Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow for Counter-Terrorism and National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Flynn discusses homeland security and national resilience.

by / February 4, 2009
Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow for Counter-Terrorism and National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations Photo Courtesy of Erik Johnson

Stephen Flynn
Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Stephen Flynn is the Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow for Counter-Terrorism and National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He directs the council's working group on national resilience and homeland security.

He served in the White House Military office during the George H.W. Bush administration and as a director for Global Issues on the National Security Council staff during the Bill Clinton administration.

Q: What's the difference between a resilient community, and as you call, it a "brittle" one?

A: The efforts at creating resilience that I find most interesting are ones that put a lot into being prophylactic. You need to think in advance of the foreseeable hazards you're likely to face and plot what the consequences would be. If those consequences are unacceptable, what do you invest in right now to mitigate those likely outcomes so that you'll bend not break?

The second piece is a kind of resourcefulness, which we have to build in upfront relationships - across the public, private and nongovernmental sectors - where we figure out our roles in managing incidents [and] can quickly alert each other when things are unfolding so we're ready to go.

Q: What are the consequences for the brittle community and the rewards for a resilient one?

A: The consequences are well documented like 30 percent of small businesses tend to go into Chapter 11 [bankruptcy] if they're in an area of a major natural disaster. That number's driven primarily by time. If recovery takes too long, they just don't have the cash or the ability to raise credit to get them back up and running.

Resilient communities bend but don't break, relatively speaking. The image is shingles missing from roofs versus houses blown away. Obviously recovery cost is much lower and recovery speed is much quicker.

Q: Is the U.S. moving ahead sufficiently toward an all-hazards approach?

A: My hope is that with the incoming president, we'll have the opportunity to do that. His very tenor has been less about responding to counterterrorism, as if that were exclusively the threat, and more about facing a number of hazards and the message of shared responsibility.

One area they're looking at is economic stimulus in investing in the elements of resilience, which includes having functioning public health departments, emergency management departments and local police.

Q: What do you see happening with FEMA?

A: The lesson of 9/11 and Katrina is there's a greater expectation, and I'd argue a need, for the federal government to play a larger incident management role, which has historically been the case. We know there are disasters that are likely to be confronted, and based on the limited capacity of many states and the expectations of the public - the president in't going to be in the fly by's or drive by's - but [should have] a more focused support role in incident management.