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Domestic Preparedness in a Post-COVID-19 World

Traditional definitions of domestic preparedness have been influenced by the Cold War and international terrorism. As the 20-year milestone of the 9/11 attack on the United States passed, domestic terrorism also has made its mark on the interpretation of domestic preparedness. It is time for a fresh look, considering pandemics, local human-caused and natural catastrophes, reoccurring threats (like wildfires, earthquakes, and cyberattacks), and crumbling domestic infrastructure. The landscape of emergency response actions and readiness of public and private agencies in a globally interconnected world has left a deep scar on domestic preparedness and how risk is evaluated both nationally and internationally.

Preparedness theater verses true preparedness is difficult to define and plan for. With emerging cyberattacks and the barrage of social media appetites, there are many threat vectors seeking to delay response actions, disrupt communications, and confuse agency priorities. Federal, state, and local emergency operation centers are scrambling to prioritize funds and resources and react to incidents. Local, regional, and state agencies must determine how to prioritize multiple emergencies simultaneously while dealing with internal emergencies – like employee shortages, slow or delayed supplies, power outages, and a remote staff.

Prioritizing Preparedness

In the New vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in American Act (INVEST in America Act), “The purpose of the prioritization process pilot program shall be to support data-driven approaches to planning that, on completion, can be evaluated for public benefit.” The global pandemic has highlighted how important preparedness is in supply chain management, data sharing, infrastructure, and effective management of regional lifeline systems, which is why the federal government has decided to spend almost $555 billion dollars on it. The prioritization process or risk matrix of incident management in this post-pandemic culture has been impacted for the better. Lessons learned and best practices will be reviewed for years by emergency mangers and academia. Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations will have to adapt to the changing landscape of preparedness, when addressing multi-vectored threats. It is time to refresh standards and training in domestic preparedness strategies and policies and review risk as a connected and interconnected matrix blended with public- and private-driven agendas.

One of the most important lessons learned during this pandemic is how connected public and private partnerships have become, domestically and globally. Pandemic preparedness is not a new concept, but many new realities have emerged influencing preparedness actions across all public and private sectors. The 35th president, John F. Kennedy stated in 1961, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Although this is one of the most famous political speeches in U.S. history, there is another quote in the same speech that better defines the role of the public private partnership, “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.” Ingenuity of private enterprise balanced with consistency in response of government is the backbone of the emergency management industry’s ability to be resilient when preparing and responding to catastrophes.

Domestic preparedness is a mindset that equates to transferring ability into capability with consistent measures of success and failure. Now more than ever, the impact and importance the private industry has on domestic preparedness and the cascading impacts on supply chain disruptions, critical infrastructure, staffing, and resources along with other factions of response and preparedness activities are even more paramount. Initial planning and response stems from the micro community levels. Cooperation between profit-driven and policy-driven enterprises before an incident is paramount when identifying and sustaining lifeline systems. Impacts from this pandemic have emphasized many realities never seen in U.S. history. Rob Schnepp said it well in the Domestic Preparedness Journal:

This leads to the question about what exactly the nation should prepare for. Preparedness is a complex proposition because it is an exercise in forecasting and trying to predict the future and what to do about it.

This can be defined as the “IF/SO then WHAT” statement to identify the cascading effects or impacts if critical infrastructure were to fail.

Asking the Right Questions

These “what if” questions are driving local and global preparedness inequities and stressing emergency management agencies across the nation, which pushes risk boundaries. Viewing preparedness as a relevant consistent holistic network of local, regional, and national partnership is now the reality. With the implementation of 5th generation mobile network (5G) and, with it, the ability to quickly transfer terabits of data across vast distances, how lifeline systems are managed will be radically impacted. Business analytics will take on new importance and relevance in continued observation of workflow process.

One example is how California manages energy loads. Senate Bill 49 was introduced to combat the stress on California’s electrical system. The bill states:

[T]he Energy Commission to adopt, by regulation, and periodically update, standards for appliances to facilitate the deployment of flexible demand technologies, as specified, and would require that those standards be cost effective and prioritize appliances with specified attributes.

Preparing for a statewide energy shortage is no small feat. This bill is intended to connect thousands of personal use appliances to a secure cloud environment, and then monitor usage to avoid possible energy blackouts. All this must be done while protecting privacy or other critical infrastructure information. The next step defined in the bill will be to connect larger more energy-thirsty infrastructure to the cloud, which can have drastic impacts if not protected properly. This is just one piece of the holistic approach to preparedness and risk management that is pushing the boundaries of domestic preparedness definition.

Emergency managers across the nation ought to re-examine limitations of the preparedness industry and risk resilience. Although some concepts are not new, dependency on the public and private sectors both national and internationally will be paramount as industries experience new vulnerabilities and impacts from additional catastrophic events, highlighting months to possible years of delays in domestic supply chain(s). These events include aging and crumbling infrastructure, increased dependency on a just-in-time supply chain, as well as human-caused and natural disasters.

Developing a New Vision

The preparedness mindset begins with interdependency between micro-level communities and macro-level communities. Impacts will be both in the physical and cyber spaces. COVID-19 has emphasized this vulnerability in planning efforts and should be highlighted within the preparedness stage of emergency management. Social media and the hunger for accountability will drive responsibility for government agencies to prepare for domestic emergencies with a nexus to global interdependency.

As with climate-related threats, pandemic recovery operations, and emerging cyberthreats, imagine what the next event impacting the domestic homeland might be. The current characterization and definition of domestic preparedness has been punished by this pandemic. Policy-driven and profit-driven agencies have been stretched to the maximum. It is time to push the boundaries of domestic preparedness and review current strategies in how industries and municipalities communicate and identify roles and responsibilities. Developing a new vision of domestic preparedness, in anticipation of the next big catastrophe, might be the next important trend in national risk resiliency.

Nathan DiPillo

Nathan DiPillo currently serves as a California Governor’s Office appointee assigned to the California Office of Emergency Services as a Critical Infrastructure Analyst in the State Threat Assessment Center. Before state service, he functioned as a critical infrastructure specialist with the Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). He also spent over 15 years with the Transportation Security Administration, where he assisted in standing up the agency with policy development, training, and recruitment. He has over 25 years in the emergency management and security industry, beginning as a resident firefighter/emergency medical technician. He also served with the California State Military Department, and Army National Guard in the 223rd Training Command ending his career as a Sergeant First Class. During that time, he served in many units, finishing his career attached to the 102nd Military Police Training Division in an Opposition Force Unit. He currently serves on a small-town planning commission and assisted in coordinating an emergency family communications group in his local area. He possesses a Master of Emergency Management/Homeland Security from the National University and other Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and military certifications.



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