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PS-Prep Gives Us a Winner More Than Four Years Later

There are more than enough reasons to applaud the fact that AT&T Inc. was named as the first private sector company to be certified to DHS’ Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Program (PS-Prep). It’s been a long time coming.

Since the issuance of the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report and its endorsement of ANSI/NFPA 1600 as a voluntary preparedness standard in July 2004, the road traveled on the issue of private-sector preparedness standards has been as adventurous as it has been bumpy and problematic.

Challenges encountered getting to this point have included the lack of appropriated funds by Congress to support the effort; internal turf battles within DHS for program jurisdiction and responsibility; and finger-pointing and political posturing by a select few interests who seemed more enchanted with hearing themselves speak than working cooperatively with others. Add to this dysfunctional soup recipe the lack of visible or proactive support by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and her senior leadership team beyond the boilerplate rhetoric of “we care about the private sector” and we have a program that has literally put one point on the board after nearly four years of existence.

With a track record like this, PS-Prep has made the Washington Wizards look like Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in their prime, and we all know how impressive the Wizards are don’t we?

There are some truly good and great people that have worked very hard to make the PS-Prep Program work despite all of the odds against it. I had the honor of working with a number of these folks when I was in DHS and after I left it in September 2007. I consider many of those people close friends for whom I have tremendous respect, and always will, but I can’t say I’m heartened by this announcement of this one company making its way across the finish line.

Open for Business after Irene

A restaurant in Weston, Vt., declares its open status with a sign in the door after Tropical Storm Irene passed through the area in October 2011. Photo by Annette Foglino/FEMA

The fact it took more than four years to get to this point is an embarrassment of epic proportions. I’m not about to pile on friends and former colleagues for this delay in progress. I know many of the faults, constant odds, BS, and battles they continually faced to try to get anything done on this program. Instead I place full blame on the department’s leadership and its overly bureaucratic, turf-centric processes that seemed to care more about process than ultimate end product(s) and putting points on the board.

Congress, who never saw fit to appropriate any resources to fund its operations, also deserves blame.  In terms of the existing administration and recent Congressional stewardship of this program, it just seemed there was no sense of care or urgency to getting this job done with in any type of expediency.  I think that is appalling.

It’s wonderful that AT&T has become the first company to get the PS-Prep certification.  They are a truly impressive company that should be at the forefront of preparedness and business continuity given the infrastructure leadership and service they provide nationally and internationally.  But they are just one company after more than four years of this program being in existence.

As impressive as it is to be the first of what I hope will be many more companies, consider what the American Red Cross has done in the same timeframe. They took a pilot program out of the St. Louis Chapter and with the generous sponsorship of the Anheuser-Busch Corporation, created the Ready Rating Program.

This program puts in the hands of the private sector the very tools and techniques by which any enterprise – be it large or small – can prepare itself for all hazards that could affect it. In sharing those steps, the St. Louis Red Cross Chapter also developed a scoring tool to assess the performance of a company so they could measure their progress as they addressed preparedness needs.

The end result of their notable efforts was a program that is accessible, understandable and measurable. More importantly, it puts the companies that are using it on a better glide path to endure events that could truly be catastrophic to their operations and employees. That means saved lives, businesses and jobs.

By itself, having such a program would be a notable achievement, but in recognizing that it’s great to share a good thing, the leadership of the American Red Cross has taken the Ready Rating Program and gone national with it, also expanding it to include preparedness in schools as well.

They did all this in fewer than four years and have hundreds of companies and organizations across the country that are truly “ready” to go should anything happen to them.

PS-Prep has one.

I know some may see my comparisons of the two programs as an apples to oranges exercise.

I also know that it is completely unfair to compare a government involved program with multiple organizations and people to something that is done outside of government. It’s like comparing the Swedish bikini team to the Cold War era East German women’s weight lifting team. Even Ray Charles could see that mismatch, but in an era where threats are ever present and ever evolving, it would be nice to think the people responsible for leading the nation’s preparedness could act in a pace that is faster than glacier movements.

We can and should demand better. We deserve it, and waiting for action(s) saves no one.


Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...

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    Marcus E. Pollock

    Somewhere in this blog I think there is a compliment. For this I am thankful and for the hard work that many folks put in to bring us to this day of AT&T as the first entity to certify under PS-Prep™. Truly it was a long haul; it seemed interminable. However, let us not forget what the Congress was asking us to do: to develop an unprecedented program with the private sector, with relatively few dollars for the task and little influence to make the business case for the private sector for why preparedness is important. Yes there were turf battles, legitimate questions had to answered about where this program would get the greatest traction. The fact that there is little money for the task at hand only sharpens the requirement to innovate ways to use good old Yankee ingenuity to get the job done. And yes there was the time that it took to allow the interested public and leadership to weigh in on every important policy decision that was proposed. In each case hundreds of comments were seriously considered that helped shape the content and direction of the program including those from our harshest critics. The time that this took is no reason for embarrassment, it is who we are and what makes our country great.