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CQ HOMELAND SECURITY – INDUSTRY & CONTRACTING Sept. 20, 2007 – 8:21 p.m.
Organization Picks Up Slack in Private-Sector Disaster Response
By Matthew M. Johnson, CQ Staff
Private companies in local communities are taking matters into their own hands and organizing under the banner of a relatively new organization to make their assets available to prepare and respond to disasters. The Corporate Crisis Response Officers Association was formed to bring elements of the private sector together to develop their own response plans to natural and man-made disasters. The association also aims to teach the private sector how to interact with federal, state and local governments to better prepare in advance for crises.
“I think one of the biggest lessons from the Hurricane Katrina disaster is that the private sector has to be more engaged early on in disaster preparedness and response,” said Asa Hutchinson, chairman of the association’s advisory board and former DHS undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security. “The private sector needs to take the initiative; I think it has to be prepared. It is their assets that are at risk and it is their markets that are in jeopardy, so it is worthy of their investment.”
The association has already run pilot programs in Charleston, S.C., and Galveston, Texas, to better organize local businesses and large corporations for crises ahead of time. During the pilots, which began in January 2007, best practices and recommendations were collected and they will be handed off in December to businesses operating in other parts of the country at the National Congress for Secure Communities in Washington D.C. Business leaders in attendance will be from: Colorado Springs, Colo.; Hamilton County, Ind.; and Oakland County, Mich.
The leaders will then have a year to discuss disaster preparation and response issues and make their own recommendations. The response association’s end goal is to produce a National Blueprint for Secure Communities, an online and evolving compilation of community best practices and examples of public-private partnerships that aim to strengthen government responses to crises.
The association expects that participating businesses will bring new insights to the table because they will take into account many factors the Department of Homeland Security’s National Response Framework does not.
“I think DHS has made reasonable progress in its efforts to create a strategic framework by which the public and private sectors could be interoperable and could have a level of interdependency,” said George W. Foresman, a member of the association’s advisory board and former DHS undersecretary for Preparedness and Emergency Response.
“But those well-intentioned efforts in Washington don’t necessarily understand the challenges that we face in the private sector, that we face in the board rooms every day to ensure we meet the shareholders’ values, while at the same time managing our risk. [The association] really provides an avenue where those that are going to be affected the most can develop the framework that is going to be critical.”
After Hurricane Katrina, the federal government’s approach to organizing itself for the next major crisis was done under incredible political pressure, which required them to get things done, but not necessarily get things done in the best way, Foresman said. A new phase of reorganization and preparation for disasters should focus more on businesses because 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, he added. Companies have a natural incentive to commit to preparing and responding to disasters because it is just a matter of good business, according to the two advisory board members.
“These companies are in business to make a profit and the shorter amount of time that they are offline, the quicker they can get back to selling their product and making a profit for their shareholders,” Hutchinson said. “I think the challenge is to let them know it could happen. We need to remind them that this is something that should be part of their business plan.”
Matthew M. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: CQ Homeland Security © 2007 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.