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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

New Obama “National Security Strategy” Includes Citizen Role In Resilient Nation; Specifics On Informing/Engaging Public Still To Come

June 3rd, 2010 · 2 Comments

President Obama released his “National Security Strategy” last week, which, according to the White House website “lays out a strategic approach for advancing American interests, including the security of the American people, a growing U.S. economy, support for our values, and an international order that can address 21st century challenges.”

From a citizen engagement/preparedness perspective, the Strategy document offers some encouraging objectives. However, there are few specifics on what and how the Administration plans to attain them, particularly in the area of informing and engaging the general public on terrorism.

In some ways, the public is central to overall document. A major theme of the Strategy is that the stronger the nation when it comes to our economy, educational system, ability to innovate, and civic values the stronger and more secure we will be. But on the more specific topics of citizen involvement in homeland security, there are several points in the section, “Strengthen Security and Resilience at Home”:

Empowering Communities to Counter Radicalization: Several recent incidences of violent extremists in the United States who are committed to fighting here and abroad have underscored the threat to the United States and our interests posed by individuals radicalized at home. Our best defenses against this threat are well informed and equipped families, local communities, and institutions. The Federal Government will invest in intelligence to understand this threat and expand community engagement and development programs to empower local communities. And the Federal Government, drawing on the expertise and resources from all relevant agencies, will clearly communicate our policies and intentions, listening to local concerns, tailoring policies to address regional concerns, and making clear that our diversity is part of our strength—not a source of division or insecurity.

This type of targeted public outreach has been going on to some extent particularly in areas with significant Muslim populations including here in New York City.

Improve Resilience Through Increased Public-Private Partnerships: When incidents occur, we must show resilience by maintaining critical operations and functions, returning to our normal life, and learning from disasters so that their lessons can be translated into pragmatic changes when necessary. The private sector, which owns and operates most of the nation’s critical infrastructure, plays a vital role in preparing for and recovering from disasters. We must, therefore, strengthen public-private partnerships by developing incentives for government and the private sector to design structures and systems that can withstand disruptions and mitigate associated consequences, ensure redundant systems where necessary to maintain the ability to operate, decentralize critical operations to reduce our vulnerability to single points of disruption, develop and test continuity plans to ensure the ability to restore critical capabilities, and invest in improvements and maintenance of existing infrastructure.

Steve Flynn, president of the Center for National Policy, whose views on these issues I respect enormously had this positive reaction to that part:

“I applaud President Obama’s inclusion of resilience in the new National Security Strategy. This marks an important step forward by acknowledging the vital role that citizens, companies, and communities can and must play in dealing with the evolving terrorism threat highlighted by the recent Times Square attack and the ongoing risk of natural disasters. I sincerely hope this new strategy inspires a revitalized national effort to better integrate the role of everyday Americans and the private sector into security and preparedness planning.”

A third part of that section relates to all members of the public:

Engage with Communities and Citizens: We will emphasize individual and community preparedness and resilience through frequent engagement that provides clear and reliable risk and emergency information to the public. A key part of this effort is providing practical steps that all Americans can take to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors. This includes transmitting information through multiple pathways and to those with special needs. In addition, we support efforts to develop a nationwide public safety broadband network. Our efforts to inform and empower Americans and their communities recognize that resilience has always been at the heart of the American spirit.

As I have written previously, the Administration has definitely said the right things and has made initial efforts to communicate and reach out to the public. The challenge will be to concretely determine what “resilience” means for the average citizen and to make good on the promise of “frequent engagement” to provide “clear and reliable risk and emergency information to the public.”

The Obama Administration’s “National Security Strategy” document released last week.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 William R. Cumming // Jun 3, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    In September 2003 CSIS released a report by Amanda Dory entitled “Civil Security-Americans and the Challenge of Homeland Security” which is still available from CSIS. That report proposed a construct largely adopted by the new NSS concerning citizen involvement. It dealt in part with perceptions and risk psychology of the public including preparedness, public warning, alert and notification, protective actions and some history. Interestingly it was almost the very first report to talk of citizen and community resilience.

  • 2 admin // Jun 3, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I totally agree with you about the value of Amanda Dory’s report. Below is a link to a post I wrote about the ‘Civil Security’. It also shows where you can find the first 20 pages for free and how to purchase the full report.



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