Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 2, 2009

Resilience: bouncing back better

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 2, 2009

Nick Armstrong, Project Director for Resilience and Security at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, offers a rich resource for defining and deploying a meaningful concept of resilience.

report from a January Resilience and Security workshop includes this provocative finding:

They spent some time trying to find a common definition of resilience, and, while they did not find a precise definition, they all arrived at a consensus that it had something to do with bouncing back after something bad happens and having the ability to bounce back to better place – a place better suited to new realities.

Access the INSCT website to read the entire report (6-plus MB PDF).

“The ability to bounce back to a better place,” would certainly be valuable.  I have seen it happen in small and big ways.  I have also seen modest challenges seem to overwhelm places and people that I  had considered very strong.  How do we make sense of the difference?  How do we craft and deploy policy that advances real resilience?

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5 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 2, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

REstoration of ability to provide products and services? Reconstitution–okay guess that is government side! How is demand restored? Is that a factor in resilience? Do Maslov’s heirarchy of needs apply to institutions as well as individuals?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 2, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

It could be very productive to apply Maslow’s need heirarchy to the concept of resilience. How about also looking to Viktor Frankl’s work for socio-psychological guidance. In each of their systems — and in most treatments of complex systems — resilience is a function of the system spontaneously reorganizing itself around “attractors of meaning.” The early identification, cultivation, and multiplication of these attractors of meaning begins to move resilience from theory to practice.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 2, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

Viktor Frankel’s philosophy great to stimulate exchange of “victim” status to “responder”!

Comment by Pat Longstaff

June 3, 2009 @ 11:33 am

Certainly Maslow’s hierarchy of needs gives us some ways to establish priorities in reaction to any kind of “surprise” in the environment. A good plan for a resilient community would include letting people know how they can get these needs met. This will often mean giving them the tools to help themselves and their friends and family. It is often true that resilient communities are made up of resilient individuals. They often need to adapt to new realities and not just go back to “the way it was.” Their trust in the people telling them that adaptation is necessary (nobody WANTS to change!) is critical. Unfortunately, that level of trust is not always invested in government or the media. But it is often given to friends and family (and maybe neighbors). Finding opinion leaders at the local level BEFORE the surprise would make a message suggesting (or requiring) adaptation much easier to communicate.
We are very interested in the interdisciplinary work being done on the resilience of ecological and human communities. When a system cannot “resist” surprises it develops resilience to bounce back. The sorts of forces and resources that make a forest bounce back from a fire seem to be relevant (and nonpolitical) in the current discussions. This work indicates that resilience is enhanced when resources necessary for survival are diverse, loose coupled, and local. It helps if the system has had to respond to surprises in the past because the inevitable tradeoffs between efficiency and resilience are weighted more toward the later. It is also important to understand how resilience is destroyed in order to change maladaptive behavior (which can be very resilient to even the toughest regulation) and to defend against enemies who use resilience tactics to survive. I have looked at these ideas in some depth at http://pirp.harvard.edu/pubs_pdf/longsta/longsta-p05-3.pdf

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 4, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

Pat! thanks for the comments on the post and the excellent report you have made available. Lots of hard work and thought therein!

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