Since we can't prevent every disaster or attack, why not shift focus toward surviving them?
Gregg Ward was sitting in his office at the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, the business he and his father started 11 years earlier to haul tractor- trailers over the Detroit River between the Motor City and Ontario, Canada. One of his eight employees came off a flat-deck barge carrying a television from the vessel galley and talking about a news report: Two hijacked planes had hit the World Trade Center in New York.
He entered Ward's office and plugged in the TV.
Within the hour came the first of many phone calls. Intense security inspections had created a 14-mile backup on the nearby Ambassador Bridge and the next closest bridge to and from Canada was 165 miles away. Automotive companies called frantically to find out whether Ward had room for them on his eight-truck barge.
Working 16 hours a day for the next four days, Ward and his staff made room, moving about 250 vehicles a day. It's hard to overstate the importance of this alternate border crossing to the time-sensitive automotive industry. General Motors later said Ward's ferry was the only thing that allowed the company to continue operating the 3,400-employee Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant.
Think about that for a second. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the federal government closed airports, stepped up physical inspections and began purchasing new detection equipment. And yet the only thing protecting the fragile auto industry from huge economic consequences was a single barge, created as an environmentally friendly alternative to a nearby bridge.
"That's a sad statement," Ward says. "You wouldn't build a plant at the end of a roadway with no other way to get there but going over one rickety bridge. That's kind of how we built the economy. We've got a bridge built in 1929, which is the economic engine that facilitates the movement of commerce between our two countries. To have no contingency is unusual. I don't think it would happen in any other country."
A growing chorus of voices agrees with that sentiment. Current and former government officials, private sector representatives and other experts are calling for a dramatic change in focus for government's homeland security efforts. Weak links such as the Detroit-Windsor border crossing must be confronted more directly, they say. Instead of focusing only on preventing terrorist attacks, the government should turn its attention to building systems that can successfully withstand enemy strikes and other disasters without the cascading economic and social consequences that followed Hurricane Katrina and Sept. 11. What's needed, they say, is resilience.
Enhancing America's ability to snap back from crises could take many forms: decentralizing the power grid so it can endure a local outage without widespread disruption, as occurred in New York in August 2003; altering processes at chemical plants near cities to use new substances that are less volatile and less toxic; investing in satellite phones so first responders can communicate even if catastrophic flooding wipes out all land-based phone systems.
Focusing primarily on physical protection, from radiation detectors to Border Patrol agents, gives the appearance of security but actually leaves the country quite brittle, resiliency advocates say. To paraphrase martial arts actor and philosopher Bruce Lee, an oak tree may seem strong and imposing, but a large enough storm will snap it in half, while the willow survives because it bends with the wind. Resiliency experts see our increasingly interdependent system of critical infrastructure as the metaphorical oak tree, vulnerable to snapping in a crisis if it's not made more flexible. For example, hospitals need water, shipping water requires gasoline and gas-pumping oil refineries need electricity. Shutting down Interstate 95 to stop the spread of a contagious disease, as occurred in the national preparedness exercise TOPOFF 3, would lead to shortages of fuel, food and milk in New York City and the Northeast within days.
The idea of resiliency is gaining momentum, but advocates say the Homeland Sec-urity Department and federal government are moving far too slowly, paying rhetorical respect to resiliency in speeches but still mired in an outdated way of thinking. "If critical infrastructure protection was 'Homeland Security 101,' resiliency is 'Homeland Security 301,' " says Randy Beardsworth, DHS' assistant secretary for strategic plans until last September. "It's a little more mature way of looking at things."
Hundreds of people gathered at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in downtown Washington on Jan. 10, 2006, to hear what the Homeland Security Advisory Council's Critical Infrastructure Task Force had come up with after more than a year of work. The answer was resiliency. The task force said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff should adopt it as a top-level strategic objective. Council Chairwoman Ruth David, president of Washington research institute Analytic Services Inc., emphasized that this change would not be a matter of semantics. The task force believed infrastructure resiliency should replace protection as the goal of all government efforts, she said.
It's an idea that seems at once revolutionary and wholly obvious, and the implications are huge. With the exception of one area-biodefense, where the Health and Human Services Department has been trying to stockpile vaccines to treat people in the aftermath of a bioterrorism attack-the majority of homeland security work since 2001 has been focused on protection, that is, pre-attack defense. DHS and other governmental agencies have spent billions of dollars on airport and cargo screening, sensors and cameras at the border, tamperproof credentials, integrated criminal and terrorist databases for law enforcement authorities, and so on. But what happens after an attack or a natural disaster has received short shrift, resiliency advocates say.
The aftermath is where most of the damage of a terrorist attack-such as the estimated $20 billion cost of recovering from Sept. 11-occurs, says Stephen E. Flynn, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and former Coast Guard commander, who specializes in port security. "Resiliency for me is fundamentally about prevention, in that the biggest risk associated with a terrorist attack is not the attack but the consequences that flow from it," he says. "In terms of destroying the United States by putting a bomb in a box, it's not going to happen. This isn't thermonuclear war. The real risk is how we react to that act of terror on our soil. That's where we get things that lead to a profound disruption."
Flynn is one of Washington's most frequently cited homeland security experts. In February, Random House released his new book, Edge of Disaster. It advances the notion that resiliency should become a national motto and the organizing principle for governmental action.
Flynn's bomb in a box scenario-let's say reasonable intelligence suggests a dirty bomb sits amid cargo at the Port of Los Angeles-neatly demonstrates the need for resiliency planning: Federal, state or local authorities surely would close the port, but then what? The international shipping industry runs on extremely tight schedules. Where would ships already on their way to Los Angeles go? Where would the trucks and rail cars waiting for cargo from the ships go? What would the thousands of companies with supply chains tied to the port do without their shipments? How long can the system survive a shutdown?
"These are things that need to be thought through. None of that has happened," Flynn says. "Most of the Navy and a good chunk of the Coast Guard and even bits of Customs have looked at the maritime domain as [if] their job is to police it. . . . My main focus has been on it as a critical infrastructure. . . . I'm worried about that system being targeted with the ambition of getting us to turn it off with real consequences."
The private sector is well aware of continuity of operations planning, and continuity of government programs are not new either. But as the Cold War ended and associated national threats seemed to wane, such programs were scaled back in the early 1990s. The Year 2000 software scare brought back concern about systemwide continuity and resilience, but when the millennium passed without incident, much of the work in this area stopped. Sept. 11 swung the pendulum dramatically back toward physical protection.
Resiliency advocates are quick to clarify that they are not arguing for an end to protection-focused efforts; rather, they say, protection alone is not enough. "We're asking the wrong question," says Jeffrey Gaynor, formerly the Homeland Security Advisory Committee's director for emergency response. "It's not 'How many detector technologies [are enough]?' and not 'How many buffer zones?' but 'How long can [we] do without something?' And you can measure that. And you can also measure the consequences of its loss."
Gaynor is now chief operating officer with Entegriti, a Herndon, Va., consulting firm that focuses on resiliency. The former Army colonel is bald with a salt-and-pepper beard, and his heavily rhetorical speaking style takes on a sarcastic edge when discussing the status quo. Gaynor sees protection-"gates, guns, guards, gadgets and gizmos"-as a collection of static, single-point defenses inadequate to dealing with an ever-changing adversary and prone, inevitably, to failure. "Every [preparedness] exercise that we run in this country begins with a failure of protection," he says, unable to hide his exasperation. "Every one. So why is protection what we're trying to do? Why is that the objective?"
Gaynor, Flynn and others also contend that resilience has deterrence value against terrorists looking to maximize the effect of their limited resources. If attacking an electrical transformer or another piece of infrastructure is unlikely to have large repercussions, it becomes a less attractive target. "What you want to do is to make the effect of what they're doing negligible," says Gaynor. "In other words, instead of making everything critical, which is what we're doing-and when everything is critical, nothing is-what we ought to be doing is building a country where nothing other than its people are critical."
The critical infrastructure task force worked for a year with private and public sector experts before settling on resiliency as the center of its recommendations to DHS. When Ruth David finished the presentation at the meeting in January 2006, Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson nodded in approval. "I'm very much intrigued by and supportive of the idea of resiliency," he said. But a year and a half later, Gaynor and others feel that Homeland Security either ignored the task force's recommendations or has not pursued them nearly aggressively enough.
Resiliency is gaining momentum and beginning to enter the popular lexicon. A June 25 summit convened by the Washington-based Council on Competitiveness will be the latest conference to focus on resiliency in government and private sector security. The financial and information technology sectors long have used this kind of approach to security. Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20, released in May, focuses on continuity of government and directs the DHS secretary to award grants to local governments and private sector infrastructure owners for continuity planning and exercises. And a bill in the Senate would provide $100 million in satellite communication infrastructure for first responders. The technology of Iridium Satellite LLC, located outside Washington, now is being used by Border Patrol agents, hospitals and private companies for communicating and tracking assets. The company sent 10,000 of its satellite telephones to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina wiped out all land-based communication networks-including cellular phones-in wide areas.
And although many fault DHS for not doing enough to push resiliency, even critics say they think Chertoff and Jackson believe in it, but face a difficult political environment in which to push a long-term and somewhat revolutionary idea. After all, the nation looks to the department for protection. "DHS makes the argument that communities want those guns, guards and gates because that's how you protect people," says Eileen Larence, director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office. " 'It's OK for businesses to look at standing back up, but people want to be protected.' "
Within DHS, some work on resiliency solutions is proceeding. The Science and Technology Directorate, the department's research and development wing, is investigating the feasibility of building airplane cargo and passenger compartments that can withstand a certain level of explosion. While detection technology scans for a finite list of substances, improvised explosives, by definition, evolve to use new components. Hardening planes would help combat this problem while making screeners' jobs easier by allowing them to focus on searching for larger amounts of explosives. "You're never going to get rid of screening," says James Tuttle, head of the directorate's explosive countermeasures division. "If you're looking for larger amounts, you'll get less false alarms and that means less people are needed to man the checkpoints."
The plane-hardening programs face significant hurdles: The new cargo compartments are 10 times more expensive than existing ones, and even using the lightest ones would add up to 1,000 pounds per plane. Nonetheless, DHS officials say the passenger cabin program will start live testing later this year. The Transportation Security Administration already is testing 25 hardened cargo containers aboard Continental Airlines and United Airlines flights.
This kind of resiliency isn't about systematic redundancy; it's about making the targets less brittle. The goal is building infrastructure that degrades "gracefully" if attacked or damaged, in the words of the critical infrastructure task force. Thus, an explosion in a plane would not blow it apart. A breached levee would be plugged with patches to slow the water flow and give city residents time to evacuate. A bomb blast aboard a train in an underground tunnel would not flood the entire train or subway system. The Science and Technology Directorate calls that idea "Resilient Tunnel." The program has $1 million this fiscal year to test inflatable, flame-resistant barriers-already deployed in Europe-that would be positioned throughout a tunnel and inflate to contain a fire. Research in future years could include new materials and erosion-control technology used in tunnel lining.
Government agencies could do more, resiliency advocates say.
Researchers at George Mason University's Infrastructure Mapping Project urge detailed resiliency assessments, measuring the capacity of each piece of infrastructure, calculating how dense different geographic locations are with such infrastructure-a particular site might have 15 fiber optic cables, three gas pipelines and two electric transmission lines, for example-and identifying bottlenecks where traffic is high but few alternative routes exist. The consequences of disruptions can be measured in terms of the number of businesses, the proportion of other infrastructure, the amount of traffic or portion of the population affected. Resiliency assessments enable government to quantify the cost effectiveness of alternative routes and other adaptive efforts.
And critics finger DHS in particular as falling short in exploring resilience. While Chertoff mentions it in speeches, and the National Infrastructure Protection Plan now includes dozens of references to it after a draft version elicited complaints that it was too protection-focused, resiliency advocates say the department still is overly focused on protection. One oft-cited example is grant programs such as the Buffer Zone Protection Program and the Chemical Sector Buffer Zone Protection Program, which give millions to state and local governments to develop measures to protect critical infrastructure. "If you dangle money over people's noses and say, 'If you tell me you're doing protection, I'll give you money,' what are people going to do?" Gaynor asks rhetorically.
DHS also should be doing more to educate the public, advocates say. "If [Bush or Chertoff] were to use that terminology in speeches, that becomes policy and people start driving toward that," Beardsworth says. "So it takes time for the ideas to flow down. And it works much easier when it's coming from the top in an aggressive, assertive way, rather than from the middle or from the outside, with folks like Steve Flynn."
Flynn, for his part, returns frequently to the topic of government-mandated security standards and excoriates the Bush administration for its reluctance to impose them. Not only should Homeland Security force standards on ports and chemical plants, he says, but the department should enforce them rigorously. If standards aren't en-forced strictly, then an incident, which Flynn and others say is inevitable, calls into question the entire security regime, instead of a single problematic port or plant. "You're left with 'Open every damn box and check it,' " he says. "Resiliency here would require a means to audit [implementation of security standards], so when you have an incident you can diagnose it quickly, and you can respond quickly by isolating that breach."
For chemical plants in particular, Flynn thinks physical security is not enough and that the government should mandate that facilities near population centers replace hydrofluoric acid, which is highly toxic and forms a cloud after being exploded, with sulfuric acid or another less lethal alternative. "It's not like [truck bombers] are going to stop to give you their ID," he says. "If that's the scenario, you have to say, 'What can I do to reduce the consequences for the surrounding population?' "
Barnstorming the country on his book promotion tour, Flynn says he has been struck by how well the idea of resiliency resonates with people of all political stripes. He frames it as a pragmatic, nonpartisan approach just waiting for a presidential candidate to adopt it. And despite his vociferous criticism of the status quo as inadequate, Flynn is far from an alarmist. His book strikes a fairly optimistic tone. Protection focuses on an amorphous enemy, which can make people feel kind of helpless. Focusing on building more resilient infrastructure gives them a sense of control.
"Every American generation has had to confront serious dangers, and they have always passed the test," Flynn writes. "While we must be prepared to acknowledge that there are dark clouds on the horizon, it is vital that we not lose sight of our most important and endearing national trait: our sense of optimism about the future and our conviction that we can change it for the better."