U.S. Must be More Resilient to Disasters and Terrorism, Experts Explain
Private and public experts briefed Congress on the importance of critical infrastructure resilience and how the country should improve its ability to recover quickly from large-scale disruptions.
Critical infrastructure sector representatives and homeland security experts advised lawmakers today on how the United States can strengthen the resilience component of its homeland security strategy to mitigate the affect of successful terrorist attacks and other disasters.
"As a nation, we must be able to withstand a blow and then bounce back," Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, told the House Homeland Security Committee, adding, "That's resilience."
The hearing was the first of a series on how the country can weather a large-scale disruption.
Baker reminded lawmakers that the country can mitigate risk, but cannot guarantee another attack will not occur, nor can it prevent natural and accidental disasters.
"It requires us to admit that some disasters cannot be avoided," he said. "It also requires us to acknowledge that, faced with disaster, most of our citizens, businesses, and other institutions will take action to rescue themselves and others."
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), observed that 85 percent of the the country's critical infrastructure is privately owned and operated, while Mary Arnold, vice president of government relations for SAP, stated it isn't the job of the government to do the on-the-ground work of resiliency.
"The private sector can provide the means and the execution," she said. Government, on the other hand, should "be the champion and the facilitator of resiliency chain, balancing the interests of stakeholders, setting broad objectives and strategies, and providing oversight."
But Baker also championed the creativity and ingenuity of the American people, including the businesses they create, and outlined for the committee how government can prepare its citizens for a disaster or an emergency by giving them the necessary tools.
The government's first goal is to provide timely and accurate information during a crisis. Baker cited the use of Reverse 911 during the wildfires that raged through San Diego and Los Angeles last October as an example of how government is leveraging technology to help inform citizens that danger is near.
DHS has also created the Ready Business program, which gives small-to-medium size businesses guidance on which tools and resources are available to them to ensure business continuity.
Government's second goal, Baker explained, is to provide order so citizens can focus on disaster response, rather than protecting themselves from social chaos.
While Baker believes local and state forces can maintain order during a disaster, just in case they cannot, DHS is studying specialized law enforcement deployment teams (LEDTs). These teams from neighboring jurisdictions would assist local and state forces when they are taxed to the breaking point.
"LEDTs," he said, "could help provide an organized system that would allow state and local law enforcement to assist each other in quickly resuming normal police services to an area hit by a terrorist attack or natural disaster," something Louisiana and New Orleans' police did not have after Hurricane Katrina struck.
Finally, the government can increase infrastructure resilience after an attack or disaster "through the dispersal of key functions across multiple service providers, flexible supply chains, and related systems," Baker said.
Business should build in such flexibility as well said Yossi Sheffi, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Transportation and Logistics. Flexibility, he said, is cheaper than redundancy, and it is also a smart business decision because it makes companies more competitive.
"A company that builds in the ability to respond to supply disruption is automatically building in the ability to respond to demand fluctuations, winning market share," said Sheffi.
Dr. Susan R. Bailey, vice president of global network operations planning of AT&T, told the committee how her company kept their telecommunications network working on 9-11.
For the past 15 years, AT&T has invested in "mobile central offices:" 500 trailers that hold everything the company needs to keep their network up-and-running. On 9-11, AT&T dispatched these trailers to New York as the terrorist attack had knocked out a company transport hub in the 6th sub-basement of the World Trade Center's South Tower. Within 48 hours, the trailers were operational and accepting call traffic.
During his opening statement, Thompson said the United States had been too focused on prevention to the detriment of resilience.
"Since 9-11, this administration has focused solely on preventing the next attack as opposed to how best to recover should an incident occur," he said. "That, of course, is not the best approach."