Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas on Building Resilience to Disasters in the U.S.

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas discusses how the United States can build resilience to disasters.


Air Date: July 28, 2021

Moderator: Marc DeCourcey, Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Featured Guests: Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security

The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on many shortcomings in the United States, from supply chain issues to disaster relief preparedness. As such, the Department of Homeland Security is dedicated to finding solutions and strategies to build a resilient nation.

During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 10th annual Building Resilience Through Private-Public Partnerships conference, Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, shares several insights on what resilience means to the government, resilience within communities and small businesses, and the steps already taken to ensure U.S. resilience in the face of future disasters and emergencies.

National Resilience Means Being Prepared

Secretary Mayorkas, who has a 30-year career of civil service, explained during his address that resilience can be defined in many ways. To the federal government, resilience means being prepared and stable reliability on which the American people can depend.

“Resilience means ensuring we have no single points of failure in moments of emergency or disaster,” said Mayorkas. “It means our operations are geographically distributed, so a single flood or tornado or cyber-attack does not limit our ability to continue to meet our mission.”

Mayorkas also emphasized the Department of Homeland Security’s prioritization of national agility and flexibility.

“Importantly, it means that when disaster strikes anywhere in our country, the American people can count on us to respond quickly and effectively,” he said.

Resilience Must Be Built Within Communities and Small Businesses

Depending on the disaster or emergency at hand, resilience takes on different meanings. While it can be difficult to define resilience, Mayorkas asserted that it's not difficult to identify the success of resilience in action.

“In 2012, the city of Colorado Springs was threatened by the outbreak of the Waldo Canyon Fire,” Mayorkas said. “By the time the blaze was out, over 340 homes were destroyed, 45 others were significantly damaged and two citizens lost their lives.”

While the disaster had devastating effects, Mayorkas cited the city’s response and ability to bounce back.

“Since that time, Colorado Springs has implemented a stringent set of building codes to improve community resilience in the face of future firestorms,” he continued. “Out of that tragedy, they built back stronger than before. They gave life to the promise of resilience.”

Proactive Resilience Is Required for Future Emergencies

Secretary Mayorkas reflected that, too often, it takes a disaster — like the one in Colorado Springs — to truly appreciate the gaps and close them. However, after the pandemic hit, the Department of Homeland Security partnered with dozens of industries to fortify the national response.

“We fortified our supply chains … and deployed teams from FEMA to set up community vaccination centers,” said Mayorkas. “Confronting this challenge together could not be more central to preserving our physical and economic wellbeing in the 21st century.”

Mayorkas also stated the concrete steps the federal government has taken to preserve the jobs, businesses, health, and well-being of the American people in reference to climate issues. They are not just focused on reactive disaster response and recovery, but also on making proactive investments in resilience.

“We are acting now to reduce the harms associated with extreme heat, drought, wildfires, floods, and more,” he said. “Our department has established key partnerships … to leverage our efforts and stand up our current resilience framework.”

“We're also aligning our resources to our cause through FEMA and the Coast Guard … [and] have issued requests for public input ... to boost our nation's resilience,” Mayorkas continued. “We are committing record levels of resources to this effort … Simply put, our administration is stepping up to the plate with policies and programs that make a difference.”



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