Regional Public-Private Partnerships: The Next Wave in Homeland Security

BENS-Regional-Partnership-White-Paper-11-06BENS Business Force

  • 12 pages
  • November 2006

As Hurricane Katrina showed so dramatically, government alone cannot secure the nation or respond to major disasters. It needs the vast resources and expertise of the business community. Business needs government, too. Individual businesses do heroic things in times of crisis, but they know they could do much more working in concert with government.

Within hours after the levees broke in New Orleans, one company offered to donate mobile telecommunications trailers and the staff to run them, so that first responders could talk to one another. Government agencies could not accept the offer, but instead purchased the trailers after several critical days had passed. In another instance, the State of Louisiana requested forklifts from out-of-state, when local companies might have met the need had they only known whom to contact. And several major retailers delivered truckloads of critical supplies to the Gulf from across the country, but drivers had to stop at multiple check points set up by frustrated law enforcement officials who were trying to help protect citizens, yet slowed down the relief effort.
Katrina may have been the biggest natural disaster in American history, but government and business face similar challenges in smaller disasters… and Katrina’s devastation would be eclipsed by a 1918-scale flu pandemic or a nuclear attack at one of our major ports.

Most public-private homeland security initiatives focus on critical infrastructure protection and business continuity – how to keep individual businesses and industry sectors up and running during a crisis. This is essential, but it’s not enough. Businesses also have a stake in maintaining the continuity of their communities. If the community isn’t functioning and maintaining critical supplies and services, individual businesses cannot survive – even with the best business continuity plan.

Since 9/11, and especially since Katrina, many experts have called for more effective public-private partnerships to prepare for and respond to catastrophic events. No one disagrees, yet because business and government have different incentives and cultures and often don’t trust each other, partnerships tend to be a low priority. Business and government know they need to build strong teams and practice before a crisis hits, but they’ve had few playbooks to draw from.

Business Executives for National Security (BENS, has been working since shortly after 9/11 to build these teams through a model it calls the BENS Business Force – regional public-private partnerships that connect business and government to fill gaps in security and emergency preparedness that neither government nor business can address alone. These partnerships turn modest investments into exponential growth in regional homeland security and disaster response capability.

Recognizing the importance of regional partnerships, the White House report, Katrina: Lessons Learned, singled out and encouraged expansion of the BENS Business Force model (see Similarly, other post-Katrina reports issued by the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S Senate, the General Accounting Office and several think tanks each highlighted the need for more business-government collaboration, yet most were short on detail on how do it.
To better define the role of business in catastrophic events, Congress invited BENS to convene a panel of business leaders to take on the task. BENS answered this call by creating the Business Response Task Force, which produced its report in the fall of 2006 entitled Getting Down to Business: An Action Plan for Public-Private Disaster Response Coordination. The report provides detailed recommendations on how federal, state and local governments can fully integrate business into the nation’s emergency response system. The report’s recommendations fall into three substantive categories: public-private collaboration; surge capacity/supply chain management; and legal & regulatory environment (see These recommendations extend beyond regional homeland security partnerships, but partnerships are fundamental to integrating business and government, and tapping the vast resources and expertise of the private sector.

Regional homeland security partnerships can save lives and get communities back up and running following a catastrophic event. They are becoming the next wave in homeland security, turning modest investments into exponential growth in preparedness and response capability.

What Are Regional Partnerships?

Regional homeland security partnerships have begun to take root in many parts of the country, and they have taken many forms. Since early 2002, BENS has built or facilitated partnerships in seven regions with very different economic and political characteristics.

The New Jersey Business Force launched in February 2003, following a year-long design and development effort. This partnership has 30 charter members, including most New Jersey-based Fortune 500 companies, but like all BENS regions, its programs reach businesses large and small throughout the state. New Jersey programs include:

  • Creating web-based registries of business resources at the county and state levels that can be called upon by emergency managers in a catastrophic event (over $300 million in resources have been registered to date); and
  • Improving information sharing by a) providing targeted alerts about local incidents and threats via custom software provided pro bono by a member company, and b) piloting a satellite datacasting system developed by the state’s public television and radio affiliate that provides a secure, alternate channel of communication in emergencies.

The Georgia Business Force followed New Jersey in 2004 and now has 20 charter members, including most global firms based in Atlanta, and several smaller ones. Among other initiatives, Georgia is pioneering two programs that have been cited as national models:

  • A “Business Operations Center” that connects businesses across industry sectors to the state’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), including formal seats in the EOC for business representatives that serve as coordinators and analysts; and a virtual team of a few dozen representatives from leading regional businesses and trade organizations that convene via teleconference during catastrophic events; and
  • Mobilizing businesses to help state and local public health agencies with mass dispensing of medications from the Strategic National Stockpile in the event of a pandemic or terrorist attack.
  • The MidAmerica Business Force, anchored by ten leading companies in the Metro Kansas City region, also started in 2004 and serves Missouri and Kansas. MidAmerica programs include:
    • Co-developing the charter for the region’s information fusion center known as TEW (Threat Early Warning), and formally engaging the business community in the implementation of this new information sharing apparatus; and
    • Creating a program called Operation Resilient Guard, a series of seminars and exercises designed to both alert and educate senior business leaders and the public about a wide range of potential threats, both natural and man-made.

In Southern California, BENS is facilitating a public-private partnership called the Homeland Security Advisory Council – Region One (HSAC) covering Los Angeles and Orange Counties. HSAC includes 80 business, government and academic leaders and was formed in 2003 to provide business advice to the County Sheriffs, who have primary responsibility for emergency management. In 2005, HSAC asked BENS to provide management support for this partnership. HSAC’s first initiative was a series of public service announcements urging residents to prepare for emergencies. These PSAs aired on more than 30 radio stations reaching over 15 million people during National Preparedness Month in September 2006.

In Iowa, BENS joined with the Iowa Business Council (IBC) in 2006 to launch a statewide partnership. The IBC includes the top executives from 24 of the state’s largest businesses, hospital systems, and public universities and it provides the partnership’s institutional leadership for business partners. BENS employs the partnership’s executive director, provides management oversight, and delivers subject matter expertise. Iowa will implement programs similar to those outlined above, including integrating business into the state’s EOC, and a private sector resource registry. In addition, partners have agreed to work together on emergency planning, exercises and training, as well as improving communication between business and government during emergencies.

In Massachusetts, BENS worked with the state’s emergency management agency to build and rapidly deploy a web-based registry of business resources prior to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Resources worth an estimated $300 million were registered during this effort. The state has developed and expanded its own partnership, known as “ESF 18”, and is engaging the state’s business community in several initiatives that improve regional collaboration and information sharing.

What Regional Partnerships Do

Each partnership develops an array of tools and plans that can apply to multiple hazards. The partnerships combine an “all hazards” approach – preparing for both natural and man-made catastrophes – with a focus on the hazards that pose the greatest risk to each region (e.g., hurricanes in the Southeast and earthquakes on the West Coast). To be successful, regional partnerships must deliver tangible new capabilities. The programs outlined above in each region illustrate the kinds of capabilities that have been valuable to both business and government. So far, programs have fallen into six general categories. These are by no means exhaustive; they’re just scratching the surface of what regional partnerships can deliver.

1. Getting Organized: Communicating Clearly with Business Operations Centers. When catastrophe strikes, business and government need a mechanism to ensure quick and reliable communication. Businesses need to link to one another, and to state and local government emergency operations centers (EOCs) before, during and after the event to identify threats, minimize bureaucratic roadblocks, and get the right resources to the right places faster. The Georgia “Business Operations Center” (BOC) provides this mechanism and BENS is planning similar BOC efforts in other regions.

The BOC model includes two key elements. The first is a group of representatives from leading companies and trade organizations across critical infrastructure sectors. The representatives convene via teleconference and the web at first, and evaluate over time whether to convene a physical location as well. The second element is the creation of a few business “seats” at the state EOC for a BOC manager and a couple of BOC analysts. The BOC manager facilitates communication between the teleconference and the state EOC, and the BOC analysts help determine disaster needs and develop response solutions to communicate to the BOC representatives. The BOC representatives are then responsible for communicating with the broader business community.
In addition to piloting the BOC in Georgia, BENS is working with state and local partners to better define how business collaborates with the federal agencies through FEMA regions and DHS regional coordinating centers called Joint Field Offices that “stand up” during national emergencies.

2. Supply Chain Management: Getting the Right Resources to the Right Places at the Right Time. Emergency managers need quick, reliable access to private sector resources, ranging from equipment and supplies to specially trained personnel. Business Force partnerships are cataloging, in advance, business resources that can be made available on a pro bono or for-sale basis during a major catastrophe ( BENS has implemented regional registries in New Jersey and Massachusetts, and is developing similar models in Los Angeles County and the State of Missouri. In New Jersey and Massachusetts, over $600 million in pro bono business resources have been pledged.

BENS has focused initially on registering pro bono resources that are typically not for sale (e.g., trucks, warehouse space, skilled volunteers), but it is beginning to register resources that would be provided at cost or at market price as well. BENS also recommends that emergency managers continue to expand contingency contracts for disaster resources that they would expect to be in short supply. Finally, “reverse auction” systems should be implemented that would enable real-time posting of needs by emergency managers and real-time proposals by business donors and vendors. FEMA has already begun piloting such a system, which if successful, should be adopted by states and regions.

Resource registries can improve the disaster supply chain in a single state, but for large scale disasters like Katrina that overwhelm that state’s ability to respond, a mutual aid system between states can provide significant additional capacity by adapting a process similar, and perhaps parallel to the state mutual aid system known as EMAC (Emergency Management Assistance Compact). BENS is working with the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) to explore the creation of a business version of EMAC to improve supply chain management for business donations and for goods and services purchased by government first responders (see Exhibit 2). A business version of EMAC could be an important compliment to the existing EMAC and to FEMA’s growing supply chain capabilities.

3. Supply Chain Management: Mobilizing Business for Mass Dispensing of Medications. Public health officials need private sector support to prepare for and respond to the threats of bioterrorism or a disease pandemic. For example, if there were an aerosolized anthrax attack in Atlanta, the public health system would likely have less than ten percent of the staff needed to treat the region’s nearly five million residents in four days. BENS is mobilizing businesses to use their corporate facilities as dispensing sites and to provide volunteers to assist public health staff at schools and other government sites.

BENS worked with state and county public health officials in Metro Atlanta and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a model for mobilizing business volunteers and using business facilities as dispensing sites, and then recruited 1,200 volunteers to participate in a full-scale aerosolized anthrax exercise (see Exhibit 3). BENS has also facilitated bioterrorism tabletop exercises in New Jersey. A flu pandemic would present similar logistical and resource challenges that could be mitigated by Business Force partnerships.

4. On-going Information Sharing: Integrating Business into State and Local Fusion Centers. Many states are creating fusion centers to synthesize and analyze information and intelligence from multiple public and private sources and to communicate “fused” information to appropriate government and business stakeholders. Most fusion centers have focused on increasing intelligence sharing among relevant local, state and federal agencies, and most need greater private sector participation.

Meanwhile, the private sector seeks more actionable intelligence from government, and more clarity about the information sharing process. The Business Force partnership in Metro Kansas City is assisting with fusion center design, increasing business participation, and exploring ways to enhance the use of web-based information sharing tools such as DHS’ U.S. Public-Private Partnership website.

5. Critical Infrastructure Protection: Improving Risk Assessment. Federal, state and local governments perform risk assessments that identify critical infrastructure sites, and then estimate the threats to each site, the vulnerability of each site if it were attacked, and the criticality/consequence of an attack (i.e., the casualties and economic damage). These assessments can help allocate government and business security resources more rationally.

An estimated 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure is privately held or operated, and government often lacks sufficient information about these facilities to accurately assess risk. Meanwhile, many businesses are concerned about disclosing confidential data to government that might be disclosed to other parties. Business Force partnerships are in the early stages of facilitating business participation in government critical infrastructure risk assessment initiatives in ways that do not compromise the confidentiality of business data.

6. Exercising to Identify Gaps and Test New Programs. Each Business Force partnership is committed to performing two types of exercises on a regular basis. The first identifies security gaps that need to be filled. For example, a pandemic flu tabletop exercise with 20 or 30 business and government leaders in a given state or urban area can help these leaders understand what they need to do to prepare their own organizations and how they will need to work together in such a crisis. These exercises produce impressive lists of potential business-government initiatives that would improve security. Too often, however, there is little follow through after these exercises, and when the exercise is repeated a year or two later, it produces a similar list of needs and remedies. The partnership must turn these exercises into programs that produce real results.

The second type of exercise tests an actual business-government program that a regional partnership has started to implement – like a Business Operations Center or mass dispensing of medications – to make sure the program really works, and to find opportunities for improvement. Each of these programs must be exercised – not once, but on a regular basis.

On a larger scale, BENS has been an ongoing partner of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by helping integrate business into the biennial national terrorism exercises known as TOPOFF (short for Top Officials). Large-scale exercises can both identify gaps and test new programs.

In addition to identifying gaps and testing programs that address them, exercises help build trusted relationships between business and government. These relationships in turn enable business and government to work more effectively “on the fly” in all kinds of scenarios. Katrina helped drive home the lesson that building teams in advance is better than exchanging business cards during a crisis.

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