Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 14, 2009

Fundamentals of resilience in brief

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on July 14, 2009

dna-double-helix_resized  The DNA double helix, an innately resilient structure

The first use of resilience in English that I can find is from 1668.  The neo-Platonist priest  Henry More writes of how dealing with “squalid and forlorn conditions” might yet result in “strong and peremptory Resiliency from this sordid Region of Misery and Sin.”

Resilience is derived from the Latin resilirere plus salire — meaning to leap back, recoil, spring and spring again, re-flow, et cetera.

In solid mechanics resilience is an expression of how a material responds to stress (load applied) and exhibits strain (deformation of the material). 

Solids are principally ductile or brittle.  Ductile materials, including steel, have qualities of elastic deformation.  More simply, they bend.  Brittle materials do not bend.  A highly resilient — or elastic — material can bend under stress and return to its original condition once the stress is removed.

At the molecular level physical resilience is the outcome of  extension (stretching) usually in combination with unfolding and refolding (technically referred to as “reversible unfolding”).  Generally speaking, the less tightly bound  its molecular structure the more elasticity a substance  exhibits.

A mighty oak stands strong before the sky. A willow yields to the  slightest  breeze.  Yet in the fiercest storm, an oak does break while a willow but bends. Which then is stronger in the end?

Resilience is increasingly recognized as a key aspect of psychological health.  Here, too, resilience relates to how much stress can be experienced while  returning to something  similar — or even superior — to the prior state of health, capacity, and function.

Drawing on the work of other scholars, Suniya Luthar, Dante Cicchetti, and Bronwyn Becker have argued, “Resilience refers to a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity. Implicit within this notion are two critical conditions: (1) exposure to significant threat or severe adversity; and (2) the achievement of positive adaptation despite major assaults on the developmental process.”  This definition is especially helpful in highlighting a need to differentiate adverse experiences.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that greater individual resilience can be cultivated by several behaviors.  Four of the Mayo recommndations  that stand out in a wide range of scientific studies of resilience are:

  • Accept and anticipate change. Be flexible. Try not to be so rigid that even minor changes upset you or that you become anxious in the face of uncertainty. Expecting changes to occur makes it easier to adapt to them, tolerate them and even welcome them.
  • Get connected. Build strong, positive relationships with family and friends, who can listen to your concerns and offer support. Volunteer or get involved in your community.
  • Remain hopeful and optimistic. While you can’t change events, look toward the future, even if it’s just a glimmer of how things might improve. Find something in each day that signals a change for the better. Expect good results.
  • Work toward goals. Do something every day that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Even small, everyday goals are important. Having goals helps direct you toward the future.

Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail. (Tao te Ching)

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21, focused on public health and medical preparedness, calls for the cultivation of community resilience.  Some — including yours truly — have advocated resilience as a fundamental strategy of homeland security, extending from individual readiness to the design of physical and virtual infrastructure.

A 2007 study by the Israeli Trauma Center for the Victims of War and Terror found that societal resilience can be predicted when groups of individuals widely share,  “a feeling of personal security, social support and optimism…”

In a  Dartmouth Medical School study the authors found, “Community resilience emerges from four primary sets of adaptive capacities–Economic Development, Social Capital, Information and Communication, and Community Competence–that together provide a strategy for disaster readiness. To build collective resilience, communities must reduce risk and resource inequities, engage local people in mitigation, create organizational linkages, boost and protect social supports, and plan for not having a plan, which requires flexibility, decision-making skills, and trusted sources of information that function in the face of unknowns.”

Sounds about right to me. 

Yesterday Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Director, Initiative for Vaccine Research with the World Health Organization, said, “Vaccines will be available starting from September or October. If the situation remains as it is, of course the regulatory authorities will certainly want to have a better handle at the safety in clinical trials and doses in clinical trials and these clinical trials will take some time, and therefore, to have a full license of this new vaccine may take until the end of the year. This being said, many countries have provision in their law, so if there is an emergency they can invoke an emergency situation to use vaccine for which you would have already good characterization in terms of pharmaceutical data but not yet, all the data on clinical trials.”  What this suggests is a predictable need for systemic resilience… by individuals, pharmaceutical companies, regulatory agencies, the health care sector, and more.

Additional background:

Transcript of July 13 WHO media briefing (full of great information).

Mechanics of solids and the general theory of elasticity

Psychological Resilience and Positive Emotional Granularity

 What predicts psychological resilience after a disaster?

Resilience and Thriving: Issues, Models. and Linkages

Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, Project on Resilience and Security

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by William R. Cumming

July 14, 2009 @ 5:21 am

This is a really great posting. Unfortunately it reminds me of how the free market and capitalism may in fact be contrary to many of the concepts above that underly resiliencey in a society. So coming from the fuzzy headed liberal how about a posting on reconciliation of the free market and capitalism and resilency? Here is a starting point! Suppose a major grid outage knocked out power to NYC and the various trading centers for 6 weeks? This was played in an exercise conducted at BDM HQ’s in Fairfax in early 90’s! Don’t want to spoil the fun but after a day of high level play truth and reality was interjected by of all agencies the SEC! Will hold their input for later. Let’s just say that the exericise led to statutory changes used on and immediately after 9/11 that if not in place would really have demonstrated the highly expert targeting of AQ!

Comment by Pat Longstaff

July 14, 2009 @ 8:25 am

Bravo! Just what I’ve been looking for. Hope you don’t mind if I quote this at length (with attribution, of course). It seems to be clear that flexibility is important in all systems. And not just at the top – all the way down to the individual pieces (e.g., people) of the system. This has tremendous implications for policy because it means that one-size-fits all rules are not always the best.
William: Yes, this seems to indicate that neither no-government nor all-government is the best system. Every system has a blend of cooperation and competition. In adapting systems this blend changes over time. People who bet-the-store on one way or the other become brittle and (guess what?) not resilient to change. Economists who told us that efficiency is the Holy Grail did not understand that efficiency is often the enemy of resilience because it can make you brittle (more on this in my Harvard paper). The tradeoff has to be made intentionally for each organization and each person.
Oh, and I have both oaks and willows in my yard. Willows do sway in the breeze better but they are very brittle trees so are constantly breaking off and littering the ground with branches. In really big storms they are the first to go down.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 14, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

Why is my bamboo stand so resilient? Not planted by me but someone else over 60 years ago. Beautiful in its own way if somebody out there wants some for free. Need Pandas! Smithsonian said they would love it but live too far away! 145 miles instead of the 45 they wanted. It was to feed the pandas.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 14, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

The oak and willow rhyme makes an important point, but as Pat Longstaff notes the analogy is not entirely sufficient. Much depends on purpose and the range of threats.

Robert E. Lee was amazing in executing a flexible, supple, and yielding strategy. But, finally, Mr. Lincoln found Grant and Sherman and a great wind ripped up the willow by its roots.

When I lived in Japan I loved stands of bamboo. In this country I tend to view them — rather than attractively resilient — as persistently invasive. But this reflects a purposeful bias that not everyone will share.

Whether we are looking at physical, individual, or community resilience we must be mindful of our purposes and careful in evaluating our risks. This is not a trivial task at any level and increasingly difficult the more individuals are involved in the choosing.

Finally, it seems to me, resilience is about honest self-awareness, humility in making choices, and courage in implementing the choices. I have seen bureaucracies try to avoid these messy issues and I understand why. I have never seen the avoiding behaviors produce anything worthwhile. But I have seen self-awareness, humility, and courage produce great results.

Comment by Pat Longstaff

July 14, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

Phil, I think you have hit the essential core of the problem – making decisions that will not please everyone because everyone is situated differently. I’m sure it takes all three of the attributes you cite: self-awareness, humility, and courage. I wish I knew where they are valued and rewarded in public service.

But let’s give some serious thought to how a government would make public policy for a system where the individual people and organizations are not similarly situated. How would that square with our cherished Rule of Law?

Comment by Beth Terry, CSP

July 14, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

Phil – this is a brilliant and very helpful recap of a topic near and dear to my heart: Why does tragedy destroy some people and strengthen the resolve of others? How do some people come out unscathed from a disaster and others are devastated by it? And how can organizations foster resilience in their people? I agree with Pat Longstaff, it takes self awareness, humility and courage to survive in a world like we have today.

I think it also takes recognition of a bigger picture. When you can see a horizon beyond your current troubles; when you can see the proverbial ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel; when you know that pressing on will take you to a higher mountain peak – then you can move through and past the trouble. If all we see is trouble and no hope, then resilience becomes more difficult to find that core of resilience inside.

With your permission, I’d like to post a link to this article on my blog. I focus on teaching companies and staff to be more Resilient, and your article is a perfect companion to that.

Pingback by Cactus Wrangler » Resilience Fundamentals

July 14, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

[…] people, and to uncover gems in our research. Philip Palin has written such a gem in his article on Fundamentals of Resilience in Brief. He quotes from the Tao Te Ching. And this says it […]

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 15, 2009 @ 5:09 am

Okay the postscript to comment about the 6-week outage of power for NYC. At the end of the day of play an attendee who had said absolutely nothing during the day but happened to be the guy assisned EM duties at the SEC stood up and made the following comment (paraphrased here of course from my declinging memory)!
“I have listened to the exercise play all day and have this comment. Nothing I have heard makes sense based on actual knowledge of importance of NYC as the leading financial center of the US. Because such a center is constantly in competition with others world wide–six weeks off status would kill NYC as a financial center for the world and maybe even threaten US status as the leading financial center. What would happen is that the entirety of the US military and NG would be used to recreate power supply, housing, feeding and medical care for the financial community because without that focus nothing would get done and the US would be finished as the world’s economic center. The traders and financiers would have to be given what they need to get back up and running as fast as the nation’s assets of all kinds would allow it.”

Of course what is interesting about this is the postscript to the postscript. The room of high level Executive Branch players was silent as they were smart enought to recognize the truth of the SEC reps words. By the way he went back and got the SEC draft proposed legislation on emergency market closing which was completely inadequate at that point and Congress passed it and signed into law. Imagine that “market closing” legislation as part of resilience. Anyhow, signs of the truth of the SEC reps comments appeared again on 9/11. Much of the backroom activity of Wall Street even before 9/11 was going outside NYC before that date! Dispersal can be resilience and certainly BC–Business Contiunity is now big business. One of Clinton’s most competent Regional Director appointments was John Copenhaver who came to Region IV in Atlanta from IBM. I had not really thought much about business continuity (resilitence) before talking with John. But he told me that IBM was already seeing that as a profit center and was generating $5-6 billion a year in revenues already and saw that doubling or tripling each decade. Anyhow some excellent work is being done in Business Continuity generally and a fine free journal produced by the Arnold family –Disaster Recovery Journal is available for background info. largely vendor supported but has good technical articles and conferences. Sorry to make a plug but only one I know of in this arena. I wish each professional discipline would spend more time thinking about resiliency. Is a will or advance directive resiliency? This whole thread has been very interesting Phil. Congrats again.

Pingback by Resilience as public policy: moving from the individualistic to the systematic | Homeland Security Watch

July 19, 2009 @ 5:29 am

[…] week as part of a reasonably extended discussion of resilience Pat Longstaff commented, “I’m sure it takes all three of the attributes (cited): […]

Pingback by Homeland security this week | Homeland Security Watch

July 20, 2009 @ 4:54 am

[…] Before starting the new week, please see a Sunday morning post on resilience, just a quick scroll below.  This builds on a post and comments from Bastille Day. […]

Comment by christopher tingus

July 21, 2009 @ 5:53 am

As I looked forward to my first trip down the Nile and quite enthusiastic in meeting the Egyptian people and walking their streets in awe of their impressive achievements so long ago, I recall reading a commentary about “resilience” of the Egyptian people by Fakri Hassan.

“Congregating along the margins of the Nile Valley, as droughts gripped the eastern Mediterranean, the inhabitants on the Nile were introduced to farming and hearding 7,000 years ago. Once they began to depend on farming for their livelihood, the Egyptians were inexorably linked to the vageries of Nile floods. They responded to crisis with ingenuity manifesting the ‘resilience’ that has so far enabled humanity to survive daunting conditions.”

Pat and Phil, I certainly concur that self-awareness, humility and courage are prerequisite attributes are necessary to survive and creativity is evoked, however I must add prayer to our Creator as superceding all other….

As I study past civilizations especially those that existed 7-10,000 years ago, I find man’s inherent resilience to adapt to challenges quite apparent, however with today’s technology so linked to so much of man’s daily discipline, because of our vulnerabilities as a result, I believe prayer is integral for man’s weaknesses in greed, arrogance, and self-serving agenda today has corrupted mankind to the extent that mankind’s survival hangs by a button ready to bring us to near-extinction.

God’s weeping tears as he sees so much strife and “weakness” in those pledging themselves and “entrusted” to serve the majority interests as well as in human beings from here to yonder in their daily interactions pervaded in hatred and argumentative manner with so much disrespect for the individual.

If I may add prayer and certainly, repentence, for with these attributes and passion in self-awareness, humility and courage, we pray that mankind will become more self-aware of the need for humility and the courage to challenge one’s self and those that prefer performing dastardly acts of degradation of others.

Another great post! Thank you.

It is also good to see others reading willing to share their valued thoughts and concerns about the plight of mankind’s woes in the 21st century when one would of expected prayer, repentence, self-awareness, humility and courage to have led one another to not necessaarily embrace one another, but to at least respect one another. We must take the time to read history, not amend it to fashion it to our preference. We must make an attempt to understand one another and how we have been affected by the past to better prepare us for the future. God Bless us all!

Christopher Tingus

*We must thwart the ever growing bureaucracy before us as it will choke our ability to act expediently and with proficiency.

Our Republic was founded on Judeo-Christian values as individuals mustered the courage to flee the King and his taxes and fees….

From Town Meeting to Congress and to the White House, Mr. President, the people are the master and those that serve must do so without self-agenda for it is with clarity that we see the lack of transparency today impoverishing the most charitable people to have ever existed….God Bless America!

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Resilience as Karma?

October 18, 2010 @ 6:09 am

[…] Fundamentals of Resilience in Brief from a 2009 HLSWatch Post Permalink | | Comment on this Post » […]

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>