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House Homeland Security Committee Hearings: Resilience and Citizen Preparedness

May 17th, 2008 · 2 Comments

The House Homeland Security Committee has been holding an important series of hearings called “The Resilient Homeland”. ‘Resilience’ is an increasingly important concept in the homeland security world. In its initial press statement, the Committee defined resilience as ”an approach to ensure the Nation’s ability to quickly and effectively bounce back from large scale disruptions.”

Thanks largely to the excellent coverage on the blog Homeland Security Watch I have been closely following the “Resilient Homeland” hearings, particularly as they relate to citizen preparedness.

Though much of the discussion during the proceedings has focused on increasing the resilience of the federal government, states and localities, academia, and the private sector, several witnesses and legislators highlighted the role of the average citizen in developing a more resilient nation. 

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Steve Flynn is the most high profile advocate for the concept of societal resilience, which he has outlined among other places in his terrific book, Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding A Resilient Nation. One of (if not the) most important points Flynn has made is the need to engage the public in their own homeland defense (as the title of his House testimony “Tapping America’s Greatest National Asset: An Informed and Engaged Civil Society” indicates). He spoke to the “Resilient Homeland” Committee’s Intelligence Subcommittee hearing ”How DHS Intelligence Should Empower America to Prepare for, Prevent and Withstand Terrorist Attacks.” His conclusion nicely sums up how important (and overlooked thus far) he views the public’s role in ensuring a resilient nation.

“…America’s greatest asset has always been and remains the industry, inventiveness and patriotism of its people. Actively, engaging the public in the work of managing the hazards of our post-9/11 world must be the top priority for the next president and the U.S. Congress.”

Though I anticipated Flynn’s emphasis on informing and activating the public in his remarks, I was surprised (pleasantly) by the testimony of DHS Assistant Secretary of Policy Stewart Baker. I was struck by the importance Baker put on that objective as well:

“At the end of the day, building a resilient homeland requires us to trust our citizens. We must inform them — and trust them to inform others. We must equip them with the right tools and technologies — and trust them to use those tools to help themselves and others.”

“Ordinary American citizens are our strongest asset in protecting the nation and ensuring our common security. In order to maximize this potential, however, citizens need information so they can make informed decisions. We can unlock powerful, self-organizing responses to disasters if we can get good information to indviduals quickly. New technologies are creating new ways to deliver good information about disasters to the people who need it most. Our job is to identify these technologies and deploy them where they will do the most good.”

Baker’s focus on empowering the public with information in part through the use of new technologies has been an important theme of this blog from its inception. Seeing the DHS’ top policy official make that a focus of his testimony indicates a clear move in that direction from all parts of the homeland security spectrum.

Resilience is a term I believe (and hope) we are going to hear a lot about during the presidential campaign. Though, as Secretary Baker notes, the term is less important than the objective:

“Some say that we need to characterize our national efforts to secure the homeland as “resilience,” as opposed to ‘preparedness’, or even ‘homeland security’. We should not spend too much time on a purely semantic argument, but there is no doubt that resilience — described by some as our ability to ‘bend not break’, or the ability to absorb the impact of a catastrophe without losing the capacity to function — represents an important dimension in our security efforts.”



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