Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 15, 2012

Patient Resilience

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on August 15, 2012

In my last post, I reflected on the difference between patience as a strategic virtue and more conventional notions of persistence and perseverance. This week, I want to raise some questions about how the notion of patience fits with the concept of resilience.

Among most disciplines with well established notions or frameworks for assessing resilience — notably engineering and psychology — resilience is expressed in terms of the ability of an individual or system to bounce back or recover an acceptable, if not normal, level of functionality after experiencing a challenge, particularly a challenge that exceeds its capacity to resist or deflect harm. The capacity of any one individual or system to exhibit such characteristics is most often measured in terms of the time required to regain the stated level of functionality after experiencing a harmful event.

Time is also important to the notion of patience, but in a different way. This begs a question: Can one be patient and resilient at the same time? Put another way, does resilience require some degree of impatience if not a sense of urgency?

Homeland security and emergency management practitioners, particularly those working in government, are expected to demonstrate measurable results. But we know not everything that can be measured is meaningful and many things that are meaningful can be difficult to measure. Is this the case when it comes to assessing the relationship between patience and resilience? How can we avoid the potential trap of focusing on time as a measurement, especially if it turns out not to be all that meaningful?

In my experience, the rush to advance from response to recovery and then through a recovery process holds many perils. Not the least of these is the sense that people have a say in the process, which lends democratic legitimacy to decisions the group must make or live with long-term. Even if the community has a well-established consensus about recovery priorities, a rush to or through recovery by some can leave others struggling to keep up despite the fact that their recovery process is proceeding at an entirely reasonable pace.

This suggests that any meaningful assessment of recovery and resilience requires consideration of what makes each individual or community’s adaptive journey unique. The question is not how fast but how well they move through the process of adaptation. If time matters at all, the question should not be how fast an individual or group adapts but whether they adapt fast enough to avoid suffering further adverse consequences.

What adaptive behaviors should we expect to observe then if we are to gain an objective appreciation of resilience and recovery progress? This seems a simple enough question, but again, each individual or group will have different answers. Therefore, it seems logical to look for frameworks that can help us with the assessment.

The best framework that comes to mind for making such an assessment is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Herein lies a problem, though. Adaptation is at its core a form of learning. That means every step we take to meet even the most basic needs, will inform, shape and ultimately fulfill higher needs.

This may help explain the phenomena of emergent leadership and self-organizing teams that we often witness after disasters. Those who have successfully mitigated their exposure or prepared to meet their basic needs are better equipped to help others. The ability to offer assistance has the immediate effect of redefining associations, rearranging priorities and redrawing boundaries that separate communities. Emergent leadership helps provide a sense of safety and security by giving direction and purpose to the response. It also helps give individuals a sense of belonging by defining them as members of groups they might not previously have seen themselves a part of or which did not previously exist. The creation of these new ad hoc communities in the immediate aftermath of disaster provides opportunities for self-actualization as individuals rise above their circumstances and the limitations imposed on them by forces beyond their control to bring a sense of order to the chaos they see around them.

Here’s where things get really complicated, though. The euphoria that accompanies a surge in the immediate aftermath of a disaster can soon fade as the harsh reality of the situation sinks in. The sloping sides of Maslow’s pyramid make it hard to stay on top for very long.

The pain and suffering that accompanies the Sisyphean struggle to regain a sense of normalcy can make it awfully difficult for us to appreciate the value of the struggle itself. But this experience and the mindset that produces it is the very essence of patience and resilience.

If we see pushing that rock uphill time and again as ultimately futile, then that’s what it is. On the other hand, if pushing the rock uphill is how we earn our way, how we prove our mettle, how we encourage others to persevere or how we give our life purpose for awhile, then it can mean much more than any one of us can fully appreciate.

For this reason, I prefer to see patience as an essential element of resilience. Those willing and able to exercise patience inspire others not to accept the tragedy or inevitability of their circumstances, but rather to make the most of them. This is especially, if not profoundly, true when the end does not yield rewards greater than the compensation expected from the means.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 15, 2012 @ 1:02 am

Nice post! I am concerned that RENEWAL may in fact being confused with RESILIENCE! Did expenditure of 65% of all Model City and Urban Renewal HUD monies in the Nation’s flood plains result in progress, e.g.? Or investment of $7 billion in restoraton of the infrastructure below the WTC after 9/11? Or expenditure of $14B post Katrina in a NOLA after what was in effect a man-made disaster?

Should there be assignment of resilience policy and issues to Congressional committees in the forthcoming 113th Congress and should not the Department of Defense really be the leader in analysis of resilience issues, or DHS?

I continue to like the RESILIENCE mantra but my concept is almost totally a bottom up not top down approach. Do federal programs, functions, activities support resilience or undermine it? Which ones do and which ones don’t? Should USACOE efforts focus on RESILIENCE not net economic benefits that are usually jub

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 15, 2012 @ 5:35 am

Mark, I suggest there is an important distinction between resilience and adaptation.

Resilience is restoration of the status quo ante or something very close to it. Resilience is bouncing back. I would argue this will (or will not) happen rather quickly. (I have heard Craig Fugate suggest a disaster recovery calendar of roughly two years.) Urgency is often an important aspect of resilience.

Adaptation is, for me, something different. Rather than bouncing back, there is movement in a new direction. This may happen quickly, but usually requires the kind of patience you outline above.

Less abstractly: Some areas of Tohoku have already bounced back. Life is very similar to what it was on March 10, 2011. But in other areas it is recognized there is no going back and a much longer-term process of adapting to — even finding — a new normal is underway.

Perhaps to your point: An unrealistic urgency to recover what is unrecoverable can complicate and delay positive adaptation.

Comment by Mark Chubb

August 15, 2012 @ 10:24 am

Bill, I think you’ve hit on another theme worth exploring in more detail. I am inclined to think that a mismatch between the speed at which nominal leaders wish to proceed and the speed at which emergent leaders are actually responding or recovering is the issue when it comes to resilience. The difference in speed (as well as direction) may be what causes problems rather than where that direction comes from.

Phil, my reluctance to make the same distinction between resilience and adaption may belie a bias on my part. Nevertheless, I think it’s consistent with the views of biology and engineering, which both consider the capacity of dynamic systems to employ redundant paths and access new or alternate resources mechanisms by which these systems display resilience. I also find it difficult to separate adaptation from resilience because any response or recovery effort assumes a change in circumstances and incorporates feedback loops that result in learning. Learning is an adaptive response to change even when it produces changes only in belief rather than discernable differences in action.

Perhaps this is a topic we can explore further in our respective posts.

Comment by The Admiral

August 15, 2012 @ 10:30 am

@ Mark, nice post. Would suggest that you are describing resilience (in terms of patience) as the Stockdale Paradox: to paraphrase, “it’s going to get better, but not today, not for a while, but in the end I/we will overcome this.” I am sure other posters could describe it more elegantly.

@ Phil, respectfully would disagree that resilience is restoration… that is recovery. I’d say resilience is an outcome, derived from all other things preparedness – whether it be the emergency management cycle, the P2R2M PPD8 construct, redundancies, decentralization, or simply a psychological way of being, etc. Resilience is an outcome, not an act, a an adjective, not a verb. I think that is where a lot of the resilience policy-making is adding to the confusion. We can’t do “resilience”; we are/become resilient, or fail to be so.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 15, 2012 @ 10:51 am

Admiral and Mark:

This is interesting. Thanks.

For what it’s worth: I agree that resilience (or the lack thereof) is a state-of-being. But it is a state-of-being that principally facilitates (or not ) other outcomes.

I may be overly tied to the original Latin to recognize meaning of the word has morphed. If so, I should just defer. I’m not trying to tie policy-making around etymology.

But in its origins, and my understanding of how the term is used in engineering and biology, resilience is retrospective… it is about springing back, rebounding, returning to a pre-existing form.

I agree there are behavioral/functional/attitudinal similarities between a “resilient” personality or culture and a “forward-looking” personality or culture (for example). But the perspectives are very different. Innovation and resilience are different.

But… very much worth further look.

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