jay

    Jeff, this is the final 10 yards in the effort and it’s the most important.  Good quarterbacking.  Resilience is national security and vice-versa, but only resilience as a deeply foundational principle that changes the way we do things, not as a buzzword.  

    Energy independence is a great example – applying our definition:“The predictable provision of essential infrastructure products and services.”Our policies should be driven by the need to ensure that across the entire spectrum of possible risks, including worst-case instability in countries supplying oil, we can continue providing the energy needed to run the country.

    Policies that centralize, limit and slow the growth in that capability make our nation more brittle.