Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 19, 2011

Mitigation is to resilience as storm cellars are to root cellars

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 19, 2011

The new National Preparedness Goal is “a secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”

The upgrade given mitigation is arguably the most important policy shift represented in the NPG.   Mitigate now joins Prevent, Protect, Respond, and Recover as “Mission Areas.”  Once the red-headed stepchild of preparedness, mitigate has — at least intellectually — been fully accepted as a strategic priority.

According to the NPG several “core capabilities” are necessary to achieve the mitigation mission area, including:

  • Community Resilience
  • Long-term Vulnerability Reduction
  • Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment
  • Threats and Hazard Identification

The details of these capabilities are not — yet — specified.  The forthcoming National Preparedness System is likely to provide much more.  All of these capabilities have significant pedigrees in both research and practice.

There has tended to be an engineering orientation to mitigation.   Fifty-four of 77 examples in the FEMA Mitigation Best Practices Portfolio relate to flooding.  A specific threat is identified, vulnerabilities related to the threat are assessed, risk is reduced usually through some change in the built environment.  You can see this same logic embedded in the capability list.  All of this is helpful and works for earthquakes, wildfires, industrial accidents, and terrorism too.

According to the NPG mitigation is, “The capabilities necessary to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters.”  Unpacking the definition, this suggests that community resilience (see capability list above) contributes to mitigation.

As a strategic principle I would turn this around: mitigation contributes to community resilience.  Resilience and mitigation can be complementary.  But they are also quite distinct. The very best mitigation cannot ensure resilience.  Nor does less-than-full mitigation negate the possibility of significant resilience.   If I had to choose, I would choose resilience over mitigation.

Fortunately, we don’t have to choose.  Attention to both mitigation and resilience is helpful.

The NPG defines resilience as, “The ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies.”

The use of steel reinforcement to allow buildings to sway with an earthquake is an example of both mitigation and resilience.  The ability of the Internet to allow information-packets to find multiple open channels and opportunistically use whatever is available is another example of resilient design that can mitigate the impact of a threat.

But resilience and especially community resilience is much more than mitigating impact.

Last Thursday I was driving a narrow road through rural Virginia when the radio sounded a tornado warning.  The rain and wind were already strong.  At the first opportunity I pulled off at a convenience store to allow the tornado, about five miles ahead, to finish its run Northeast.

Paying for coffee and a cookie I asked the sales clerk if she had heard the tornado warning.  Glancing at the rain lashing the windows she replied, “Nope.  No radio.  Grew up in Oklahoma thought I’d gotten away from ’em. ”

I showed her the tornado’s track on my smartphone’s screen.

“Funny thing.  Both my grands (grandparents) had storm cellars, purpose built in the backyard,” she said. “We never did and no basement neither.  Just a ranch house on a slab.  Was like we don’t believe in tornadas no more.”

The storm cellars — my mother’s parents in Oklahoma also had one — are examples of mitigation.   But as the sales clerk observed, before mitigation there was something the authors of the NPG would no doubt call “Threat and Hazard Identification” (this is tornado alley) and “Risk and Disaster Resilience Assessment”  (I need a place to be protected from a tornado) which leads to “Long-term Vulnerability Reduction” (I will build a storm cellar).  In other words, our grandparents actively acknowledged a realistic threat.

On May 22 the residents of Joplin, Missouri were alerted to a Tornado Watch at 1:30 PM local time.   A Tornado Warning was br0adcast at 5:09.  Sirens were sounded at 5:11.  The killer tornado touched down southwest of Joplin at 5:34.  According to a study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  “The majority of surveyed Joplin residents did not immediately go to shelter upon hearing the initial warning.”  There were 159 deaths and several hundred injuries.

“Was like we don’t believe in tornadas no more.”

I was never in a storm cellar during a storm.  Several times I was in the cellar to retrieve a sack of potatoes or a jar of preserves.  Most storm cellars were also used to store what was harvested from the garden.  Every storm cellar I can remember was dug next to the garden.

You can argue that gardening is also a mitigation measure (against hunger).  But that would squeeze all the joy out of it.  My father’s parents owned grocery stores, but were also gardeners.  I have never had such luscious tomatoes, fresh or canned, since they stopped gardening.

Here’s my hypothesis:  As gardening declined and home refrigeration increased, storm (root) cellars fell into disuse, eventual disrepair, became a hazard themselves, and were filled in. The prospect of tornadoes was not sufficient  to sustain the mitigation activity.  The need for a cool dark place to store vegetables was a crucial indirect motivation for the mitigation.

We never really believed in “tornadas”, but once upon a time we believed in tomatoes (and green beans and peas and potatoes) and retrieving the taste of an August garden deep into February.

Resilience is the outcome of positive behaviors regularly practiced.  Resilience is being aware and appreciative of your environment. Resilience is being enmeshed in a dense network of human relationships.  Resilience is caring for yourself and others.

Resilience is about tomatoes.  Mitigation is about tornadoes.


For a more technical take on resilience:

Resilience: Five principles of good practice

A Super-cell outbreak is one kind of complex threat: Do the principles of good practice apply?

Principles of good practice for advancing resilience: Awareness of complex context and connections

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 19, 2011 @ 4:14 am

Interesting post! I also believe that mitigation supports resilience. While FEMA does little in the way of support to research on disasters [it did so at one time]it does have documentation concluding that the poorer you are the more likely you will NOT perhaps not ever recover from a disaster, even if your life is saved. I believe mitigation costs money but very worthwhile. The funding both by individual and community is very important. There does seem to be a relationship between communities with strong building and zoning enforcement being more resilient. Is it because they do mitigation? Is it because they are richer? Is it because they are more educated? Professor Susan Cutting, PhD, is doing a terrific job studying social vulnerability and disasters. Her work is worth a read as to resilience for individuals and communities.

It does seem that both political parties now race to undercut resilience and the sinews of preparedness. Why one might ask as the research shows such high payoffs of benefits vis a vis costs? Is it because we don’t manage disaster relief as investment but instead as relief?

FEMA’s real job should be to help prevent disasters and promote mitigation and resilience. Unfortunately its basic organization is not set up to do that and yes mitigation is the red-headed step child.

Comment by John Plodinec

October 19, 2011 @ 8:59 am

Enjoyed the post! Resilience – like mitigation – is also a cost effective way to lessen the toll of a disaster. There is some excellent work by Rick Weil at LSU that points out that poorer citizens who were part of a social network (particularly the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, and the Village L’Est Vietnamese fishing community) recovered about as rapidly from Katrina as the more affluent. As you say – “Resilience is being enmeshed in a dense network of human relationships.”

I tend to look at mitigation and resilience in terms of the classic loss-recovery curve. Mitigation reduces losses so that there are more resources left available for recovery. Resilience is essentially measured by the area of the curve. Thus, mitigation is an important part of resilience, but not the whole enchilada – er, tomato.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 20, 2011 @ 12:42 am

Susan Cutter apologies!

Comment by Amanda Shinn

October 24, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

“Resilience is the outcome of positive behaviors regularly practiced. Resilience is being aware and appreciative of your environment.” I would also like to add that people should not only appreciate it but also respect it. Environment has power and just because people “don’t believe in tornadoes anymore” doesn’t mean they can not take/harm human life. Regional areas need to recognize the threats that pose the most damage to their area and address ways the public can mitigate accordingly. People that have these cellars that could protect lives during natural disasters that do not use them in the appropriate times is a shame and shows an area of disconnect. Building awareness and emphasizing the importance of such procedures could reconnect people with safety plans and practices. Resiliency includes human life and even just simple practices like using storm cellars contributes to our nations resilience as a whole.

Your correlation between gardening and mitigation is interesting and enlightening.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 25, 2011 @ 4:31 am

Amanda, To be explicit, I think the biggest challenge for mitigation is to find a positive reason to mitigate. We are inclined to underestimate risks, especially less frequent and high consequence risks. Homeland security — and especially counterterrorism — tends to emphasize the negative. If my hypothesis regarding storm cellars and roots cellars has any validity, what can HS do to lead with the positive?

Comment by Amanda Shinn

October 25, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

I think innovation is key in ways that you mention steel reinforcement has been for buildings. Being technologically imaginative and using resources to their utmost potential could produce positive results-especially in the cyber-world. Producing more goods and services as a whole could aid in resiliency and affect other areas of government positively too. I think always being on the defense and countering contributes to the negativity in HS. I find it important for the public/private sector to take an offensive position and a way of doing so in regards to HS could be acknowledging the biggest posed threats while also incorporating ways of mitigating them that contribute to the success of their organization.

Comment by Patrick Casey

October 25, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

Mitigation and Resilience are “complimentary” in many ways and share some of the same core principles, however; resilience picks up where mitigation falls short. Preparing for what we can predict or safely assume, such as a tornado in tornado alley or a hurricane on the coast, is crucial to preserving our way of life. Resilience has long been the post event question mark; will a community, a region, a nation pull itself out of a tragedy, or will chaos and loss continue on? Precautions can be taken to strengthen or mitigate a tragedy such as, improving infrastructure or preparing shelters to address an unavoidable event. Still, the post-event is where the challenge will always be the greatest. Resilience absolute is dependent on human behavior and relationships both post and pre-event. Mitigation can lead to a false sense of security. People can become reliant on authorities or strong infrastructure or the absence of a tragedy over an extended period of time; this leads to humans not only being unprepared physically, but mentally. Being unprepared physically can be overcome by having mental resilience. Lacking mental resilience is almost impossible to overcome; therefore, the worst is still ahead of a person or society.

Discussing, educating, and demonstrating the importance of resilience is the best chance society has to getting back to normalcy after an event. Resilience is the need to always be prepared for the worse and unimaginable as well as, being ready to become self-efficient, and possibly a part of the responds. New York City was praised for being so resilient after 9/11 because so many outsiders and New Yorkers became part of the response to the attacks. New York demonstrated that responds was more than just uniformed officials. Such responders included stores and companies proving goods to assist with clean up, nutriment, treatment, and comfort of the responders as well as, volunteers that gave their time to help with the little things. While we have many Homeland Security stakeholders who are highly trained, good at their jobs, and do mitigate the next tragedy daily, resilience can be the job of all citizens.

Comment by Richard Pincus

October 25, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

Mitigation vs. Resilience: is something that weighs heavily on my mind. Ten years after 9/11 our nation is becoming more resilient than ever and we are more successful in our attempts to mitigate future attacks. So I like the fact that both are part of the same discussion. As a Security Professional and student of Homeland Security, I am asking myself the following questions everyday. Has our government done their part to protect our citizens? Has it learned from its mistakes in its ability to share information while paying closer attention to detail? Has the elitist approach of many of Homeland Security’s 22 agencies been cooperative in their efforts? Our nation’s resiliency in its adaptability for change over the past ten years created a new way of thinking at airports, sporting events etc.. We are getting closer to being more comfortable to our new way of life now more than ever. We’ve adapted to being a nation that is more prepared to go into their storm cellars, seal our windows and open a can of fruit than ever before. Your waitress from the coffee shop is similar to NYC in that she doesn’t think she needs a storm cellar. Before 9/11/01 NYC thought we did not need one on our Homeland either.

I understand how important mitigation is especially since I spend most of my day in NYC. While resilience is what NYC has been a model for I believe we have created a city that is constantly on alert. So the mix of Mitigation and Resiliency has now become our way of life.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 26, 2011 @ 4:00 am

Patrick, So what I hear you suggesting is that while related, mitigation is mostly a physical matter, while resilience is mostly a psycho-social matter. Have I heard you correctly? Is there an approach to mitigation that can/could advance resilience? Can we “mitigate” human behavior that results in more resilient individuals and neighborhoods? Even if we can, is this an appropriate task for homeland security?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 26, 2011 @ 4:05 am

Richard, In regard to your focus on being alert: How does being alert contribute to mitigation? How does being alert contribute to resilience? I think there are important connections, but I sometimes wonder if they require different sorts of attention… and the difference in attention may be crucial to the effectiveness of homeland security.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 26, 2011 @ 4:07 am

Amanda, Thanks for the response. In terms of “biggest posed threats”: Are you referring to biggest in terms of likelihood, or biggest in terms of consequence, or biggest in what way?

Comment by Chris Ogunade

October 26, 2011 @ 11:08 am

Resilience vs Mitigation.
The connection between both comes down to a definition. Resilience is seen as positive adaptability/flexibility to change, while Mitigation is a post-event actions to bounce back to the normal way of life. Both require preparation even with the need for more emphasis in being resilient. Where they differ is in actively seeking knowledge(initiative)and being creative in action.

We as human have a bad habit of complacency and a very short memory.Take the case of the Tornado in Joplin. It is obvious the warning was not successful in creating an urgency in what was possible thus the results. We might have to make changes how we communicate and probably choose better wording for definitions. I would say Resilience is SURVIVAL. This is not meant to alarm, but coin a term that would in hopes aid in creating positive habits that at best keeps more alive and at worst we can mitigate. It would not hurt when communicating to not on give information on possible damage that can occur, real examples of that level of destruction could also be communicated and its aftermath. This in no way should take the place of communication necessary steps and instructions as per the new HLS Advisory System.

Comment by Javed Narain

October 26, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

The article greatly illustrates the relationship between mitigation and resilience. These two elements are intangible parts of homeland security that are certainly needed but difficult to measure. The article creates great illusions to the two in referencing the storm shelters. Defining the two is very important. In my opinion, mitigation is a result of the inevitable truth that we cannot prevent all threats. Therefore, mitigation means curbing loss or destruction in the event of an attack or disaster. Resilience is a bit more complex. It is a characteristic that has always existed in a national security capacity, but it has become a definitive mission area with specific parameters following 9/11. Resilience is overcoming adversity by definition but is the realm of homeland security, it is the practice of recovery and adapting to emergency situations. The article describes the two as complimentary with which i agree, but i feel in many situations, one supplements the other. This relationship obviously varies and the comparison to tomatoes and tornadoes draws great parallels. In terms of our current homeland security status, i feel that mitigation supplements resiliency. While prevention is paramount, recovery follows closely behind. Many of the mitigative measures that we do practice today are to ensure resilience because of the ever-evolving threats that we do face.

Comment by Javed Narain

October 26, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

Richard, that is a great example of resiliency and mitigation in practice. Do you think that many of our mitigative measures are a product of our resilient ways or vice versa. I think that depending on the situation they may operate concurrently or they may supplement each other? Relative to your career in the NYPD and your current line of work, how do you view the working relationship between the two?

Comment by JOHN BRAY

October 26, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

I’m so glad that Mitigation is now included in the discussion of Homeland Security. Emergency Preparedness is about acknowledging that there will be damage and finding out ways to prevent any extensive damage. The storm cellar is a great example of this; it says I will abandon my house to preserve my life.

Comment by Richard Pincus

October 26, 2011 @ 10:00 pm

Alertness can mitigate a dangerous problem by using the basic strategies of “see something say something”. The phrase has been so overused but has been ingrained into every American’s way of life. With cell phones and CCTV constantly in use, our nation has every citizen participating in mitigation. We have heard this on television, at baseball games and so forth. Are Americans on alert, are terrorists on alert? If we continue to be vigilante in our efforts we can remain successful. Another example is if a large quantity of fertilizer is purchased, there are policies in place, which will alert the authorities to the purchase, pre 9/11 this was not the case. Alertness and mitigation can go hand in hand if we continue to make the public aware. Being alert contributes to resilience as well, as we have seen how adaptable we have become as a nation. Airport security, vehicle checkpoints, a constant visible Police presence in our major cities, all have made us quite resilient in this new age of freedom.

Comment by Richard Pincus

October 26, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

Relative to your career in the NYPD and your current line of work, how do you view the working relationship between the two?

The Police Department changes policies as soon as something goes wrong, it’s a bit reactive but the department quickly adapts. Through political backlash and criticism, the beat goes on and the job gets done. Whether it’s a shooting in Brooklyn of a mother of 13 or a large protest, the department does what it is trained to do. With crime on an increase and manpower being exhausted throughout the city, many of the tools that the NYPD used to mitigate crime is slowly ceasing. So how resilient will the NYPD be when they realize that they are short manpower and funding? Time will tell.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 27, 2011 @ 8:11 am

Richard, In regard to the following:

“Airport security, vehicle checkpoints, a constant visible Police presence in our major cities, all have made us quite resilient in this new age of freedom.”

I’m not sure if this is meant as ironic or serious?

Seems to me that protective actions — such as those you listed — while certainly having a role to play, can actually suppress resilience by encouraging the public to perceive the authorities have it covered… and it is their responsibility not the public’s.

Another analogy: One of the big lessons from the March 11 earthquake-and-tsunami in Japan has been that expensive protective actions (such as sea walls) tend to increase vulnerability, while mitigation actions, such as less expensive inland breakwaters, tend to decrease vulnerability. Part of the reason is that protection reinforces a tendency to deny the risk, while mitigation serves to remind the public of the risk.

(Another interesting element of the Japan lessons-learned: in places where breakwaters were used the ground between the seashore and the breakwater was usually committed to agriculture or parkland which provided a kind of “tomato-like” character to the mitigation effort.)

Comment by Chris Ogunade

October 27, 2011 @ 8:16 am

You make great points on strides in resiliency in the major cities. I am curious to know what forms of creativity is being fostered outside major/well funded cities. Are they of the same thought as the above sales clerk? Do they realize the importance/urgency of constant practice of resilience/mitigation? Are any major steps being taken to create a culture of preparedness? I ask this due to my ignorance of this situation.

P.S. I pose this question to all.

Comment by Elizabeth Boyd

October 27, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

Great post and one that really got me thinking about resilience and mitigation and their important role in protecting the homeland! This post and the story intertwined within its message go to the heart of the issue that I believe is plaguing our nation in terms of protecting the homeland and defending the nation from future attacks. The struggle of devoting necessary resources to resilience and mitigation efforts is constant; however the benefits are blatantly obvious and have shown to increase survivability for all communities. I look at resiliency and mitigation as building upon each other. The greater the efforts to be resilient, the better we can mitigated the threats that await our nation. That being said, resiliency means that we have greater security efforts strengthening the many threads of our nation. I think one of the issues that we as players in homeland security are dealing with is complacency and the fact that the memory of the American citizen is very short. Over ten years have passed since 9/11 and yet efforts to increase resiliency in communities nationwide are still lacking in the ability to reduce the impact of a possible event; we continue to remain vulnerable and not mitigating many threats that we are aware of, thereby remaining unprepared for those that we are not. As we move further from 9/11, like the idea of the tornado shelter, we move away from that fresh image of a terrorist attack on our own soil and move away from the urgency needed to keep resiliency and therefore mitigation efforts alive and active. While we cannot live in a state of fear and security measures nationwide have increased in the last ten years, there remains a scary and constant danger in letting our guard down no matter how many years roll by.

Comment by Paul Dohrenwend

October 27, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

I agree with the idea that most people now do not see mother nature as a relevant threat. We saw this with Katrina and also with the tornadoes that we as a culture don’t put stake in disaster recovery anymore. As you illustrated the women in the post just ignored tornadoes much like how people along the eastern shore where I live ignore hurricanes. Just this summer when Irene touched down barely anyone left and just assumed it would be fine and to just get a couple of sand bags. I think we as a national don’t feel as if we need to be resilient and protected both on a micro/macro level. We don’t take a large stake in natural disaster recovery because most people don’t feel like they are going to be a victim of such a event and pay no mind until it happens. This also was apparent with 9/11 no one saw it coming and no one believed that America could be so open to attack. I think as a nation we become resilient after something happens which isn’t always a good thing. Anticipation is important and both threats small and large should be considered important.

Comment by David Luongo

October 27, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

Mr. Palin,

I very much enjoyed your article and found the analogies to gardening and storm cellars quite helpful and clever. My current line of work is in the fire service as an officer in a local Fire Department. In my last ten years as a firefighter, I have seen us (the Nation) make incredible amounts of improvement in terms of mitigation. We have done much to encourage the adoption of codes and standards that reduce our vulnerability to disaster. However, I feel our steps towards resiliency are still in their infancy. After disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, resiliency often takes the spotlight as a social issue. However, I believe that spotlight soon fades. Soon after Hurricane Irene this summer my town began to analyze our resiliency and ability to support our population in the face of a large-scale disaster. We soon discovered that our town (population 25,000) and many others like it lack adequate resources to effectively recover from a large-scale disaster such as Hurricane Irene. The actual effects of the Hurricane were relatively minor on a grand scale, however, the lack of preparedness of our citizens and infrastructure turned the minor effects into a major issue. This is rather typical of towns in my area (north and west of NYC). I firmly believe that education of the public about resiliency and disasters is the unequivocally best way to encourage preparedness and aid recovery. Citizens can generally prepare for themselves, and the financial burden upon the municipality is significantly lightened. The general lack of awareness is well demonstrated by your anecdote about the tornado in Virginia. I think the same can be said about my area; however, we seem to “just don’t believe in disasters anymore” – not just tornadas.

Comment by Javed Narain

October 27, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

Great insight Rick. Adaptability is such a major characteristic in the realm of homeland security and sometimes we need to understand that political backlash and fire from the media cannot deter actions that will eventually get the job done in good faith.

Comment by Jessica Tew

October 27, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

Mitigation, Prevention, Protection, Responding, and Recovering are all characteristics of the “Mission Areas” for the NPG but should also be apart of the everyday life in this nation. It saddens me to see that many Americans believe that these duties listed in the Mission areas are solely up to the American Government and do not need to be thought about by them. As Americans it is our duty to prepare, protect, mitigate, respond, and recover from whatever occurs. The example about the Tornado in Missouri instantly reminded me of Hurricane katrina,not for the simple fact that they were natural disasters which led to a high death toll but because of the citizen response and lack of mitigation in these times. Just as in Katrina the citizens of Missouri were given time to attempt to mitigate the situation and to prevent serious injury and death for themselves and their families but many didn’t take the time to do so. If only these people would have responded when they were given the warning that the tornado was approaching or in the case of Katrina when thousands were being evacuated and still there were many people who were refusing to do so. Natural disasters, terrorism attacks and accidents are all real whether one believes or not. This untouchable attitude that was here pre-9/11 and seems to be back in the years following 9/11 is only going to cause more danger in the long run. Just as the store clerk said about not believing in tornado’s anymore it seems many American’s have gone back to their pre 9/11 ways of feeling as though there is no terrorism. Further on that point is the idea that preparation, prevention, mitigation and response are all duties that fall solely on the governments and not on us as the citizens. The government can only do so much in a time of crisis but when one is told to evacuate this is when it is your time to step in and take charge- either you do it or you don’t and the consequences fall on your decision. Whether it be a natural disaster or an attack it will always be a joint effort between the Federal government, local government, private sectors and the citizens to use the National Protection Goal to deal with the situation at hand.

Comment by Elizabeth Boyd

October 28, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

Rick and Jared- I think the media plays such a role in homeland security and is often overlooked for its importance these days in our society. While the media has such a crucial role in reporting pertinent information regarding security measures, national disasters, upcoming weather, and attacks on our homeland, that role also involves a responsibility to encourage people to be resilience and promote the importance preparing for emergencies of all shapes and sizes. I also believe the media has a responsibility to the people of this nation to portray the news accurately and not promote excess fear and anxiety, making the lives of the first responders even more challenging. The media walks a fine line of social responsibility and their role in society and I think often crosses that line in the name of promoting news. Being resilient is not ingrained in this society despite many events that should have instigated resiliency in the mindset of the American people. The media, in its critical way of doing business needs to work hand and hand with first responders and government officials to promote resilience and work towards mitigating the threats. Constantly critiquing the agencies and people working towards homeland security without helping them do their job in moving this nation to be more resilient, will only hinder efforts. And while it is not necessarily the place of the media to be responsible for assisting in homeland security, the presence of the media in this society is so strong and so many people depend on it for their “view of the world” and way of thinking, the opportunity to do good in this area should be captured.

Comment by Patrick Casey

October 28, 2011 @ 11:02 pm

I do not believe that homeland security actors should attempt to control human behavior, but address the short comings as far as awareness goes. Teaching people that resilience is as you said “about he Tamato” is the type of preparedness people can understand and work towards; but sadly do not see it as clearly as HLS actors or security professionals do. We have long been providing ideas and searching for roles for the general public in HLS. Say something ads, public training, etc are great and should continue, but people need to understand that threats are real and little things can make all the difference. People need to be ready to survive on their own in the face of a emergency or at least be able to go a few days without normal amenities, however; they may be asked or may on their own be a crucial actor in mitigating the emergency. Example, the farmer, local grocer, or chain supermarket that has a plain and is prepared to lend its simple service to assist the greater responds. Their planing will help the overall community become more resilient as well, help the responds mitigate the post-emergency situation by being fed.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 29, 2011 @ 7:02 am

Patrick, I think we agree. But in my experience only a minority of the population will — ever — give sustained attention to the most serious risks. There are both biological and cultural reasons that cause us to discount distant danger, no matter how horrible the consequence.

Unless risk readiness is linked to a more near-term benefit (tomatoes or resilience) most efforts to generate longer-term readiness will fail (the storm cellars fall-in or mitigation deteriorates). So… a critical issue for me is how does homeland security “grow tomatoes”?

Sounds like David Luongo’s jurisdiction may have found a way to grow tomatoes by engaging the public (see prior comment). Probably worth a discussion with David to see if the techniques used in a smaller town can be adapted to a range of jurisdictions. What was the role of engaging immediately after Irene? What was the approach? Sounds like it may have been conversational more than presentational. Was the public safety role facilitative or authoritative?

A real world example: A major city had a program of public briefings on risk and preparedness. With significant effort people showed up, they were given PowerPoint presentations, yawning commenced, people left, nothing (or very little) changed. Same city a couple of years later began a long-term engagement with work-places organized around small-group discussions of personal and workplace readiness. Probably still too soon to claim strategic success, but several important tactical successes have been achieved.

Growing tomatoes in this case is treating the public as intelligent adults who already know a great deal. The public enjoys getting to know each other, working together on an interesting problem and, as a result, are much more inclined to take practical action. For more on this approach, check out: http://www.redefiningreadiness.net/

Comment by Chris Roemer

October 29, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

Mitigation and Resilience complete each other because they have similar characteristics with each other. But, mitigation only goes so far and that is where resilience picks it back up. Having the proper preparation before a tragedy hits is essential and assuring to the people of that area. Areas that are prone to natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding), preparation is necessary because it helps people live their lives as normal as possible, with the notion that there could be a disaster at any given time. Mitigation helps this cause, by preventing accidents from occurring beforehand. An example of this is building storm cellars in houses or reinforcing infrastructure on buildings to prevent them from coming down during an earthquake. But, there is only so much you can prevent for because the most challenging and difficult thing to deal with is the post-disaster event. Resilience depends on both prevention and post-game tragedy’s People can rely on the mitigation techniques that are taken before a tragedy occurs but that will only make them unprepared even though they feel prepared under the guidance of their authority figures. By having a lack of mental and physical preparedness, a person is more vulnerable to a disaster then they believe.
A great example of how resilience worked was after 9/11. People came from all over the country and the world to help out in the rescue efforts as well as help out the people of NYC by giving them supplies and resources needed. There was a huge response by normal civilians who felt that is was in their civic duty to help out any way they could. People stood on the west side highway for weeks cheering on rescue personnel going in and out of the trade center. Resilience doesn’t have to come a certain way every time, it could come from the people you least expect, but when it is shown it makes everything a whole lot better.

Comment by Richard Pincus

October 29, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

Mr. Palin,
My statements about how we have changed since 9/11 are meant to be taken seriously. Our nation had taken security for granted and had become complacent. Now we have changed and adapted, fewer are complaining about airport security procedures, the larger police presence or the vehicle checkpoints. So our resiliency as a nation allows for change.
Your articles are extremely informative and have made me think how resiliency and mitigation both are valuable in our analysis of homeland security. Thank you.

Comment by JOHN BRAY

October 29, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

A real question I have is what other ways can we keep people resilient that doesn’t involve incorporating fear? After the movie “Jaws” was released, people were terrified to go to the beach for fear of being eaten by a shark. The obvious fact was that there have always been threats of shark attacks, but this movie injected this fear into the national psyche. For Homeland Security, do we have to rely on terrorist attacks to keep the conversation going and maintain resilience?

Comment by Javed Narain

October 29, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

It is quite interesting that resilience itself has become a mission area of the department of homeland security. Resilience is a characteristic that is programmed into certain people. I think that it is also quite innovative that such a characteristic has been phased into homeland security since it is so important. Resilience is such an important element because it is what keeps us going as people. It is how we recover from tragic loss and continue to live. I hope that there can be a lateral translation of resilience into the realm of homeland security.

Comment by Charles Gerbino

October 29, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

When you make the connection of both Resilience and Mitigation, people tend to overlook the situations that are defined by these words. Its like the old saying about the iceberg, 10% of its total mass is above water while 90% is beneath the surface. In a lot of situations you only see a little bit of what is really happening, just like the National Preparedness Goal where they define the core capabilities but have yet to specify what their plans are. Looking at mitigation and resilience, our country is in more of a position of resilience, where we are more reactive then proactive in the face of disasters and terrorist attacks. I’m not taking away from the fact that we are becoming stronger along the lines of mitigation and the ability to share information, prepare all forms of government down to local police as well as the people living in those communities to open up and be aware of situations and help prevent future attacks, but it’s a process; and the fact that our NPG has not yet specified what the practices are for community resilience, long term vulnerable reduction, risk and disaster resilience assessment, and threats and hazard identification are proof of that. We are in a constantly changing time and must be aware and prepared for anything, but as you pointed out in your story, “was like we don’t believe in tornadas no more”. Just because something does not happen or does not happen as often is not an excuse for it forgotten or to not have some type of contingency plan for when it does arise for example, “ The majority of surveyed Joplin residents did not immediately go to shelter upon hearing the initial warning”, “there were 159 deaths and several hundred injuries”. Mitigation has to do with community and being able to reduce loss of life as well as damage during disasters, people need to become more aware of things that happen naturally, if they overlook things we can predict then its going to take even longer for people to really pay attention to things that could result in terrorist attacks, and when you think of “see something say something”, are people really seeing anything or do they think someone else can worry about it?


October 30, 2011 @ 2:23 am

I am of the belief that fear/fear of loss is the most effective SHORT TERM motivator to taking action. There is no mistake in its visual/mental/emotional clarity on what will happen.The problem is it can create unwanted mental barriers and lacks positive long term sustainability.
Creating a vision that has a buy-in, whether that is a WIIFM(Whats IN IT FOR ME),creates a challenge and/or addresses some form of passion will have better long term effects. We have to foster a eager Want instead of a desperate need. Looking at JFK and MLK leadership styles would be a plus. The challenge would be having the discipline to continue to nurture and keep the vision alive.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 30, 2011 @ 9:16 am

To the graduate students who have commented on this blog: Thanks for the interesting inputs. Based on what you have written, I might be inclined to divide the class into three teams. Two of the teams would debate the proposition: Security suppresses Resilience. The third team would listen to the debate and attempt to construct a policy-and-strategy that would optimize a complementary relationship between the two opposing sides that a super-majority of each side would accept.

I’m not sure there is a “right” answer to the debate. But I am fairly sure the third team reflects the most meaningful role of homeland security professionals.

Comment by Jessica Tew

October 30, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

I too agree that we must have a plan and be able to react and prepare for things even if they do not occur as often as they once did. The example with the tornado and how the store clerk was saying that they must have forgotten about them should definitely not be true. For them not to occur as much as they once were is lucky but does not mean that they will never occur. This past year we were able to see that we must be prepared everywhere for any time of tragedy, we saw this with the hurricane that came through the northeast, upstate NY and vermont were definitely not prepared for a storm because it was unlikely that it would occur that far north, but it did. Although we do not have to spend a major amount of time on preparing for occurrences which are more unlikely than likely it is still important to have some sort of plan in place.

Comment by Jessica Tew

October 30, 2011 @ 6:28 pm


I definitely agree that Mitigation and resilience go hand in hand especially with Homeland Security. In addition human behavior and relationships as you stated are definitely a huge part of the way the event can pan out. Depending on how close the community or how willing the community may be to work together may be the deciding factor on how quick of a turn around the community may have after a tragedy. In some cases a tragedy may bring a community closer together and after everything is rebuilt and everyone has recovered the neighborhood may be better off after then they were before the event. Preparation is a group effort, it is not just the duty of the government, it is the community members, businesses, local, state and federal government- it is a joint effort. Without an effort from everyone it is much more difficult to be as prepared as necessary..

Comment by Patrick Casey

October 31, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

David’s ideas are very well stated and would do a great deal of good. I think that the federal government should utilize the relationship a local fire/EMS department or police department can have with a community and build up those entities as a vehicle to educate people and harvest resilience. FEMA and DHS can do nationwide events or certain days that prompt preparedness, readiness, knowledge, or resilience however; funding assistance to local and state agencies for the SOLE purpose of educating people on the above could really mitigate our current problem. These agencies can do much more over time than a one day promotional event. Fire departments and police departments have long gone into schools to promote fire safety and community safety, why not promote readiness, and other homeland security ideas. These programs encourage children to know how to “stop, drop, and roll”, call 911, not interact with strangers, etc. Post 9/11 we should use our schools as a way to help not only the next generation, but parents of children on the need for overall safety.
Now, teaching terrorism to children is much harder than on how to call 9/11; telling young children about “see something, say something” may lead to way to many false alarms. However, there is a pattern of steady increase from elementary school to high school on teaching children about problems. Elementary schools teach kids to never take anything from the medicine cabinet, garage, or under the sink. High schools bring everyone from cops to former addicts into educate kids on drug abuse. Why can we not take 1 hour out of a school year to have our high school students hear about the need for homeland security and things they can do? “See something say something” can start here. Why not teach elementary students about fire alarms and emergency supplies for disasters?
David’s conclusion of “people not believing” is very true. A tragedy happens, Columbine, weather disaster, terrorism and there are congressional hearings, extensive media converge, extensive “Monday morning quarterbacking” to how things when wrong and how to better them. The HLS professionals respond and the public may respond for a short time, but it never really becomes “muscle memory”. HLS stakeholders and government can begin to educate the next generation early on everything from calling 911, not using dangerous drugs, and readiness. An event will happen, but if people are educated before and after (as we are usually educated today); our resilience will be muscle memory because it has been hammered into us just like calling 911 has been.

(sorry for the latness, no power at home)

Comment by Natalie Hinz

November 11, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

Being someone new to the east coast, leaving the earthquakes for tornadoes and snow, I was really able to understand the connection made in the title. Looking back to my first experience with a tornado warning I was shocked at how cool and collected people were and not preparing for a tornado hit. It is important that there is an understanding between the need of mitigation and resilience especially when included in the National Preparedness Goal. With Homeland Security it is important that there is resilience to ensure that the nation is prepared for the recovery of any natural disasters or future attacks. Mitigation helps with preparing the nation by ensuring that there are programs in place as well as policies and procedures to ensure that the safety of the people is the priority to reduce the loss of life. It is important that people are constantly reminded the need to be prepared because it is when they get comfortable in their environment that they loose the ability to adapt to any changing conditions or disruptions. However if the mitigation plans are strong enough, it may be able to withstand lack in resilience.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Can you envision a “successful failure”?

July 12, 2012 @ 12:11 am

[…] are several contending definitions of resilience.  Something that all the definitions I have encountered share is an expectation of failure. […]

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