Rich Cooper

Apr 12

Friday is the place where newsworthy items in Washington often go to die. People are worn out from the week, fatigued at what they’ve already read and looking to unplug before the Sunday news shows begin another week’s worth of throat-strangling battles over issues, policies and programs. That was not the case this past Friday. With last minute budget negotiations underway to avert a government shutdown, it was a big news day on many levels. Unfortunately lost in all of that news was some really good news related to the nation’s strategy on preparedness.

Officially released at an event at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI), Brian Kamoie, Senior Director for Preparedness Policy with the White House’s National Security Staff, shared the contents of the Presidential Policy Directive 8 on National Preparedness Policy. To most of the nation, this is just another piece of paper in a town that regularly massacres acres of forests to tell you what you should think or do. This document is not in that category. Rather, it is the guidance document for how we move forward in making the country and all of its infrastructures and communities far more resilient places.

The recent tragic events in Japan have spurred an awful lot of questions among policy makers, citizens and family members about our readiness should a large-scale disaster occur here in the United States. As we all know, it doesn’t matter what type of disaster it is, or where or when it occurs. Disasters do not all occur on a Biblical scale like the one that Japan is still dealing with today. It could be flooding that is occurring in the Dakotas along the Red River or one of the homes in Southwestern Virginia that was flattened Sunday evening by tornadoes, but if you’re in the midst of one of those situations, it is a large-scale disaster to you, your family and probably to your employer too.

Since 9/11 and Katrina, we’ve done a lot of talking about preparedness, and that is a good thing. We’ve also started refining what it means to be prepared and started elevating leaders in both the public and private sectors who can lead the way. People like FEMA’s Craig Fugate, Raytheon’s Bob Connors, the state of Florida’s Emergency Management Director (and former lead for Wal-Mart’s Emergency Management efforts), Bryan Koon are a few of this nation’s best preparedness leaders. Richard Reed, Brian Kamoie and members of the NSC’s Resilience Team are some of the others, and if anyone deserves a series of public high-fives for the release of PPD-8, it’s these guys.

Richard and Brian have been foundational bridges to the previous administration’s thinking and the Obama Administration’s thinking on these issues. By their natures, both are collaborative personalities that bring together different viewpoints while constantly being on the search for new ideas and insights along the way. If they find that the table of ideas is too small and is not making room for additional input, both will make sure more chairs are found to give those parties room at the table to be a part of the process. In short – both of these guys and the members of the Resilience Team are some of the really good guys you meet in government who make a positive difference every day.

Richard and Brian have shepherded PPD-8 through a never-ending maze of bureaucratic haggling and signoffs. Despite the frustrations of people like me and others on the sidelines who actually care about documents such as these, they never gave up hope that this document would see the light of day. That day came this past week. As proud as I am for Richard, Brian and the members of the Resilience Team, I can’t help but feel frustrated that documents like these take on Odyssey-like lives to come to final fruition.

While policy directives should never be done in haste, they should not take years and years to come about either. Anyone who follows homeland issues closely knows the sign off process on anything takes ridiculously long. Everyone and their mother, brother and uncle wants to chew on whatever the issue may be and of course add their two cents (or 22 pages of edits) to it. As a result, bureaucracy ends up reigning over substantive and responsive products and when that happens, we all lose.

Despite the long and winding road this document has taken, it remains important and substantive, but I can’t help but feel it would have greater power if it had been released months, if not years, earlier.

Preparedness will always be an important and timely issue. With each event and experience, we have the opportunity to become smarter and more agile and can share those lessons, but there was a better time for this document to be released. That time was early last year as the Administration was getting more and more of its people in place and where this direction could be more overtly woven into the proposed federal budget and other directives. Doing it well-after the fact seems to lose the edge of what is an issue in which we are all vested. While I applaud the end product, the wait to get here begs the question: what took it so long?

Knowing some of the really good people involved with this, including Richard and Brian, I’m sure they thought the same thing too, but if our preparedness is really going to improve as a nation, we need to be more timely in our deliberations and expeditious in our signoffs. Preparedness should always be about action rather than waiting.

This piece was originally posted in Security Debrief.


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