Building Resilience for Today’s Security Threats

More than a decade and a half after 9/11, the disrupted world order has caused national security threats to significantly evolve. Terrorists have exploited chaotic pockets of the world to carve out safe havens, the same technology that provides expanded connectivity, commerce and free expression has expanded the landscape of potential attacks, and globalization, climate change and population trends are all contributing to the intensified threat of emerging infectious disease outbreaks. In the face of these changing threats, governments and communities must prepare for, respond to, and demonstrate resilience to potential crises. In an inter-disciplinary series of events and discussions, the Reiss Center is exploring the evolving threat landscape and how national and local stakeholders can create more resilient institutions to withstand it.

Lisa Monaco, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Reiss Center on Law and Security and Former Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor to President Barack Obama, will guide the Reiss Center’s exploration of these themes in a series of discussions drawing on her unique perspective from dealing each of these threats over the course of her career in government and most recently the White House. Events and discussions will draw on expertise and perspectives from the wider NYU community as well experts from beyond the university.

The initiative’s three themes include:

Since 9/11, terrorists have increasingly used low-tech and low-budget attacks to wreak havoc and perpetrate violence at home and abroad. Recent terror attacks in the United States, such as the West Side Highway attack and Orlando nightclub shooting, have been carried out by people radicalized and inspired to violence through content they consume online often with no formal direction, assistance or training from an external terrorist group. In this new era of terrorism, leaders are warning that small-scale terrorist attacks may be simply inevitable—and that cities need to begin focusing on preparing effective responses when tragedy strikes. What can local governments and communities themselves learn from responses to previous terror attacks in order to build resilience to this new phase in the battle against terrorism?

In today’s hyperconnected world, a bomb is not required to disable the country’s critical infrastructure: hackers can sow destruction by exploiting vulnerabilities in the technology that underlies every hospital, electric grid, bank, and airline. These sorts of attacks are already taking place: last year’s WannaCry attack crippled hospitals and banks around the world, and hackers widely believed to be Russian have caused blackouts in Ukraine. Threats to national security can also take on the more insidious form of information warfare, with fake social media accounts pumping out false information that undermines Americans’ trust in institutions. How can the private sector and government work together to boost systems’ resilience to cyber attacks and other vulnerabilities that technology creates? And what lessons can we learn from facing past threats—like terrorism—to meet the challenges of the cyber age?

In 1918, the Spanish flu took 50-100 million lives across the world in a pandemic that was particularly fatal to young, healthy victims. Over the course of ten weeks, the disease killed 20,000 people in New York City alone. While medicine has advanced significantly in the ensuing century, so have the risks: global trade and widely-accessible air travel have collapsed the physical distance that once slowed disease, while climate change and human incursion in once sparsely populated areas increase the potential for new viruses. Recent health crises underscore the risks of an underprepared health system: when the 2014 Ebola epidemic reached Dallas’s doorstep in the form of one sick patient, two nurses became infected and dozens were quarantined. Meanwhile, legal issues including mandatory quarantines and the intellectual property of emergency vaccine development loomed large. What lessons can governments, communities, and health systems glean from history to develop resilience for future health crises?