The President’s vision for building a resilient and prepared nation is contained in his August 31 declaration of September 2011 as National Preparedness month:
“Together, we can equip our families and communities to be resilient through times of hardship and to respond to adversity in the same way America always has – by picking ourselves up and continuing the task of keeping our country strong and safe.”
In the wake of “National Preparedness Month,” over the weekend the “First Edition” of the “National Preparedness Goal” (NPG) was released. Like the President’s proclamation, the NPG correctly recognizes resilience as a fundamental component of national preparedness – a desired outcome. Accordingly, the NPG defines success as:
“A secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”
With all deference to the challenges of crafting presidential proclamations and national goals, the issue is not what America can do but rather what America will do. America is not going to become resilient because it can equip its families and communities, and it will not become resilient simply by responding to adversity “…the same way America always has.”
In narrowly portraying and defining resilience as a component of disaster response and recovery, the President’s proclamation and the NPG accomplish the opposite of their stated intents. Of significance, both documents continue past government behavior of homogenizing resilience into the Federal policy and program status quo by applying “resilience” as a term of art rather than the advanced, comprehensive, objectively measurable, manageable and sustainable national preparedness condition that it is.
While resilience will clearly multiply the effectiveness of disaster response and recovery capacities, its operational scope and application far transcends them. Resilience addresses all conditions (good and bad), all activities (cyber and physical) and all entities (individual to nation), at all times. Unlike historic sector-based protection constructs, resilience combines individual, business and community-based vision and experience with real-time situational awareness, historic, current and anticipated risk. It compels creation of time and performance-based capacities to prevent consequences and assure continuity of community life. Additionally, resilience provides the capacities to ensure predictable recovery from the initial and cascading consequences of undesirable events.
There can be little doubt that since 9/11, America is far more physically protected. However, contrary to the assertion in the NPG, and as continuing protected infrastructure failures and nature-driven consequences continue to demonstrate, America is anything but more prepared. Exploitable infrastructure and resulting community and national single points of failure exist and continue to develop throughout the land. America’s cyber infrastructure is a prime example. Beyond traditional malware, cyberspace is increasingly riddled with code whose ultimate purpose remains a mystery but must be viewed and addressed as a fundamental and consequence multiplying threat to the nation’s security and safety of every American.
Also contrary to its characterization in the documents cited above, resilience is not a byproduct of national preparedness. Resilience is the foundation of and means for achieving and sustaining national preparedness. Resilience is a physical reality and operating condition that is objectively measurable and continuously verifiable.
Since August 2003, operationally proven, life, property and national treasure-saving solutions to address the spectrum of America’s preparedness issues (including the creation of a “Resilient Information and Communications Infrastructure” called for in President Obama’s Cyberspace Policy Review) have been presented to appropriate committees, offices, agencies and departments throughout Washington. Despite this, and as confirmed in the wording of the President’s proclamation and the NPG, Washington apparently remains unwilling to properly recognize and advance resilience. It’s as if a decision was made to provide only lip service to resilience, and as a result, to do less than everything possible to ensure America’s preparedness, security and the quality of life and futures of her citizens.
Our government must now elevate resilience from high-minded but ultimately meaningless rhetoric to the means by which America will actually achieve the NPG. As a start, Washington must collect time-based resilience requirements from the American people. It should do so starting from “ground-truth” – the Main Streets of America’s communities. The vehicle to accomplish this is the American Resilience Assessment (ARA) recommended in the report of the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Community Resilience Task Force. Armed with the results of the ARA, national resilience policies and programs can be crafted and investments in national preparedness can be coherently and efficiently made.
Given America’s mood, the nation’s increasing exploitability and the persistent human, physical, economic and social costs of past preparedness failures, in the wake of the next round of otherwise avoidable consequences, and as we again begin “picking ourselves up,” the American people will rightfully demand to know why we must keep learning the hard way and who is personally responsible.