When a major disaster strikes, whether a terrorist bombing or biological attack, an earthquake or a severe hurricane, our nation must be prepared to quickly deploy a coordinated and effective response, and our government must continue to operate effectively.
Richard Reed, a career federal employee detailed to the White House, is the principal drafter of the two significant documents—the National Continuity Policy and the National Continuity Policy Implementation Plan—that provide guidance and set priorities for our government to maintain critical functions and respond to catastrophic emergencies.
Together, these documents represent a sea change in the nation’s strategy by transitioning our policy from a Cold War mentality to today’s post 9/11 all hazard approach. Reed led the transformation, one that required a critical realignment of people, policies and thinking across government and the private sector.
“It was a major feat that Richard was able to transition our thinking and approach—that we take risk-management from the ‘old think’ to the new realities,” said Josh Sawislak, a strategic management consultant who has worked with Reed for many years. “And it’s not just about terrorist threats. It’s also natural disasters, which we learned from Katrina, Haiti and most recently in Japan.”
Modernizing the U.S. disaster response and resilience policy wasn’t an easy road for Reed, who pushed the envelope for change on everything from the use of mobile technology to simply fighting the idea that something that had been done for so long was the “only way.”
“He took programs that were entrenched for decades and had the bravery to question their validity given a changing global landscape,” said Darren Blue, the associate administrator for emergency response and recovery at the General Services Administration (GSA). “And he had the courage to question it at the greater need of the nation.”
As special assistant to the president for National Security Affairs and the senior director for resilience policy, Reed coordinates the development of national policy related to preparedness and response, including critical infrastructure such as roads and airspace; preparedness grants for communities across the country; national security professional development; continuity; defense support; all hazards public health and medical preparedness; domestic incident management and response coordination; national exercises; and short-term recovery.
One of the most important aspects of getting through a disaster is the coordination of federal, state and local agencies. Reed chairs the Domestic Resilience Group, an inter-agency policy committee comprised of 23 federal department and agency leaders that discuss, develop and oversee the implementation of preparedness and response policy.
Reed, who was detailed to the White House by the GSA four years ago, has put his newly designed continuity and preparedness plans into action, successfully coordinating on-the-ground responses last year to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster and the Haiti earthquake.
Following the Haiti earthquake, for example, Reed was on the ground for more than a month helping coordinate the response from the U.S., the United Nations and other countries and aid organizations.
“People desperately needed water, medical teams, and military troops and Richard was brought over from the White House immediately and was masterful in knowing how the government could function so that we could respond in a coordinated way,” said Maura O’Neill, senior counselor to the administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“It all had to be done with such finesse. Different parts of the military and different parts of the government really had to play well together and respond to a command structure,” said O’Neill. “Using his credibility and personal relationships, Richard made sure that everyone was coordinated and working together.”
Colleagues frequently cited Reed’s perseverance as his best attribute.
“To Richard, failure is impossible,” said O’Neill. “That’s where his innovation and creativity comes from. He believes that it is possible to do the impossible.”
Reed describes himself as a “facilitator of action” and a “coordination architect,” while always crediting his staff and colleagues with any success.
“It’s not that I’m an expert in anything like engineering or how to handle nuclear materials, but if I can figure out who is the right person to do those things and make sure that they are resourced and supported in the right way to do their job, I feel like I was a part of that success,” said Reed.
Regardless of his humility, colleagues say that Reed is a highly effective leader.
“He’s the type of leader that makes you want to perform better because he has a very unique style about how to motivate an individual,” said Blue. “And Richard is an absolute patriot. He puts his nation and the interest of his nation above all else.”