THE MAGAZINE

Think Tank Perspective: An Interview with Dr. Stephen Flynn

By Matthew Harwood

Another area that deserves a great deal more investment is supporting civil preparedness programs. Programs like Citizen Corps have been grossly underfunded even though they leverage voluntarism at the state and local levels. But resilience can be advanced by market mechanisms as well. Insurance could play a larger role in discouraging risky behaviors and rewarding tangible steps that reduce a community’s exposure to disruptive risk.

In short, while technology can be helpful, I believe that the greatest potential reward with respect to advancing homeland security comes from engaging citizens, companies, and communities and providing them with tools such as risk literacy, preparedness training, and exercises, and creating appropriate incentives to sustain preparedness over time. A lot of that doesn’t look like the latest sniffers, scanning technology, or law enforcement data management tools. I don’t mean to disparage those tools, but we have overlooked for too long the importance of investing in people.

What are a few key things that a person needs to do to be considered prepared?

Essentially, this boils down to three concentric circles. The outside circle is made up of those who can take care of themselves and their family. The next circle is made up of good neighbors who reach out to the 20 percent of Americans who can’t take care of themselves in a crisis and offer to be their buddy. And the last interior circle are those who are willing to get trained to play a citizen leadership role if things go wrong. While the numbers inevitably go down as you move towards the core, we know from any emergency situation that people will follow the lead of the person who knows what she’s doing. So if one out of every ten people were trained to play that role, we would be in good shape when disasters strike.

You put a lot of faith in the average American to act as a good citizen, prepare for the worst, and help their neighbor when things go bad fast. Why is that?

First, the track record throughout our history is that Americans step up to the plate in times of crisis when asked. I recognize as someone who had a 20-year career as a professional protector that there’s a pride in profession that leads you to believe that emergencies are best left to those of us who have been adequately trained and that well-intentioned amateurs can at times muddy the works. But let’s face it--there’s never enough professionals to go around, particularly in large-scale events.

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