Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 6, 2011

Resilient Character

Filed under: Futures,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on April 6, 2011

Last week I noted the grassroots movement to rebuild Christchurch, New Zealand’s earthquake devastated core, and the interest expressed in applying principles sustainable urban development. Phil Palin’s Monday updates to his post on Japan’s transition from response to recovery suggest Japanese leaders also see an opportunity to apply innovative thinking to manage ecological impacts as they rebuild the areas shattered by the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011.

I think Phil and I both sought to make cases that such adaptations reflect a certain philosophical consistency or congruence with the principles of resilience that have represented a central theme in many of our respective posts. This should not, however, be taken to suggest that either of us see sustainability and resilience as synonymous or for that matter we see one necessarily leading to the other.

Most conventional definitions of sustainability start with an emphasis on making decisions today in ways that avoid identifiable impacts on future generations. Resilience starts with the same locus of control, but assumes a different outcome.

When we think about sustainability and act with a view toward the future needs of others, we are doing so in the hope, if not the expectation, that the decisions and actions we take can either prevent some future harm or yield some future benefit to others. When we look to the future from the perspective of resilience, we may also be concerned with preventing some specific harm or controlling circumstances that make us vulnerable.

What distinguishes sustainability and resilience, in my mind at least, is the object of these actions. Choices influenced by the ethos of sustainability seek to limit our contribution to phenomena that can do others like us similar harms in the future. Resilience, on the other hand, seeks to manage how we react to the occurrence of these phenomena when the inevitably recur or are replaced by something equally disruptive.

In the aftermath of a disaster, making a commitment to rebuilding sustainably suggests resilience. If people can look beyond the exigencies of their own immediate needs and think about the future they will leave for others then I think we can say with some confidence that they possess a certain degree of resilience.

That said, acting sustainability may be much harder for shattered communities to say they seek than it is for them to achieve in the end. Striving for sustainability suggests a resilient spirit. Achieving sustainable outcomes in the recovery process demonstrates resilient character.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 6, 2011 @ 2:04 am

Nice post! Perhaps some dreaming would help. What if each major metro area had together with hazard identification and current mitigation a wild blue yonder plan in case of the worst case–relocation, revision, replacement, renewal, reconstruction etc with current limitations described and ways around to achieve an entirely new idea of the metro area and its future role and success. In other words what might be and how to get there.
Lifelines is a term used in EM to describe how large urban areas get their basics. Do these existing structures block any real conceptual thinking on how to lessen vulnerability in the future.

Hey Libya has some critical infrastructure. A $33 B water processing plant draining their biggest aquifer to give water to all towns on the coast. Seize and hold. Sell drinking water to only your friends?

To my mind water and demography determine urban resilience assuming economic base exists. Why do we know so little publicly about the water supply of each SMSA? Some are not viable now with even 10% growth. Hey don’t ask the
Chamber of Commerce.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 6, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

Apparently a new HSPD replacing HSPD 5 & 8 was signed by President Obama last week but text not yet available. Title is NATIONAL PREPREDNESS!

Comment by John G. Comiskey

April 6, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

Preparedness comes under the heading of things that we were taught or should have been taught before we graduated high school.

But, U.S. secondary schools that were designed to prepare students for adulthood now prepare or claim to prepare students for college under the assumption that every high school student should go to college. Alternately, American society wants to claim that every American high school student was afforded the opportunity to attend high school. End result, many students that would have been tracked and better served by trade school curriculums now sit around college (mostly community colleges) and take remedial courses and mostly drop out by their second semesters. Our dysfunctional educational system does little to prepare student for the future.

Our political system rejects the notion of long term planning. When was the last time a President said, this is our 25 or 100 year plan. George Friedman’s The Next 100 Years is instructive, but not a good political strategy.

Back to resilience and sustainability. Both are hard sells to an entailment and immediate gratification culture that rejects the idea of preparing for a rainy day. IMHO, protracted prosperity has spoiled American society and nobody want to tell us to grow up. Things are bad and still we reject budget cuts.

“Austerity now OR meta-austerity later” doesn’t get you elected or airtime.

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