Geneva, 13 January – Some of the biggest names in the U.S. private and public sectors gathered in New York on Wednesday at a Pace University Summit on Resilience to see how best partnerships between these two sectors could be developed to strengthen resilience in cities and communities in light of increasing hazards.
The Summit entitled ‘Securing our future through public private partnerships’, was attended by 300 participants representing the public and private sectors, small businesses, the US law enforcement, security and health sectors, as well as the academic world. Verizon Communications, Ridge Global Inc., the Boeing Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Target, and Southern California Edison, were just some of the household private sector. Public sector representation included the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management, the New York City Office of Emergency Management and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
The Summit was convened by Pace President, Stephen J. Friedman who said the idea of holding it came to him after looking out of his office window in downtown New York at the empty site now called Ground Zero after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. “Nothing had been done. I started talking with my friends in business on Wall Street and they are anxious to help with reconstruction and planning, but feel they have no clarity on areas of responsibility”.
Friedman said: “After a disaster event, when the first responders depart, the third stage, rebuilding, tends to be a kind of a black hole. The resources and talent are in the private sector while the authority is with the public sector. What’s required is real partnership with areas of responsibility defined, accepted and understood in advance”.
Delivering the opening address, UN Disaster Reduction Chief, Margareta Wahlström said, “Your presence today is a strong message that progress has been made. Can we now accelerate progress and achieve a significant drop in losses within the coming 10 years”? She asked.
She said the world population that had increased by 87 percent in 30 years. During that same period the population growth in flood prone river delta regions had increased by 114 percent and in cyclone, hurricane prone coastal regions by 195 percent.
“The message is clear”, said Wahlström. “We are putting our economic, social, cultural and business assets in the most high risk areas, because this is where wealth and our future are generated.”
And while urban centres were producing most of the world’s economic output, Wahlström stressed that “Cities are highly vulnerable and exposed to risk from natural, technological and environmental hazards”.
She underscored that economic losses from disasters were growing faster than GDP growth in countries, particularly in the richer nations where most of the insured value existed and losses were incurred.
2011 was a new record year in disaster losses. Estimates of between $350 billion to $380 billion in global economic losses from disasters have made it the most expensive year in history for catastrophes, according to the insurance industry.
“On average, 15 percent of investment in a given country today is public investment. The balance is private. Without the full engagement of the private and business sectors, resilience cannot be achieved … It is most important to achieve what the title of this conference calls for “Securing our future”, and this is the domain of business, including the engagement in society as the core of the sustainable and resilient business plans … Resilience building is a partnership of the threatened against a common enemy”, Wahlström said.
Tom Ridge, CEO and President of Ridge Global Inc, and the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Secretary delivering the keynote address, said, “Corporations must take a seat at the table and be involved in all stages of planning - during a catastrophe “isn’t the time to be introducing your self.” He stressed the need to develop a fully integrated process stating that “conferences like this go a long way towards promoting the cause of a comprehensive approach”.
Ridge also noted that in such partnerships there would be some difficulties with communication due to privacy concerns which must be worked. “At some point in time we have got to trust each other, he said.”
The Homeland Security Secretary also pointed out that the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) now had established private sector councils in 10 regions of the country.
During the panel discussions, representatives of the public and private sector described how communication between both sectors had become more deliberate over the past three to four years. One of the factors they attributed to this was UNISDR’s increasing involvement with the private sector highlighted by the formation of the UNISDR Private Sector Advisory Group.