Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What Chertoff Said

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said a few things worth noting in a recent speech to the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce. Mostly it's stuff he has said before, but it's good every once in a while to take note of what the guy in charge is saying. So...

On public/private collaboration:

[Emergency preparedness] has to be a public/private partnership because most of the assets and employees which are threatened in any situation, whether it's a potential terrorism attack or a natural disaster, most of those assets and employees are in private hands. ... And therefore, this is really an area where partnership is very important.
On risk management:
[I]n this world, you cannot eliminate risk. ... What we have to do is manage risk.

What do we mean by risk? Well, we look at three things. We look at threats, we look at vulnerabilities, and we look at consequences. We try to weigh where the threats are, where we are most vulnerable, and, perhaps most important, what would the consequences be if a particular threat came to pass.
On viewing security as an investment, rather than a cost:
[T]here is a very important business case to be made with respect to investments in homeland and national security. After all, a good part of what you need to do when you invest your resources in producing economic activity is to protect your investment. You've got to protect your assets, you've got to protect your employees, you've got to protect your business processes and your good will.

And therefore, investment in protection of infrastructure or people against all kinds of threats is very much at the core of your business mission, and that's why I think there is a real confluence of objectives here between government and its responsibility to protect the country, and you as business leaders in your obligation to protect your own investments.
On rail security:
[W]e have focused on the most significant risks to our rail transportation system. One of those is the risk of transportation of hazardous chemicals ...

At the end of last year, we issued a proposed regulation that will require major railroads to improve the monitoring of rail cars that carry toxic inhalation chemicals. Rail companies have to make sure these cars are not left unattended in rail yards, especially where they are near major cities or population centers. They have to be able to track the whereabouts of these cars at all times, and then they have to put these rail cars on the safest, economically practicable routes.

This regulation also illustrates another key element of the way we approach these problems, because it was developed working in partnership with the rail industry and the chemical industry at every step of the process, so that we did have a fair, intelligent and not hysterical risk-based strategy. We didn't simply propose these regulations unilaterally.
This is a pretty sunny summary. Actually, the rules on chemical plant security are quite contentious. (See these posts). And DHS still needs to complete a comprehensive risk assessment of the rail sector. (See these posts.)

The new rules are great for tracking the location of hazardous chemicals on the rails, but railroad companies have only five minutes to share this information with DHS. When local authorities get the information is a different question - and perhaps a more important question, given that local first responders are the ones who have to deal with any incident. And a lot of local communities need better information and preparation regarding their local rail risks. (See this post.)

On emergency preparedness:
[U]nder our National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which is how we work with the private sector to decrease the vulnerabilities in private sector infrastructure, we're developing specific plans to heighten protection for infrastructure in areas like agriculture, drinking water facilities, and dams.
Well, yes. But based on these comments, you'd think the process was smooth and remarkable only for its exemplary collaboration between the public and private sectors. But it hasn't really been that smooth, in part because DHS needs to do a better job of collaborating with the sectors. (See these posts for full details, but here's a notable quotable: "...a lack of trust in DHS and fear that sensitive information would be released are recurring barriers to the private sector’s sharing information with the federal government.") So the plans are getting put into place, but DHS does need to do a better job of listening to its public sector partners.
[P]reparation in advance for the unthinkable, gives you a leg-up in being able to respond when the unthinkable actually comes to pass.
No argument there. Nicely said.

Philosophically, I think Chertoff's emphasis on managing risks, working with private sector partners, and imagining the unimaginable is on target. The sticky parts come when you try to implement policies. Resistance and lack of trust can gum up the best laid plans. That, I think, is DHS' biggest challenge.

No comments: