Air Date

July 29, 2022

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the world is responding to new challenges threatening global communities' safety and security. Forest fires, tornados, war, and other disasters have taken lives, destroyed property, and contributed to the growing climate crisis.

These threats posed across sectors highlight the need for a more equitable, accessible resilience strategy present in our communities. The Honorable Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, opened day two of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 11th Annual Building Resilience Conference with a keynote address urging more cooperation between the public and private sectors to strengthen defense and response strategies.

Teamwork is Necessary to Address Security Concerns

Mayorkas emphasized the importance of a partnership between the public and private sectors when it comes to disaster response, particularly the need for more communication between citizens and elected officials.

“How can government alone ensure the nation's cyber security when the overwhelming majority of our nation's critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector?” he said. “And how can government alone combat terrorism and targeted violence when those most likely to recognize indicators of violent behavior are not government officials, but friends, neighbors, family members, and classmates?”

While the government and community members can individually respond to these concerns, disaster response is more powerful when the two groups work together.

“Whether we want to treat this work as a collective effort is quite frankly, beside the point. We have to,” Mayorkas insisted.

Current Efforts from Governmental Bodies and Plans for the Future

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken many steps toward creating a safer world equipped with the necessary tools for disaster preparedness, said Mayorkas. He noted that FEMA was asked to set up 100 federally-supported community vaccination centers in only 30 days. Instead, they set up 441 and implemented Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce to vaccinate frontline workers.

The DHS has also worked to improve cybersecurity and fill the “shortage of 700,000 cybersecurity professionals” by working with organizations like the Girl Scouts “to grow the cyber security skills and awareness of girls in grades K-12.”

To tackle environmental resilience, FEMA created the BRIC program (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) as a part of the Justice40 Initiative and increased available funding to $2.3 billion for fiscal year 2022.

“This program will help communities increase their resilience to extreme weather events and natural disasters by helping them to prepare beforehand through research-supported proactive investments,” Mayorkas said.

Building Resilience Requires a United Front

The DHS continues to learn from applicable events and change its strategy to best prepare citizens in the event of a disaster. Recent devastation from tornados in Kentucky and other tragic events have only strengthened DHS’s resolve to work together with communities to prevent as much loss of life, property, and documentation as possible.

“Resilience is really defined as a community phenomenon and it requires a community effort,” Mayorkas said. “Our department brings a lot to the table — grant dollars, information sharing, technical assistance, and best practices, in addition to our own operational capabilities and our extraordinary people. But we're only effective in building resilience when all of us are sitting around that table together.”