Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 4, 2011

Resilience = Risk awareness + Personal responsibility + Relationships

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on February 4, 2011

Last week several of us agreed, disagreed, discussed and attempted to discern the meaning involved in a collision between tens-of-thousands of National Capital Region commuters with five inches of snow.   This week it was the turn of commuters from Oklahoma City to Boston with a foot or more of snow.

Immediately below  — with thanks to the Chicago Sun-Times —  is Tuesday night’s outcome along Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive.

“We know that hundreds of people were very inconvenienced, and we apologize for that,” Mayor Daley’s Chief of Staff Ray Orozco said.

“While we wanted to get to these people as quickly as possible, we wanted to get to them as safely as possible,” Orozco said.

Some motorists criticized the hours of delay, as they coped without food or water in their cars.

Lincoln Park resident Julius Jellinek, who was trapped on Lake Shore Drive for six hours, called it “a disgrace” that the city took as long as it did to move cars blocking the exit ramps.

“There was absolutely no reason to hold us hostage,” he said. “With a little planning or a little thinking, they could take all of the cars off Lake Shore Drive, the ones that were stuck.”


To which I feel compelled to respond, might others than the government have done a little planning or a little thinking before the blizzard arrived?

Sunday afternoon I was talking to my Dad who lives in rural Illinois.  A rigid rule for Midwesterners is to acknowledge the weather.  “Sounds like a really big one heading your way Tuesday, eh Dad?”  “Well, its our turn.  Good couple of days to stay home and drink coffee.”  Perhaps all those trapped on LSD were not real Midwesterners but Californians on vacation.

On Monday, January 31 the Chicago Tribune’s Weather Center said of Tuesday, “Snowfall totals in excess of 12 inches coupled with winds of 25 to 40 mph will make long distance travel extremely dangerous if not impossible.”  Short-distance too.

Something Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive commuters shared with those on the District’s 16th Street a week before was the timing of the storm.  In each case, the really bad weather rolled in during mid-to-late afternoon on a work day.   On Tuesday the first snow-bands hit Chicago shortly after 2:00PM.

Here’s a Tribune weather blog about an hour after the first snowflakes: “3:31PM  UPDATE: From bad to worse.   Winds gusting to 40mph will make this storm a showstopper.   A spotter in Tinley Park reports that visibility is down to zero with snow drifts building quickly.”

We should be encouraged that over the last week usage of the National Weather Service website increased five-fold.  Most Chicagoans and others were paying attention and making mindful choices.

Maybe the glass is more than half-full… even eighty-percent full.  In both the NCR and Cook County the vast majority minimized their risk.  Some others understood the risk, made the best choice they could, and lost the bet.  Still others were oblivious.  Taken together the unlucky and stupid probably total no more than Professor Pareto’s twenty-percent.  But is it possible we spend 80 percent of our time, energy, and money on that twenty-percent (or less)? (See more on the Pareto principle)

In both Chicago and the National Capital Region the weather (risk) forecast was accurate.  But many either missed or discounted the risk.  We do the same with hurricanes, wildfires, terrorism, and industrial catastrophes.  Unfortunately, it can go from bad to worse very quickly… and twenty percent can add up to a great many.

Real resilience will never emerge from a government program, though government programs can help or hurt.  Real resilience is the outcome of personal and social habits involving attention, self-reliance, and other-awareness (another way of rendering the headline).   It is my experience that most people are inclined toward resilience and welcome working with others to enhance overall resilience.  I am not sure how to address the persistently oblivious minority.

Even if the risk is communicated — clearly and in advance — some significant number will not plan or think about the risk until too late.  It is the grasshopper and the ants all over again.  Because I am in relationship with the grasshopper — and enjoy his music — I want to help as much as possible.  But when the grasshopper’s own choice (or non-choice) puts him at risk, could we at least stop criticizing the ant for not getting there more quickly?

No wonder emergency responders are so often fond of dark humor.  They need to laugh or they might cry.

Sally Forth on February 1, 2011 by Francesco Marciuliano, drawn by Craig Macintosh, distributed by King Features.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 4, 2011 @ 2:23 am

Amanda Ripley’s book “The Unthinkable–who survives a disaster and why” gives useful insights. Survival in crisis situation is not just luck. She also has an interesting blog.

Maybe the believers in Global Warming just thought that blizzards had ended instead of understanding nature.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 4, 2011 @ 8:37 am

Bill’s right. I just bought fifty copies of “The Unthinkable” to distribute. It’s strength is the use of narrative to push readers to think about risk-awareness, personal responsibility, and relationships. You can see more at: http://www.amandaripley.com/

A couple of emails this morning ask if I am disagreeing with Mark’s Wednesday post. I don’t think so (but Mark, you tell me). Mark offers five key characteristics of resilience: local, simple, varied, connected, and open. These might be framed as the strategic characteristics of resilience. I am offering three tactical expressions. I find the two approaches complementary, different angles on the same framework. It also seems to me helpful that Mark was applying the framework to a social/political revolution and I was applying it to a snowstorm.

Over the last several months I have perceived two different — but equally deadly — engagements with resilience. One, to which I have contributed, is overly focused on the definition. The other approach uses the term indiscriminately and with no clear meaning at all. Each approach is an abstraction. Each is reducing the possibility that resilience will have any real impact.

We need to get beyond the abstractions to grounded-meaning-in-action.

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February 5, 2011 @ 7:47 am

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Comment by John G. Comiskey

February 10, 2011 @ 6:47 am

Hadn’t watched the Disney cartoon in many moons …and probably missed the lesson to be learned. Similarly, as a teen, I missed the sarcasm and moral relevancy of many of the themes in M*A*S*H.

Just the same, the boy scouts taught me to be prepared.

Like most of us, I have grappled with the 80/20 paradox. I have both celebrated and abused the 20%, i.e. if I needed something important done, the 20% typically got it. Likewise, I was a beneficiary and victim of the 20% rule. Most times I mustered on, but on other occasions, I felt a sense of resentment. Why did I work harder than many of my coworkers and mostly without remuneration?

More importantly, superstar management is used by some to the detriment of others who get stuck with their 80% and a share of someone else’s 80% and that can cause gridlock. Back to the 80%, the bottom end, what I call the horrible 10% or the world owes them a living cohort: they can drain the blood from your body.

Cheers to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliance.

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