A Practical Approach to Achieving Resilience

The time has come to address the ongoing concern that the private sector does not understand nor accept the concept of resilience. The key question: Is it a relevant strategy or simply the latest fad in homeland security?

To be useful as a security outcome, resilience should become a process that is both: (a) characterized by a set of operational practices that are easily understood and applied; and (b) described in the context of day-to-day corporate jargon. These practices include:

  • Business continuity
  • Risk analysis and management
  • Engineered systems
  • Supply chain management

In addition, adapting the government concept of “whole of community” to the private sector through processes in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) provides the integration necessary to achieve resilience.

The benefit of incorporating these practices is that a common language can be developed to bridge public and private sector efforts in the Homeland Security Enterprise without adding new overhead costs to the enterprise. Currently using these practices as an organizing principle, thousands of certified continuity professionals in the private sector already are improving their businesses’ resilience each and every day.

The Evolution of Resilience The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) website defines “hazard mitigation” as “sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and their property from hazards and their effects.” It could be argued that the practice of mitigation is the first generation of the resilience concept.

As cited in a book entitled “Emergency Management: The American Experience 1900-2010,” hazard mitigation was first recognized as a concept in the 1950s and 1960s. The first reference in Congressional language to hazard mitigation appeared in the 1974 Disaster Relief Act. By 1988, the Stafford Act authorized mitigation projects through post-disaster federal assistance.

A National Academy of Public Administration report in 1993 advocated more aggressive and integrated mitigation efforts, which led to the establishment of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) in 1993.

In 1997, after Congress first approved funding for pre-disaster mitigation, FEMA established a pilot program called “Project Impact.” Since then, FEMA has continued to build a national mitigation program – Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program – which is a practice that analyzes and reduces risks to engineered systems in the built environment and land use policy.

In the Post-9/11 era, by the time resilience was first officially adopted as a national homeland security strategy in the February 2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR), there was a reluctance to spend too much time defining the term “resilience.” In fact, a November 2010 study by the Homeland Security Instituteentified 119 different definitions of resilience. Unfortunately, the word “resilience,” has become a mantra or marketing strategy rather than an operational reality. At conferences and in articles, for example, the concept of resilience currently is discussed as if it were a well understood “black box” that can be “plugged in” to solve the nation’s security problems.

Rather than using a simple buzz word, the ultimate goal is for the national enterprise to achieve resilience as an operational outcome. In effect, resilience would become an “umbrella” concept for practices that are well established and understood in both business and government. Public safety and public health professionals would then be able to apply these practices to focus on one or two key operational metrics as a measure of resilience – “reduced recovery time,” for example – and coordinate those metrics with their private sector counterparts.

Changing the Culture To achieve a long-term culture for “whole of community,” there is a need to foster existing low-cost networks and encourage professional development in the practice of collaborative leadership. This notion is embedded in the NIMS doctrine, which envisions a scalable system of resources that can be rapidly applied on a regional basis. By doing so, NIMS potentially serves as a resilience tool that can be applied to whole of community preparedness.

Another step toward resilience is linking engineers to the public safety community for the preparedness mission. For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has developed a set of Guiding Principles for Infrastructure to improve the resilience of engineered systems. The principles advocate resilience in the capital investment decision process through risk management, systems design, and lifecycle analysis.

ASCE also has recently developed response task forces in partnership with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA) that can support local emergency operations and integrate local engineers into the homeland security enterprise. With pilot teams organized in Seattle, Boston, and Utah, the first deployment was made in July 2012 in support of the Utah wildfires. ASCE is also working with FEMA to develop engineering resource types – that is, the categorization and description of resources that are commonly exchanged in disasters via mutual aid – to allow engineers to participate in NIMS through Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) requests, which are national interstate mutual aid agreements.

Examples of efforts related to the supply chain are evident in the ongoing Superstorm Sandy response. The state-sanctioned All Hazards Consortium, for instance, was able to provide indicator data to the emergency response agencies in New York and New Jersey. That support, in collaboration with Maryland-based Hughes satellite services, has helped create situational awareness by providing the status of gas stations, pharmacies, hotels, and food outlets.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, achieving resilience will require that nontraditional relationships be built and innovation applied to practices that are used in everyday operations. Of course, there may be a period of trial and error to determine the best tactics for effective application of these practices. Without changing the culture, however, resilience will continue to be a greatea with limited utility.


For additional information on: The ASCE Guiding Principles for Infrastructure

The ASCE response to Utah wildfires, visit http://www.asce.org/ascenews/shorttakes.aspx?id=25769810876

Claire B. Rubin’s 2012 book, “Emergency Management: The American Experience 1900-2010″

Dennis R. Schrader

Dennis R. Schrader is President of DRS International LLC and former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Preparedness Directorate. Prior to assuming his NPD post he served as the State of Maryland’s first director of homeland security, and before that served for 16 years in various leadership posts at the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation. Dennis currently provides Senior Consulting services at Integrity Consulting Solutions, LLC.



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