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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

New Report Calls On President To “Discuss [Homeland Security] Risk Priorities With The American People”; Says #H1N1 May Offer Good “Launching Off Point”

September 10th, 2009 · No Comments

In their new books, former DHS Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff both say that there is a need to engage the American public in a discussion on risk and homeland security priorities. That’s also one of the recommendations in a recent report, “Improving Strategic Risk Management at the Department of Homeland Security,” from the IBM Center for The Business of Government. The study was authored by David Schanzer, Director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism & Homeland Security (and also one of my college roommates) and Joe Eyerman, Director of RTI International’s Health Security Program.

The report looks at the challenge of strengthening the nation’s homeland security strategic risk management and notes the role of the public as an important stakeholder in that effort. In its introduction, the study observes that “risk tradeoffs are often political decisions that require public input, but mature methodologies for receiving such input have not been developed.”

As a result, the authors suggest in their third of 10 recommendations that:

The president should discuss risk priorities with the American people. Before the country faces another large scale or catastrophic domestic event, the president needs to engage with the public about the government’s strategy and resource allocation decisions. The president needs to be candid with the American people about why we need homeland security and what it can reasonably achieve.

The H1n1 emergency provides an excellent launching off point for this discussion. Americans need to understand the investments that the government has made, but also the risks that the government has chosen to accept. facing this hard truth will help to stimulate a public debate on what the ‘acceptable’ level of risk may be to a set of potential threats. This debate can then send signals to policymakers to inform their resource allocation judgments.

A public dialogue should also engage community leaders, experts, and policy makers at the federal, state, and local levels to identify the most pressing risks and develop strategies for mitigating them. These strategies will all involve tradeoffs and sacrifices, but they are necessary to deal with the risks we face today and prepare the nation for the risks we are likely to face decades from now.

A consistent, mature message on this subject will help to build long-term public support for security programs and help to reduce disillusionment with the concept of homeland security resulting either from the sense that resources are being wasted because incidents are not occurring or when serious harm occurs despite our investments.”

A copy of the report can be found here.

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Tags: Preparedness Reports · Risk Communications

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