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Government

Next U.S. disaster: Is private sector prepared? Sort of, maybe - and no

Recent natural disasters in Haiti and Chile have brought back memories of Hurricane Katrina before members of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

Recent natural disasters in Haiti and Chile have brought back memories of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of these events before members of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration. The reality appears to be that the private sector is still heavily reliant upon government to come rescue them along with the population.

Local infrastructure have upgraded public safety infrastructure and updated response plans. But what about the corporate and commercial sector?Have they changed processes, policies and updated systems? Some have and operated very well during Hurricane Katrina. Wal-Mart successfully re-opened in Mississippi, New Orleans and Texas during the hurricanes within days of the disasters hitting, even in severe areas. Some industries still do not have disaster preparedness and recovery plans. The committee covered areas as varied as terrorist threats involving nuclear and epidemic disasters that have significant challenges. Clearly the private sector has a long way to go to understand and implement the basics in disaster preparedness.

Three witnesses testified before the committee.

  • Stephen Jordan [view testimony] Senior Vice President and Executive Director Business Civic Leadership Center

BCLC's experiences over the past decade have uncovered a number of issues that should be

addressed going forward. These include:

(1) Business Preparedness and Capital Access

(2) Infrastructure Upgrades

(3) Mutual Assistance, and

(4) Improved Information and Coordination

  • Jack Harrald, Ph.D. [view testimony] Chair, Disaster Roundtable National Academy of Science

o How can this paradigm shift to one that will work when we need it most? I believe that there are three areas where change is occurring now, and that with investment and leadership will lead to a fundamental paradigm shift. The private sector plays a critical and central role in each of these elements. The three areas are:

o Building and sustaining community resilience.

o Creating a collaborative and enabling preparedness and response culture.

o Using science and technology to replace reactive doctrine with proactive, agile systems.

The simple fact is that there never will be enough professionals at the right place at the right time when terrorists or disasters strike. Intelligence and technologies are fallible and Mother Nature cannot be deterred. While many might wish it were otherwise, when it comes to detecting and intercepting terrorist activities or dealing with a catastrophic natural event, the first preventers and first responders will almost always be civilians who happen to be around when trouble is unfolding.

Video of the hearing is available via C-SPAN (click forward to approximately the 20:30 mark)

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