Has DHS Abandoned Resilience?

By Matthew Harwood

In its latest hearing on national resilience yesterday, a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee had a question for its witnesses: Has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abandoned the resilience-based approach for protecting U.S. critical infrastructure?

"No," answered Robert B. Stephan, assistant secretary for Infrastructure Protection at DHS.

Since 9-11, he said, DHS has provided $14.8 billion in risk-based grant funding to help the private sector protect the nation's critical infrastructure as well as build resiliency into it if disruptions do occur. Eighty-five percent of the nation's critical infrastructure is owned and operated privately.

"Resilience is the ability to reduce the risk and impact of a terrorist attack or disruption while also improving the facilitation of trade and travel," explained Jonah J. Czerwinski, a senior fellow in homeland security for IBM's Global Leadership Initiative.

Citing an article in Foreign Affairs by Stephen E. Flynn, Stephan said national resiliency results when four factors are continuously achieved. First is robustness, meaning a society continues to function during a disruption. Second is resourcefulness, which means managing the response to a disruption as it unfolds. Third is rapid recovery, or a society's ability to quickly gets thing back to normal after the disruption. Fourth is the ability to absorb new lessons learned from the disruption.

"I think that DHS' efforts to date reflect these tenets," he said, most clearly in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP).

Released late last spring, the NIPP teams voluntarily with the private sector and "serves as the unifying framework to ensure that [critical infrastructure and key resource] investments are coordinated and address the highest priorities, based on risk," to ensure the nation can protect itself from terrorist attack or disaster and bounce back quickly if defenses fail.

Companies, nevertheless, are reluctant to invest in protection and resilience because in a competitive global economy it doesn't produce profits, said Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection. To make companies more willing to invest in protection and resilience, she argued, the government has to give them information demonstrating an "actionable threat" to their infrastructure.

The Homeland Infrastructure Threat and Risk Analysis Center (HITRAC), a joint infrastructure and intelligence fusion center, was created to do just that. HITRAC gives critical infrastructure owner and operators and other stakeholders "actionable analysis and recommendations to manage risk," Stephan said. 

Another way for business firms to invest is to provide them with metrics to measure preparedness. Companies may be able to gain real economic benefits from assessments that say they are prepared, noted William G. Raisch, director of the International Center for Enterprise Preparedness at New York University.

"Incentive stakeholders," he said, such as insurance underwriters or supply-chain partners, "generally grant that there is value in preparedness efforts by businesses, and these stakeholders may be disposed towards acknowledging or rewarding preparedness in their activities."

Lawmakers, however, learned how difficult it is to build resilience into a system from Dr. Kevin U. Stephens, director of the New Orleans Health Department. He testified about the challenges the city's healthcare system is still facing, nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina.

"We continue to struggle to rebuild the healthcare foundation and cover the basic medical needs of our citizens," said Stephens.

One of the most pressing issues for healthcare resiliency remains that healthcare providers also become victims during a crisis. Stephens told lawmakers that many regional hospitals decided not to reopen because of financial losses and concerns that they would be overburdened by the cost of caring for the disaster’s poor and uninsured victims. This, in turn, led to a loss of capacity to treat patients. Dwindling career opportunities led to a drain of medical talent as doctors relocated to find more reliable sources of income.

One solution would be for the federal government to reimburse healthcare providers that respond to disasters declared by the president. Stephens suggested the government could make sure healthcare providers get paid by making Medicaid payments portable during a declared disaster. This solution would also allow evacuees to receive medical attention, he observed.

He also recommended the federal government develop a national database to get volunteer healthcare responders the credentials they need to cross state borders and help out when disaster strikes.

Lee assured the American people that concentrating on resilience wasn't "capitulation," but an honest admission that neither the government nor the private sector can "protect everything all of the time."




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