Lindsay Kishter

On November 21, the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) released its long-awaited report on strengthening regional resilience. The study responds to growing concerns about the ability of regions to be resilient in the face of disasters, which have become more complex, larger in scale, and wider in impact. In particular, increased interconnections and interdependencies between sectors, between regions, and between physical and cyber systems have enabled local disruptions to cascade across sector and jurisdictional boundaries.

Increased interconnection has improved the speed and efficiency of business services but it has outpaced our ability to fully understand system-wide risks. Without visibility into cross-sector, regional interdependencies, asset owners may be accepting “hidden risks” from the sectors they rely on—which may only become clear during major disasters.

Such complexity means that we can no longer rely on individual organizations, sectors, or government agencies to develop solutions for mitigating risks. We need the collective expertise and resources of a diverse set of stakeholders to solve these complex problems.

The NIAC report “Strengthening Regional Resilience through National, Regional, and Sector Partnerships”explains why a regional perspective is needed to advance national resilience. Here are six takeaways from the Council’s recommendations to the President.

  1. Engage CEOs in public-private partnerships. When a partnership is led by senior executives, red tape disappears. CEOs can work together to do what they do best: set strategic direction, establish priorities, allocate resources, and exercise accountability. The NIAC recommends that senior executives in industry and government from the lifeline sectors form sustainable partnerships at the national level to address the highest priority risks.
  2. Work in regional public-private partnerships to identify gaps and coordinate response. One of the most effective mechanisms to identify gaps, expose hidden risks, and improve coordinated response is to build strong regional partnerships and conduct cross-sector, region-wide exercises. The keys to success: engaging executives within the region to lead the partnership, and securing sustained commitment from multiple public and private sector agencies, businesses, and community organizations.
  3. Give priority to the lifeline sectors and tailor response to regional assets. Four lifeline sectors—energy, communications, transportation, and water—underpin nearly every sector of the economy and can create life-threatening conditions from even short-term disruptions. Coordinated response efforts must prioritize these sectors. Yet each region’s assets, risks, geographies, and key industries are different, requiring a highly tailored approach to resilience efforts in each region.
  4. Embrace social media and leverage it to enhance disaster decision-making. Social media is now a permanent fixture in our society, and forward-thinking agencies and businesses are learning that it can change their response for the better. Not only can public and private emergency managers become trusted, primary sources of information—“breaking” stories before the news media—but responders can tailor response based on real-time needs from the public. Training and dedicated personnel remain the biggest hurdles for today’s organizations.
  5. Address persistent barriers to response: site access, waivers, and fleet movement. Private-sector work crews have difficulty gaining access to disaster sites for critical repairs in the immediate aftermath of disasters. Meanwhile, multiple federal and state waiver processes and other fleet movement issues can hold up mutual aid repair crews and delay response. These issues are not new—the NIAC addressed them in a 2009 report—but many remain intractable and deserve a closer look.
  6. Re-examine infrastructure investment strategies to encourage novel infrastructure designs that build in resilience. Without a strong value proposition and the ability to recoup costs, owners and operators find it difficult to invest in resilient infrastructure designs or upgrades. Yet the nation spends about $1 billion on infrastructure each day, creating a window of opportunity to improve resilience with the right tools and technologies available. The NIAC recommends a pilot study of grid modernization to examine new investment strategies, and the creation of Applied Centers of Excellence for Infrastructure Resilience that would test large-scale innovations in real-world environments.

The NIAC voted to approve the recommendations and will submit a final report to the President in the coming weeks. Nexight Group provided analytic support throughout the study under its support contract to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Infrastructure Protection.