Corporations Could Help Fill Huge Gap in Homeland Security

Posted July 11, 2003 at 1:20pm

American corporations own far more trucks, buildings, cellphones, aircraft, assembly areas and heavy equipment than state and local governments do. These assets could be called into action in the event of a terrorist attack. [IMGCAP(1)]

That’s the theory behind a pioneering public-private partnership under way in New Jersey that may well be replicated nationally, enormously enhancing homeland security.

Corporations certainly can’t completely make up for the scandalous shortfall in homeland security resources identified in a new report by a Council on Foreign Relations task force headed by former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.).

But retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, executive director of a pre-Sept. 11 Rudman-led commission on homeland security, speculates that, over 10 years, between a quarter and a third of the gap might be closed by corporate action.

Boyd is now president of Business Executives for National Security, an organization of corporate chiefs that is conducting the New Jersey experiment under an agreement announced last November with Gov. Jim McGreevey (D).

“The states, by themselves, are not going to be able to manage all the resources” required to meet homeland security requirements, Boyd told me, “and the federal government will never be able to provide all that’s necessary.

“So the trend is going to be an increasing role for the private sector in providing help to the states.”

The group, known as BENS, is working up preliminary plans for business efforts in Georgia and Kansas and thinking about such an effort in California.

In New Jersey, 20 corporations have signed up so far to form the New Jersey Business Force, starting with three projects — developing the state’s homeland security database, preparing to distribute federally supplied medicine in the event of an attack and signing up an army of private-sector volunteers.

Oracle and the Mitre Corp., two computer companies, are working through BENS to help the state develop a pilot emergency database matching all its security needs, resources and contacts, plus corporate capabilities.

In the event of a terrorist attack, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rushes a multi-ton “push pack” of medicines to a state — but distribution of the contents is not a federal responsibility.

The BENS force’s vision is that corporations with huge supplies of trucks — perhaps UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service — would be pre-organized to transport the contents to their destinations. Those companies are not actually part of the coalition yet.

The state doesn’t have enough trained nurses to administer inoculations in case of a biological or terrorist attack, but the BENS force is trying to enlist corporations to recruit volunteers to act as “second responders” to assist professionals.

“They have to be identified, trained, pre-qualified and put into a database,” said one BENS-connected executive. “Then, if an attack occurs, we have to communicate to these people that those trained to administer inoculations should report to a specific location. If you don’t set this up ahead of time, you’ll have turmoil.”

The executive said the most convenient locations for administering mass inoculations might be fast-food restaurants — which usually have parking lots, limiting the congestion that would surely develop at hospitals.

Organization obviously is key. “It’s not the idea that counts,” said Josh Weston, retired chairman of ADP Corp. and honorary chairman of the New Jersey business effort. “It’s having in place the procedures, the authorizations, the designated callers. And all of it in a database.”

So far, according to the executive director of the New Jersey force, former Lucent executive Brian Dunlap, among the corporations making specific offers are Prudential Financial, offering parking lots, helipads and staff doctors and nurses; Verizon, offering cellphones, bucket trucks and other communications assets; and CIT Group, providing its corporate facilities, boxcars and locomotives and leased aircraft.

Two large hospital systems have offered mobile decontamination units. Pfizer is offering pharmaceuticals. And the New Jersey public television system will be part of the state’s emergency communications network.

The idea for business to supplement government efforts in homeland security preparedness originally came from New Jersey philanthropist Ray Chambers, who first linked up with BENS on the Internet and has provided $500,000 to launch the state partnership.

Nationally, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and his deputy, Gordon England, have made frequent rhetorical references to public-private partnerships, and a mid-level official is assigned to develop them.

But, as the new Rudman report makes plain, the federal homeland security effort is “drastically underfunded,” leaving the nation “dangerously unprepared.”

The Rudman task force estimated that the nation’s fire and police departments and other emergency personnel need nearly $100 million more in the next five years to be prepared to deal with terrorist attacks.

Corporate contributions obviously can’t provide what government must — it’s up to Congress to see to that — but the fact is that 85 percent of the nation’s infrastructure, assets and equipment are in the private sector and they need to be fully enlisted in the cause.