PS-Prep: Better late than never for private sector preparedness

The tragedy of the BP oil spill has prompted lawmakers and leaders in emergency management to renew the call for private sector preparedness that emerged after the 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina catastrophes. Recall the 9/11 Commission's original recommendation that private sector organizations adopt voluntary preparedness standards; or President Bush's Directive, HSPD-5, calling for broad adoption of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the National Response Plan (now the "National Response Framework"). These initiatives, encouraging business continuity planning and private sector coordination with all levels of government (see here), have renewed relevance in the wake of the oil spill. And as of late, at least one related initiative is finally off the ground.

Last month, the chairmen of the Senate and House Homeland Security committees urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to step up its implementation of the Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program (PS-Prep). PS-Prep is a voluntary set of standards that help private sector companies develop preparedness, response, and business continuity plans to implement in the event of a disaster.  Congress ordered the creation of PS-Prep in 2007, setting a 210-day deadline for implementation. The program, required by Section 901 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, remained unimplemented - until now.  

As of June 15, DHS adopted the long overdue PS-Prep standards.  The adoption of the standards represents a partnership between DHS and the private sector that will enable private entities to receive emergency preparedness certification from a DHS accreditation system.  Practical value aside, the program illustrates the priority of private sector preparedness within the federal government's national security mission.

PS-Prep includes three standards for accreditation.  The first, British Standards Institution 25999, focuses on business continuity management, which helps businesses develop resilience and recovery strategies that protect staff, preserve the organization's reputation, and provide the ability to continue operating during the most challenging and exceptional circumstances. Todd VanderVen, president of BSI Americas, said "BS 25999 provides the business resilience and consumer confidence essential to rapidly overcome any unplanned interruption of commercial operations."

Two other standards outline frameworks for private businesses to assess and prevent risks through proper planning: ASIS International SPC. 1-2009 - Organizational Resilience: Security Preparedness, and Continuity Management Systems; and the National Fire Protection Association 1600 - Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs.  According to Secretary Napolitano, "these new standards will provide our private sector partners with the tools they need to enhance the readiness and resiliency of our nation."

While the PS-PREP standard remains a voluntary accreditation program, its relevance to business continuity is significant. The private sector focus of emergency preparedness continues to expand around the country at the federal, state, and local levels.  This is particularly true within the private sector itself, which has a critical economic stake in maintaining the continuity of vital operations during a disaster.  With 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure embedded in the private sector, private sector preparedness has naturally come under the federal magnifying glass - particularly in the wake of the BP oil spill.  

Furthermore, the PS-Prep program is an identifiable standard of care for legal purposes that, if ignored, may become important evidence of a company's negligence should a disaster occur that is directly related the organization's functions.  The private sector's awareness and implementation of these voluntary standards is an important platform for developing both business continuity and liability protection.

CHHS continues to work with the private sector to implement business continuity plans, and bring both the public and private sector into emergency preparedness compliance.  As the field of private sector preparedness continues to expand in light of real-life and potential disasters, the time for collaboration, and compliance, is now.

John Roche, CHHS Research Assistant (summer 2010), contributed to this post.

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