Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered the following remarks for the 11th Annual Building Resilience Through Private-Public Partnerships conference in Washington, DC.
His remarks are below:
Good morning. Thanks very much, Rob, for the introduction, and I want to thank the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you this morning.
I should say I had the chance to speak with Vince a little bit earlier. I and the Department have a long-standing relationship, partnership and friendship with the US Chamber of Commerce, and it is emblematic of our commitment to a public private partnership.
So much of what we do in the Department of Homeland Security centers on the importance of resilience, from disaster response and fighting the climate crisis to cybersecurity, from health security to combating terrorism and domestic violent extremism.
Across this broad range of challenges we face, in an ever-evolving threat landscape, there is a common thread, which is that we do not do any of this work alone. We make the greatest difference with the communities we serve when we work all of us together.
Whether we want to treat this work as a collective effort is, quite frankly, besides the point. How can the government alone ensure the nation's cybersecurity when the overwhelming majority of our nation's critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector?
How can government alone fight a deadly pandemic when we rely on the private sector for the development of vaccines and other medicines and supply chain distribution, and we rely on the public to follow public health protocols like masking, physical distancing, and getting vaccinated?
And how can government alone combat terrorism and targeted violence, when those most likely to recognize indicators of violent behavior are not government officials, but friends, neighbors, family members, and classmates?
All of you, as leaders and experts in your respective fields – in the private sector, in academia, at all levels of government and in nonprofit organizations – are important partners in this shared responsibility.
I certainly don’t mean to minimize the role that the federal government plays in building and maintaining resilience.
On the contrary, the women and men of the Department of Homeland Security dedicate themselves to this critical task each and every day. Today, I am pleased to share with you a few examples of our Department’s work to build resilience in the service of our shared goal of keeping our communities safe.
The health resilience of our communities remains top of mind, as we have turned a corner in the fight against COVID-19, enabling us all to be here together in this room today. At the same time, we remain cognizant of the need for continued vigilance against COVID-19 and other health security threats.
On the first day of this Administration, President Biden challenged our Department’s FEMA to stand up 100 Federally supported Community Vaccination Centers in only 30 days.
Well, FEMA did not do so, they stood up 441. Over the past year and a half, that number has grown to more than 3,600 community vaccination centers nationwide.
We also created and implemented “Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce” to vaccinate 75,000 of our front-line personnel. As the most public-facing Department in the federal government, ensuring the health and safety of our personnel is not just about protecting them and their loved ones: it is about protecting the health and safety of the American public.
The issue of cybersecurity is another critically important element of our national resilience, and one that I know you discussed yesterday with some of DHS’s key leaders in this area.
I would like to highlight a few ways in which we are working to raise the bar for cyber resilience across the country.
Through CISA, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, we set up, we stood up the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC), which enhances our ability to work with major private sector cyber stakeholders and operationalize our collective efforts to reduce risk to critical infrastructure. We are also working with those same partners – and others – to develop cross-sector cybersecurity performance goals.
Last year, we kicked off a series of 60-day sprints, each focused on the most important and urgent priorities for increasing our cyber resilience.
These sprints focused on transportation, ransomware, cybersecurity, and growing the cybersecurity workforce.
We remain acutely focused on growing the workforce. Nationwide, across this country, we are facing a shortage of 700,000 cybersecurity professionals.
We’ve partnered across the board to close this gap, including with our federal partners like the Departments of Commerce and Labor in developing and launching an apprenticeship program and with the Girl Scouts of the USA, to grow the cybersecurity skills and awareness of girls in grades K through 12. We not only have to enhance our cyber workforce, but we also have to change its face.
Of course, we can’t speak about resilience without addressing the threat of climate change. DHS is focused on improving the resilience of communities, particularly of disadvantaged and underserved communities, to the adverse impacts of climate change. We cannot have climate resilience without equity.
We know that underserved communities are disproportionately impacted by disasters. Under this Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, FEMA is working to ensure that 40% of the overall benefits of investments to partner communities against climate change are delivered to underserved communities.
Yesterday, you heard from FEMA’s Deputy Administrator, Eric Hooks, about one element of the Justice40 Initiative, the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities or BRIC program, and the twofold increase of available funding – to $2.3 billion – for Fiscal Year 2022.
This program will help communities increase their resilience to extreme weather events and natural disasters by helping them to prepare beforehand through research-supported, proactive investments.
Through our Science and Technology Directorate, we are working to find innovative solutions to help increase our communities’ resilience to disasters. A few of our projects include low-cost flood sensors, early detection sensors for wildfires, and delivering information on evacuation routes to people in endangered areas through our Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.
Let me take a step back and share with you a powerful example of why we have to work together, and the fact that we can't do this alone. In Kentucky, in a particular area in Kentucky, suffered a tragic results of a tornado of unprecedented gravity and duration. In the immediate aftermath of that tornado, I visited one of the towns that was devastated - Mayfield, Kentucky.
And when I say devastated, I mean, the entire town was destroyed, except for the resilience of its residents. Not just homes, not just businesses, but the departments, the headquarters of the emergency responders, the place of worship, the bank, everywhere where people's lives were lived in everywhere their personal resources were retained.
And I saw, I visited the candle factory where people had been working when the tornado struck, and there was a safe room in that candle factory where everyone huddled, and everyone was trained to go during an occurrence of an extreme weather event.
And that safe room did not withstand the force of this tornado. And it was wiped out along with the rest of the candle factory. And of course, the local community was not equipped to respond to the gravity of the disaster. And so, the state officials responded very swiftly, and the state officials were not able to address the full gravity of the consequences. So, we in the federal government responded as well.
And our funding is limited by the statute and regulation with respect to the extent of its reach. And so, the private sector came in to provide rescue as well. And so, it required on all of community and all of society in response to deliver immediate emergency relief for people who no longer had anything. And then looking forward, we take a look at what is required to ensure that the next community that is hit by an extreme weather event of unprecedented gravity, duration or consequence.
What can we do as a community all together in protecting the next community from this type of event? And one of the things that we thought about and are working on is making sure that local communities, for example, update their building codes. So that safe room is not really tailored to the extreme weather events and the consequences of yesterday, but, rather, what we are experiencing today and what we foresee tomorrow.
And then what does a family do when the bank that holds their key documents is no longer in existence? What happens when the Social Security Office is no longer standing and records are no longer accessible? And so, we are working on making sure that American residents understand the importance of digitizing the critical documents that guide their lives.
And we are preparing as a community to be ready for what might occur tomorrow based on what we have learned today. We read the papers right now and you see the extreme flooding. Again, I think to Kentucky, up to the fires in Colorado, now those in New Mexico are more contained.
But we are trying, but we require not just the community response but community preparedness in the service of community resilience
Terrorism related threats to the United States also continue to evolve. Several recent violent attacks against minority communities, schools, houses of worship and mass transit have demonstrated the dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment currently facing the United States.
And these events have gripped international attention.
Enhancing our collective ability to prevent all forms of terrorism and targeted violence is a top priority of our Department and of this Administration. We must it harder to carry out an attack and reduce the potential for loss of life by preventing acts of violence with our partners across the country.
We're focused on empowering these partners, ensuring they have the resources, training and guidance needed to effectively protect their communities.
Our Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, or CP3, provides financial, educational, and technical assistance, to support our partners, build and implement capabilities that help prevent individuals from radicalizing to violence.
We have a number of grant programs available to help communities increase their preparedness and get the resources they need to build their resilience.
Last year, I designated Domestic Violent Extremism as a “national priority area” within our Homeland Security Grant Program, and dedicated $77 million to preventing, preparing for, and responding to DVE threats nationwide. We have more funding to offer in this year’s grant programs.
This year, we are providing $250 million in funding to support physical security enhancements for nonprofits at risk of terrorist attacks through the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. It’s an increase of $70 million from last year, a tangible recognition of the threats facing houses of worship and other nonprofits.
This year we are also awarding $20 million to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, nonprofits, and higher education institutions through the Targeted Violence and Prevention Grant Programs.
You know, at the beginning of the establishment of our Department, the greatest terrorism related threat that we encountered was the foreign terrorist who wanted to enter the United States and do us harm.
And that evolved over the course of the years. That threat, of course, did not disappear, nor has it disappeared. But in that 2012 -2014 era, what rose to our attention was the homegrown violent extremists, the individual already residing in the United States radicalized by a foreign terrorist ideology and thereby seeking to do us harm.
And we responded as a Department - as a federal government - by going into the communities and trying to address that threat landscape, and I think we're ineffective in doing so fully because we have not yet closed the gap of distrust between a Department like ours and communities, underserved, particularly minority, communities.
Now, what we see is not the homegrown violent extremists as the greatest terrorism related threat, the individual radicalized the violence by a foreign terrorist ideology, but rather we're seeing a radicalization to violence by born of an ideology of hate, false narratives, personal grievances, other narratives propagated on social media and online platforms that prior iterations of the threat as I mentioned, if not too severe, but we've seen a different brand of threat, if you will, rise to the surface. And here again, the federal government cannot do it alone.
If we take a look of the tragedies of Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Highland Park, what we see is individuals who were exhibiting signs of descending down the path and seeing signs that that dissension was accompanied by increasing interest in violence.
And it is not the federal government that would see those signs in the first instance, nor would it necessarily be local law enforcement, but who is it? Who is it? It is sometimes the family, sometimes friends, a schoolteacher, a neighbor, and it speaks to the need to work as a community in addressing a threat of domestic violent extremism, and it speaks of the broader need to work as a community in addressing the many challenges we face resilience. Resilience is really defined as a community phenomenon and requires community effort.
DHS brings a lot to the table, grant dollars, information sharing, technical assistance, and best practices, in addition to our own operational capability, our extraordinary people, but we are only effective in building resilience when all of us are sitting around the table together.
I want to thank all of you for claiming a seat at the table on behalf of the personnel, the dedicated and talented personnel, in the Department of Homeland Security.
I very much look forward to our work together. Thanks so much.