Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 6, 2012

Resilience = (Strength * Flexibility) / (Impact * Frequency)… maybe?

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on July 6, 2012

One week after the derecho’s destruction, roughly one-third of West Virginians do not have electric power.  Yesterday afternoon (Thursday) a strong storm hit the Charleston area with wind gusts recorded up to 59 miles per hour.  Another 20,000 electric customers were knocked off the grid (again?).

The lack of power has complicated communications (including credit/debit card verification), pumping of fuel, access to cash (ATMs out of service), availability of ice, safe storage of food and pharma, and a host of other daily needs.  Given the extraordinary heat the lack of air conditioning has in several cases been life-threatening.

Above is the three day weather forecast for the state capital.

Last evening a West Virginia friend wrote, “As they usually do, people are showing amazing resiliency.  However, the longer this goes it is clear there is considerable strain.  The financial impact of replacing lost food and the money spent on fuel for generators is creating a significant group of people who were financially stable but now have moved into a situation where they need help.”

The uncommon, no-notice, hard-hitting June 29 derecho was — despite widespread use of the term — not a catastrophic event.   No fundamental, irreversible shift in economic, political, or cultural behavior would unfold from this single experience of risks exposed.

But if a sequence of non-catastrophic events are experienced in a particular place over a compressed period of time, when does the sum of non-catastrophic outcomes become a catastrophe?


Strong storms did move through West Virginia on Sunday.  Roughly 20,000 customers who had power, lost power.   This brought the total number of homes and apartments off-the-grid to over 60,000.  The number of people directly affected is estimated at about 120,000.

This was the second strong storm to hit West Virginia since the June 29 derecho.

In response to the struggles of the last week, there is some talk of West Virginia following Florida and Louisiana in requiring a portion of gasoline stations to have emergency generators to support pumping when the grid goes down.

Probably a final comment on the derecho:  Tracking media coverage by the Washington Post, Columbus (OH) Dispatch, and the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail, the differences have been stunning.  The Post has torn into the alleged incompetence (or worse) of the electric and telecommunications companies.  Meanwhile the Daily Mail has highlighted how so many of the repair crews traveled great distances and are working long hours to restore service.   The Dispatch has leaned toward Post-like criticism, but not quite as far. (About 47,000 Ohio customers are still without power.)

The Daily Mail  — and West Virginia political leaders — have mostly focused on heroic stories of neighbors serving neighbors, the kindness of strangers, and individual resilience.  The Post — and mid-Atlantic political leaders — have focused much more on situating blame.  All have reported similar facts and statistics.  But the context for the facts has reflected two very different worldviews.

Today’s Charleston Daily Mail has a front-page story that begins, “Kanawha County’s director of emergency management hopes the recent storm will persuade people they need to be better prepared when disaster strikes. “People need to be prepared to take care of themselves for at least 72 hours,” said Dale Petry, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency.”

I do not want to minimize issues of systemic vulnerability for which large providers should be held accountable.  But I am struck by the role of media and political leadership in determining whether a population responds as victims or survivors.   A victim can blame others.  A survivor is focused on more productive tasks.

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Comment by Claire B. Rubin

July 6, 2012 @ 5:45 am

It is a classic slow-onset disaster, with incremental steps towards a catastrophic outcome – at least for some people. It also highlights the fact that the federal government cannot do very much to mitigate the effects, since the infrastructure belongs to other sectors of society.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 6, 2012 @ 6:36 am

Claire, As a result, mitigation is not a matter of command-and-control, but collaboration-and-creativity?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 6, 2012 @ 7:36 am

In answer to the question above, “… when does the sum of non-catastrophic outcomes become a catastrophe?”, a friend who was deployed to New Orleans post-Katrina emails, “When Anderson Cooper says so.”

He then adds, “perhaps when survivors — both near and far — decide that something has or must be fundamentally changed.”

Comment by John Plodinec

July 6, 2012 @ 8:55 am

Two comments:

• The equation is is irrelevant to resistance. No hint of “bouncing back” in it. I normally wouldn’t bother to comment, but the equation has to do with resistance, while the post as a whole deals with the much more important problem of the system’s recovery.
• In that sense, the question – and the answer you propose – are extremely important. The ecologists would say that at some point the ecosystem reorganizes itself in response to stress. In human communities, the community reorganizes itself because it recognizes that there is a better way of “doing business.” It may not do this consciously (a large part of NOLA’s “reorganization” is simply people not coming back to the city and settling in the next ring out), but the results demonstrate that a step change has occurred in the life of the community (For those who might be interested, I’ve discussed this more thoroughly at http://blog.resilientus.mediapulse.com/2012/02/20/new-orleans%E2%80%99s-recovery-resilience-or-panarchy-at-play/.).

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 6, 2012 @ 9:21 am

Dr. Plodinec, Many thanks. I appreciate the great work done by the Community and Regional Resilience Institute. In your thinking, what is the difference between resistance and resilience?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 6, 2012 @ 10:16 am

A friend emails with the following contribution to the conversation. Not all of his symbols translated, but I think the sense is still discernible. (For me — I understand not for everyone — a blog is a place where vague possibilities can be productively explored. There are other venues to present and test more rigorously.) I very much appreciate my friend’s rapid and interesting enhancement of the rough formula.

Frequency is a linear function in time.
Frequency has an inverse relationship with the
Frequency = (number of events times the time span measured from first event to last event)

Frequency of events = n (events/time period)
Time span from first to last event = ?t (days, weeks, months, years)
Frequency = f(n(?t), ?t); read as Frequency is a function of number of events (measured over a specified time period) and the time measured from first event occurrence to last.

Frequency = f(n,t) = (n *1/ ?t)
R = (S*F)/(I*(n*1/?t))

Basically, 1/?t, is an inverse weighting function on the number of events. The longer the time period between occurrences the less impact the number of events will have on Resilience.

Example A:
S = 100 units, F = 30 units, I = 500 units, n = 3, ?t = 4 months
Then: R = 100*30/(500*(3/4)) = 8 units

Example B:
S =100 units, F = 30 units, I =500 units, n=3, ?t = 60 months
Then: R = 100*30/(500*(3/60)) = 120 units

Comment by Michael Brady

July 6, 2012 @ 11:28 am

And it’s not even the dog days of summer yet. I don’t get to D.C much but I do remember wearing a suit and tie for a month there one day…

Comment by Ill Prepared and more to come....

July 7, 2012 @ 6:57 am

Ill prepared and more to come….

Corporate greed, the failure of electric companies to prune bushes and cut back trees and lack of responsibility equates to the ongoing powerr challenges customers are confronted with while having to pay high costs for eelctricity.

Government ineptness and ever evolving growth of government plaving individuals in further dependence and the inevitable, a lackluster economy soon to become a double dip recession, then depression and an America so ill prepared in so, so many ways while China with coffers of overflowing fiat federal reserve notes buying gas and oil fields and taking substantial equity positions in the energy sector, controlling positions in rare earths, their reach even to acquire castles in Europe and soon, the manufacture of automotive transmissiosn and parts and shipping them to India and America, our beloved Republic, with the promise of graphene technology and so many technological innovations, however already down the list in so many categories and the equation really equals the fact that whether in october or July in the northeast, we can’t keep the lights on, never mind address real issues….no, a “Goldman Sachs” administration which seeks to burden “Main Street USA” – yes, the same unemployed and over-burdened “Main Street USA” w/more taxes and fees from local, state and a government healthcare program…more taxes than King George III the third had in his mind and summer heat, storms and inconvenience and We are to be truly taken seriously…I doubt it and I can attest to the fact that China, India and the “KGB Putinites” the same Barry Obama is whispering who knows what much like what did Jimmy Carter tell the Syrians when he visited and as a US citizen went behind closed doors…

The power companies must take responsibility. Trees must be cut back, bushes pruned, whenever wires can go underground, get them underground and before this eventual depression and massive unemployment rings our doorbell as printing fia dollars and two political parties so corrupt in their self-serving ways…

We the People are in great peril from within, those We entrusted to lead and they placing self-serving agenda before our beloved Republic …Deespite this administration’s ongoing efforts to disarm fellow citizen of their lawful Right to be prepared for all lawful purpose, this election must see this “Goldman Sachs” be replaced by a government which will establish term limits and recall initiatives for special interest groups such as those representing the electric companies should be restricted from so much access and influence…

We must adopt a Greeen Energy Policy and while eight sitting administration and Congresses have failed to adopt a National Energy Policy, if we do not thwart the reach of such politicizing and bring new technologies to the doorstep of every home and manufacture our own goods, buy our own goods, We will become a third world country and for many, many fellow Americans, the third world status is here to stay for generations to come as big government will never allow folks to determine their own future…Why is the cost of education in this country and these golden parachutes for educators so expensive and a deterrent to educating our youth in engineering and science disciplines like China and India?

The Energy Tsunami in aparallel with failed government and hugh costs and pensions….is to our demise and be prepared folks like the Europeans who will have to downsize to ten (10) nations only…we are broke in more ways than beimng $15 trillion in federal deficit, we are broke in our values and our ethics and the light has blinked and blinked and for many, the lights are out and despair and poverty will never allow us to be lonely for even our children will now be as broke as our 10,000 folks retiring and many each day of our seniors, homeless and I am Not kidding…school age children in Florida and other states living w/parents in their cars parked in hospital parking lots using the restrooms of public buildings…for while we see these two political parties and this divisive Hollywood-Chicago street organizeer at the WH promote his agenda, We are far worse off w/all these broken promises and while the other side of the aisle must be elected to thwart the current agenda, We need real leadership, sincere and genuine and passionate governing we can entrust to see America become strong, yet from here on “Main Street USA” w/the only – change – we have seen is the few coins we did have taken and it is Not thunderstorms which has placed us in the dark, it is the perverse and dysfunctional ways which the “beltway bandits” and folks like smug-smiled Pelosi truly believe that they best make the decisions for we are incompetent…I don’t think so and We will see ya all at the polls on election day signing our name and gladly presenting our license and/or passport for identification and proudly showing our legal status as no other nation permits illegals from staying in tehri country and certainly does not pay benefits to law breakers….

Get the lights on and let’s take responsibiluty for our actions and the terrible fiscal challenge we now confront and place yourself over the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights for we are under siege America!

God Bless us all!

Christopher Tingus
“Main Street USA”
PO Box 1612
Harwich, Cape Dod, MA 02645

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