Yesterday, the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) publicly announced the findings and recommendations of its Community Resilience Task Force (CRTF). Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley Chaired the effort supported by his Vice Chairs Dr. Ruth David, President and CEO of Analytic Services Inc. and the Homeland Security Institute, and Jeff Ross Vice President and Chief Security Officer, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.  The report and its recommendations were approved without modification by the entire HSAC membership.

The CRTF Report like its January 2006 predecessor the HSAC’s Critical Infrastructure Task Force (CITF) Report (which I served as its Director), is built upon the reality that it is impossible to build a resilient nation upon protected yet aged, overstressed, exploitable and consequence-amplifying infrastructure foundations.  Accordingly, and in the wake of the devastating critical infrastructure failure commonly associated with Hurricane Katrina, and to ensure a highly-disciplined national approach to achieving resilience, the CITF report’s principal recommendation was:  “Promulgate critical infrastructure resilience (CIR) as the top-level strategic objective—the desired outcome—to drive national policy and planning.”

Leveraging its governmental leadership on the issue and in the current absence of Federal resilience policies and programs, the CRTF focused on the means to advance resilience from a still undefined, largely stove-piped response and recovery focused “concept” to an advanced, comprehensive, unifying and objectively measurable and sustainable individual, community and national readiness condition.

The CRTF’s operationally focused recommendations include:

  • Creation of a National Resilience Office. Leveraging the success of the government’s organization for the Year 2000 Transition, the office would be charged with developing national resilience policy, plans and programs — the resilience foundation — recommended in both the HSAC’s Critical Infrastructure Task Force Report and the Report of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.
  • Conduct of a Community Based “American Resilience Assessment” (ARA). Individuals, communities and the nation do not live and operate within an infrastructure sector.  The ARA will create integrated infrastructure, business and community performance-based resilience requirements.  Combining that information with infrastructure sector input, will provide “ground truth” to enable an informed triage and crafting of national resilience requirements and investments that will position America to:
    • Assure the “predictable provision of essential products and services and conduct of essential [business, community and national] functions,”Multiply the effectiveness of response and recovery capabilities, and
    • efficiently invest in the operational resilience of America’s physical and cyber critical infrastructure(s).
  • Creation of a Requirements-Based Information Sharing Capacity. In a nutshell:  Ask a question and get an answer.  The extension of this operationally proven intelligence management process to high-consequence businesses and communities will:
    • Allow information consumers to provide objective assessment of the timeliness, accuracy and actionability of information provided to them,
    • provide the Government accurate insight on community conditions and concerns,
    • build trust between government and private sector stakeholders, and
    • provide the Executive Branch information requirements it can take to the Congress to obtain the information collection, analytical and dissemination capabilities it requires to appropriately answer information requirements posed to it.

I would be remiss in not offering a word of caution.  Change — especially in national policy and programs — is always difficult.  The road to National Resilience has proven to be no exception.  Public and private efforts to implement the HSAC’s recommendations will require what the Defense Department terms a “Plan of Action and Milestones” or POA&M.   Absent continuous application of this kind of discipline, history warns that all too often progress devolves to process, innovation to iteration and accomplishment to activity.

Finally, given the extraordinary external pressures on the Department of Homeland Security, the inertia and influence inherent in long-standing federally funded programs, Secretary Napolitano and her leadership team deserve great credit for allowing the HSAC to again deliver on its Charter of providing Homeland Security Secretaries with “organizationally independent advice and recommendations.” Further, and while America may not yet recognize it, a large debt is owed to many people and organizations within the Private Sector who very early on recognized the dangers, refused to accept no for an answer and to this day, continue working to build — beyond a protected — a resilient Nation for this and generations of Americans to come.

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