With September as National Preparedness Month, HSToday asked a number of homeland security and preparedness leaders to respond to the question: “How should we measure preparedness?”
Ann M. Beauchesne
CEO, Ridge Global Cybersecurity Institute
(former Senior Vice President, National Security & Emergency Preparedness, U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
“One way that we can measure our nation’s preparedness for critical events, whether a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, is by the way we have responded to previous emergencies and how quickly a community bounces back. A resilient community is a prepared community. Studying real-life examples and gauging our actual response compared to the expected response is a great place to start. It allows us to better understand the resources that communities and non-governmental entities can contribute to response efforts, such as local business owners opening their doors to individuals who have lost their homes or beverage producers halting production so that they can supply canned water to victims. Preparedness should be measured by reflecting on the combined response efforts of the government and the private sector during a crisis and weighing the areas in which we came up short. Take, for example, the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico last fall. Key takeaways from events like these, such as the challenges with information sharing and power restoration, continue to resonate and demonstrate gaps in our preparedness.”
CEO, Critical Path Solutions, Inc.
(former executive with positions at ABS Consulting, Battelle, URS, U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
“We should measure preparedness by quantifying capabilities possessed by those who may be impacted by an incident. These include the ability to be aware, evacuate, or simply shelter in place. As different communities need to prepare for different risks; it is our responsibility as industry professionals to heighten the awareness of citizens to understand the hazards we face. If people were more aware of ‘what’ to do before, during, and after an incident, our preparedness would increase for the unthinkable. Determining the capabilities and capacity needed to respond to an incident will also help us understand how close we are to being prepared. Understanding we will never make citizens into professional responders, our goal is to simply increase preparedness.”
Director, Toffler Associates
(former Assistant Secretary of Infrastructure Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
“Preparedness denotes a state of readiness. So how do you measure readiness in a world where unimagined and unknown threats have become as common as known risks? The scale of preparedness varies across industries, companies and individuals. Even those enterprises that dedicate significant resources end up throwing out the playbook when an incident hits, largely because they’ve not accounted for a variable no one considered. On the other end is the majority of Americans that are not prepared for catastrophic events and have an expectation that government is going to come to their rescue.
Preparedness is a culture and an ethos, embedded in the DNA of an organization or the resolve of a human. It is the ability to withstand an event or shock because you know something is going to go wrong, but you are on your toes, prepared to think through consequences, and make decisions, sometimes complex and cognizant of the collateral damage, that can soften the blow and help you bounce forward. Preparedness is rooted in the “what if” and comes with practice, learning from failures, challenging assumptions, embracing success, employing orthogonal thinking, and understanding what you can control as well as how you can be a better corporate citizen in what you can’t control. A culture of preparedness embraces the “what if” and realizes that it’s the problems that you could not possibly have imagined that will do the most damage. Are we measuring who’s asking “what if?””
President, American Resilience, LLC
(immediate Past President, CEO and Board Member, Infraguard National Members Alliance)
“Critical infrastructure enables the spectrum of American life. Despite its consequence enabling and amplifying condition, America’s critical infrastructure(s) are increasingly reliant on the Internet. Through predators’ eyes, this reliance makes the Internet both a vector and Single Point of National Failure. Infrastructure protection and security-based efforts suffer from a common fatal flaw; protection and security are objectively unmeasurable conditions. Accordingly, it is impossible to quantify how much protection or security is required to ensure the preparedness of America’s enablers.
Correcting America’s cyber-reliant preparedness trajectory is therefore the most fundamental of homeland and national preparedness and security imperatives. Achieving and sustaining national preparedness requires continuous application of an objectively measurable and accepted standard and success metric. That preparedness standard is resilience and time is the resilience success metric.
Built from American communities to Pennsylvania Avenue, resilience is a preparedness culture primed by:
- Critical infrastructure performance requirements
- Risk-based knowledge of how long critical infrastructure operations can be disrupted (and with $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment under discussion)
- Creation of capacities to ensure the predictable delivery of infrastructure services
Suffering avoidable consequences is folly. Proactive and proven resilience-based preparedness mindsets, metrics, methodologies and technologies have been and remain available for immediate nationwide implementation.”
Professional Lecturer, School of Communications, American University
(former Director of Public Education, U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
“Any effort to measure preparedness needs to include a close look at citizen preparedness, since all too often it is citizens who are first to respond on a scene and to support each other in the wake of emergencies. To measure citizen preparedness, we need to examine three key elements: knowledge, attitudes and behavior.
For knowledge, we need to understand whether people know their evacuation routes, where their community shelters are, how to turn off water to the house and who to call for water or gas line issues. It’s also important to know critical financial and insurance account information, should you need to access these resources. Knowing what to do, and where to turn when an issue is beyond your personal expertise, is key to keeping yourself and your family safe.
For attitudes, we need to measure whether people are willing and able to prepare for emergencies by setting aside supplies, making copies of important papers, and listening to the expert advice of the authorities. If they are willing, but unable, to prepare due to financial restraints, we have to work as a community to provide resources on demand to people in need.
Lastly, and most importantly, we need to measure behavior. Have people actually set aside needed supplies, such as batteries, food and water? Have families had conversations about who they’ll call and where they’ll meet if an emergency happens and they can’t make it home? How many people in the community are trained as volunteers or for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)?
Understanding the knowledge, attitudes and actions of citizens can help lead to a more resilient community, state or nation.”
Chief, Office of Access and Functional Needs, California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services
“Approximately 35 percent of California’s 40 million residents have a disability, are older or have some form of access or functional need. Recognizing that all incidents disproportionately impact individuals with access and functional needs, California’s governor established the Office of Access and Functional Needs in 2008 and placed it within his Office of Emergency Services. As chief, I work to identify and integrate access and functional needs throughout the state’s emergency management systems.
Despite leading the nation in whole community planning, California’s ability to support the needs of individuals with access and functional needs is at risk as we continue to see upward trends in the number and severity of the disasters we face. To address this issue, California will need to draw from its well of innovation and use the technical advancements unique to our state – specifically the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning taking place in Silicon Valley – to marry-up technology, emergency managers, and first responders to save the lives of people with access and functional needs.
When Silicon Valley’s Artificial Intelligence (AI)/ Machine Learning (ML) leaders are using their 20 percent time to work hand-in-hand with the Office of Access and Functional Needs to protect the state’s whole community, we will find ourselves prepared to meet the dangers of tomorrow, today.”
Government Affairs Executive, One Concern
(former FEMA Deputy Director of External Affairs, former DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs)
“There are several levels to measuring preparedness.
Individual. Do you know the risks where you live/work? How you would reunite during an emergency? Do you have basic necessities on hand – food, water, medicine, flashlight, radio, pet food? Are you financially prepared – access to cash and enough insurance? Individuals who can answer these questions are more resilient, prepared.
Community. Is your neighborhood or business prepared? What steps have they taken to reduce the impact of emergencies, small and large? Do employers have insurance if operations are disrupted and they’re unable to make payroll?
State, regional, and national. What steps have the public and private sectors taken to prepare? Do they understand where more vulnerable populations reside? Even more critical, what are these sectors doing to mitigate risk and hazards?
Today, powerful tools, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, quickly and accurately determine the cost/benefit of preparedness actions and mitigation measures. Cities, states, and companies should harness the combined power of technology, investment, and government action to increase resilience. By focusing investments ahead of disasters on mitigating risks, we could create positive impact and build maximum resilience. When disasters occur, it’s too late. We should be measuring preparedness by the lives and livelihoods that we save or help recover more quickly.”
Regional Administrator, FEMA Region 3
“At FEMA, we ask individuals to prepare in four ways: an emergency plan, life-saving skills, insurance coverage and save for emergencies. Each are measurable. The emergency plan is simple to measure – you have one or you don’t. Having one can save time and even lives. A plan can ensure your family stays together, the medicines are on hand and the pet gets fed. Lifesaving skills can be measured individually and collectively. How many courses did I take this year? How many people in my town are trained in CPR? Insurance might be the most measurable of all. Over the past 10 years, the average flood claim has amounted to over $33,000. Anyone can measure that the cost of coverage is much lower than the costs of the damage. Savings are the easiest to measure. Have I committed finances to preparedness? Do I have money to meet the needs of an emergency? Have I purchased a flashlight? Bottled water?
There are many ways to measure, but being prepared does not begin with measurement. It begins with a choice. A choice to be more self-reliant, to be more ready. It is a choice anyone can make.”
This story was updated Sept. 17 at 11:30 a.m. EST