Urgent Threats Forum Introduces New Resilience Network Championed by the Port Authority of NY & NJ

On June 17-18, 2015, leaders from business, government and diverse organizations gathered at the Urgent Threats Forum at New York University to discuss the most pressing imminent threats to operations and assess how they will impact our businesses, our cities and our citizens.

The forum, co-sponsored by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and the Global Resilience Network (GRN), brought together the public and private sectors to explore how we can collaborate to minimize disruptions to our operations. The forum also introduced the Metropolitan Resilience Network (MRN), championed by the Port Authority, which aims to strengthen cooperation across sectors to address shared risks in the metropolitan New York/New Jersey area.

On day one of the forum we examined the current threat landscape and the top challenges that organizations are facing, including cybersecurity, synthetic biology, privacy and emerging and re-emerging diseases. A former CDC official provided a briefing on infectious disease globally and detailed the severe financial effects that a pandemic could have on the world. He warned participants that even illnesses that citizens typically do not worry about can significantly impact the economy—for example, seasonal flu leads to $7 billion worth of sick days and lost productivity annually in the U.S. alone.

The discussion about current threats was placed in the context of global megatrends that are shaping the rest of the 21st century. Keynote speakers and participants discussed important changes in demographics, the rise of a middle class in regions that have historically been poor, shifts in regional power concentrations, as well as slowing labor expansion, and how these changes will impact growth and stability. In a roundtable on cyber security, participants across the board voiced their concerns about cyber-attacks and the difficulty of sharing information and collaborating to address common risks, as well as the challenge of securing sufficient funding in this area.

The chief meteorologist from The Weather Channel put the current severity of storms into perspective relative to previous decades and analyzed the outlook for hurricanes and coastal storms for the coming year, based on our understanding of ocean temperatures. Speakers also emphasized the need to improve communication and information-sharing during calamitous weather events, as well as incidents involving hazardous materials.

A former senior official at the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence guided participants to look at evolving global trends, such as the change in regional power concentrations, the global rise of the middle class, and slowing labor expansion, and how they will impact growth and stability. In a roundtable on cybersecurity, participants across the board voiced their concern about cyberattacks and the difficulty of getting sufficient funding allocated to address risks in this area.

On day two of the forum, Jerry McCarty of the Port Authority’s Office of Emergency Management explained how the MRN is working to enhance the operational resilience of the public and private sectors in the New York metropolitan area. Current activities include monthly expert briefings on key risks and their potential effects on operations, the sharing of best practices to provide actionable strategies, and a communications and collaboration platform that will enable greater information sharing and active coordination before, during and after disruptions. The goal of the MRN is to create a “network of networks” that may serve as a model for other metropolitan areas around the world.

Forum participants went on to explore potential strategies to address the prolonged loss of lifeline utilities, with an in-depth look at how one electric power company deals with response and recovery and the kinds of mutual aid agreements that allow power utilities in a metropolitan area to share resources and expertise in the event of a disruption. This may provide a model for other types of resource sharing among organizations.

Attendees also discussed the various risks that climate change poses and how to cope with the impacts of pollution, decreased access to water, threats to community health and safety, poor workplace conditions, wastewater and water quality, and resettlement.

A senior U.S. government official provided an overview of ISIS and domestic terrorism threats, which present a unique evolving danger. The consensus was that not only must government entities and communities share information, but there must also be more efforts focused on prevention—we must go into disenfranchised communities and work to address citizens’ concerns before they turn to violence.

A major takeaway of the event was the need for increased information-sharing and collaboration across sectors. Lessons learned that were shared by participants underscored that private-public partnerships are crucial in resiliency initiatives, as resiliency is a collective endeavor. The private sector can fill gaps unaddressed by the government—and the government can assist the private sector during disruptions—but there must be better communication and cooperation across sectors, and even between competitors.

The MRN and GRN’s primary objectives are to facilitate this exchange of information and increased collaboration on shared risks between members of business, research organizations, critical infrastructure, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations. We will continue working towards this goal by providing face-to-face and web forums for the exchange of ideas and lessons learned, the development of a robust communications and collaboration platform, a best practices resource and resilience exercises.

For more information about the Metropolitan Resilience Network (championed by the Port Authority of NJ & NY):

For more information about the Global Resilience Network: http://www.nyu.edu/intercep/grn/

Please contact intercep@nyu.edu to learn more about these and related resilience initiatives.