NEWS

Think Tank Recommends Frank Discussion About Individual Responsibility During Disasters

By Matthew Harwood

The federal government has to have a "frank discussion" with the American people about what constitutes an acceptable amount of risk as it invests in resiliency strategies to recover from terrorist attacks and natural disasters, according to a report from The Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) (.pdf).

And part of that tough talk, according to the think tank's Preparedness, Response, and Resilience Task Force, is the federal government admitting that Americans should plan to be self-reliant during an emergency in case public response agencies are overwhelmed or incapable of responding.

"After all, there is a limit to what even the most resilient governments can do in the face of catastrophe, and the more aware the public is of the gap between governmental capabilities and survivors' needs, the more likely people are to understand that they, too, have a responsibility to provide for themselves and their neighbors during emergencies," the report on resilence argues.

In the Presidential Policy Directive-8 (PPD-8) issued by the Obama administration in late March, resilience is "the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies." But the task force argues resilience has become an abstract buzz word in Washington, D.C., and has no traction outside the nation's capital.

Either resilience gets "operationalized," the report states, or it will become "something that is ubiquitously mentioned in academic papers and Federal policy documents, but that is not sufficiently tangible to drive decisions on government priorities and resources, or meaningfully influence the behavior of the American public."

This can only happen, argues the report, if government officials and state and local disaster reponse stakeholders educate Americans about low probability, high cost events that could strike their area, which most communities are not prepared to deal with, much less recover from.

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