As disasters strike, private sector preparedness program remains stalled

By

 Updated:

More than 50 days into the BP oil spill crisis, many are calling for Congressional action. Environmental groups are demanding more safety restrictions on oil drilling, Democrats are proposing to remove liability caps for oil spills, and the White House is pushing the Senate to move on climate change legislation.

But without implementation by the executive branch, legislative action can prove virtually meaningless.

A perfect example of this is the long delayed “PS-Prep” program. In 2007, Congress ordered the creation of a voluntary set of standards or roadmap for businesses to prepare for a national disaster and set a 210-day deadline for the Bush administration to carry it out. But the program — known formally as the Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program — has yet to be launched by the Homeland Security Department.

The chairmen of the Senate and House homeland security committees say in a June 3 letter the PS-Prep program can’t wait any longer.

The letter, sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, calls the failure of the executive branch to implement PS-Prep “regrettable,” and says the BP oil spill is “a painful reminder of why preparedness is so important.”

“The impact of future disasters on vulnerable cities and towns across the country would be significantly mitigated if businesses were armed with preparedness and recovery programs. Proper preparation leads to resilience and recovery,” said the letter signed by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent Democrat.

A spokesman for Thompson told the Center that DHS has not yet responded to the letter, but the lawmaker expects a briefing soon from the department.

The DHS office of public affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

Under the Obama administration, DHS has published draft standards for public comment and held 10 public meetings on PS-Prep. The lawmakers’ letter asked the DHS to set a timeline for finalizing the program, and to explain how it will promote and encourage businesses to adopt the preparedness standards.

The PS-Prep mandate from Congress grew out of the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report, which warned that “Because 85 percent of our nation's critical infrastructure is controlled not by government but by the private sector, private-sector civilians are likely to be the first responders in any future catastrophes.” In its recommendations, the commission endorsed a voluntary National Preparedness Standard for the nation’s private sector. Then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge praised the idea and recommended its adoption.

Three years later, with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate, Congress approved legislation to create the program, and the bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in August 2007.

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.

Donate now
Donate now